Monday, 8 September 2008


Sabbatarianism , as readers of this blog will know, Northern Ireland and football are two topics that are often featured on this site. So a story on the BBC website caught my eye this week. Glentoran are the main protestant team from East Belfast, and I spent quite a few Saturday's watching football at the Oval, one of my favourite locations for a football ground, with the Harland and Wolff cranes in the distance.

Football and politics are often linked in Northern Ireland but this time the story is not of a link to sectarian conflict, this time it is Sabbatarianism that has reared it's (ugly?)head. Unlike the rest of Great Britain, Sunday is still a day of rest in the Province, very few shops are open and the only football to be watched is from this side of the Irish Sea on Sky TV. But this Sunday saw Glentoran play Bangor in the first Irish League game played on the Sabbath.

Now the Oval is a ground used to political protests and hosting games which need a large police presence, they even have a set of turnstiles that are only used when they play the Catholic supported Cliftonville. But this time the dispute was protestant against protestant, Football supporters easily outnumbered the "Keep Sunday special" gang, about 50 protesters turned up in their Sunday best, handing out leaflets and singing hymns, but they could not stop the fans from coming in for what looked like a larger crowd than normal. Now 50 protesters may not seem many but you need to look at the facts about this game in slightly more depth. The Irish FA changed the rules last year to allow Sunday football but no teams have seemed that interested in 'testing the water' and this Glentoran - Bangor game was hastily arranged after it was only postponed the day before. it will be interesting to see if a club will actually arrange a Sunday game with far more notice, or will the fact that 50 protesters turned up with less than 24 hours notice make them worried how many the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church (whose leader used to be Ian Paisley) could get out with longer time to plan and organise.

The game was nothing special and Glentoran only scraped a 1-0 win over their North Down neighbours. Poor entertainment is probably the best hope of the "Keep Sunday special" to stopping Sunday football. it looks like crowds will be higher than Saturday matches, but that could change when a top English team or one of the "Old Firm" are on live TV on a Sunday afternoon.

Irish football will see itself having to make a number of key decisions over the next 2 years, and playing on a Sunday will only be one of them, moving to summer football and merging with the Republic of Ireland's Football League being two which will have far more influence on the future of Irish football than "playing on a Sunday",

Even so, I just had to get the word 'Sabbatarianism' on this blog!
Empty stands in East Belfast- must be a Sunday?

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