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Violence mars FAI Cup final. What’s going on? 

What ought to have been a pleasant day out and a celebration of Irish soccer at the FAI Cup final between St. Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemians at the Aviva Stadium was marred by violence prior to the event. Some supporters also fired flares inside the stadium. 

Allegations that a pre-match gathering for families of St Pat’s fans seems to have been targeted was confirmed both by people who were there and by a statement from the management of the Irishtown House thanking supporters of St. Pat’s for not retaliating when attacked with bottles and fists inside and outside of the premises. Other Bohemians supporters commented on the pub’s Facebook page to confirm this and to apologise on behalf of the club’s majority of decent supporters.

Bohemians released an official statement on Monday promising to ban anyone involved in the violence who is identified as having taken part in the disgraceful events. The statement includes a rather bizarre claim that half the crowd were Bohemians supporters given that their average attendance at Dalymount is less than 3,000.  Which makes the further claim that the Bohs supporters who were involved only represent a “tiny minority” a rather loose description. They may be a tiny minority of the 37,000 who were in the Aviva, but not such a tiny minority of Bohemians regular following.

 

The violence will likely remind some of why crowds fell drastically in the early 1970s when Dublin clubs experienced the sort of violence that idiots were imitating after watching British TV coverage of soccer in that country.

Bohemians were not part of the trouble in the 1970s. They were very much the minor team in a city where soccer was historically dominated by Shamrock Rovers, Drumcondra and Shelbourne. And yet, there has been an attempt to invent a ludicrous Bohs history associated with a non-existent connection to Dublin republicanism and socialism.

If anything, Bohemians would have been regarded by older Dubs as the “Protestant club.” The club was founded by members of the Royal Hibernian Military School in 1890 and British soldiers played for Bohemians for decades later, not by returned veterans from the Battle of Madrid. Oliver St. John Gogarty, a close friend of Arthur Griffith and later a Free State Senator, played for Bohs for a time, but I don’t think they sell tee shirts with his image. He certainly would not have been on the Stalinist side in the Spanish Civil War.

For the past 20 years or so a small number of thugs who have associated themselves with Bohemians and with Shamrock Rovers have conducted an imbecilic feud where they meet up and attempt to bash one another. Facebook has a considerable collection of fight scenes celebrating this proud proletarian tradition.

Some of the thuggish Bohs crowd also like to style themselves as being ‘anti-fascist,’ something which seems to usually involve squaring up to members of the public attending anti-lockdown marches. The fact that those who were responsible for the attack at the Irishtown House were masked – and wearing what is effectively a black uniform associated with the thugs who engage in far left violence – was noted by some observers.

 

While the club itself is no doubt embarrassed by some of the actions of their supporters, they seem keen to promote a kind of leftist politics that some of their members would have no interest in.

Perhaps Bohemians then ought to reflect upon whether they might be giving succour to those who are more interested in politics than football. For instance, how many sports clubs refer to their members and supporters as “comrades”?

Those Bohemians member supporters who are nominally all equal owners of the club – and some of who have expressed their discomfort over the way the club has been managed over the past decade – ought to come together and stop the club from getting dragged into leftist politics and focus instead on winning games.

Some of those prominently associated with the political faction of Bohemians FC are among those constantly harping on about the “far right” which mostly exists solely in their own imaginations. There is no shortage of corporate and state cash to fund this hysterical speculation and yet it never produces any significant evidence that suggests that there is such a sinister entity. At the bottom end, there is a thriving Del Boy economy that peddles leftist kitsch.

In contrast to the focus on a mythical far right, there seems to be little or no long-term strategy to deal with violence of the type witnessed on Sunday, nor any official investigation into the possible links between soccer violence and extremist groups on the left.

It would be unfortunate if the efforts of the FAI to entice Irish soccer supporters away from the couch and pub and Sky Super Sunday are frustrated by extremist street gangs. The FAI should also make it crystal clear that there is no place in Irish sport for ideologically driven activists who exercise an unhealthy influence in clubs which are part of their association.

Perhaps that might encourage more Irish soccer supporters to abandon the soap opera of the English Premier League and to support their local teams. They will not be encouraged to do so if they feel that they might become the targets of gangs like those which disgraced themselves last Sunday.

 

 

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