At the weekend Ronan Scott made his way to Windsor Park for a change of scenery, here’s how he got on…
On Saturday, I swapped the Athletic Grounds for Windsor Park. Rather than go and watch Tyrone win another title, I opted to go see Cliftonville play in the IrnBru Cup final.
It was a joyous occasion for the Reds fans, but an interesting one for a Gael to take in, and I drew a number of conclusions from it.
Firstly, Irish League soccer is better than you would think, however certain rivalries are defined by sectarianism, as the flag waving and chanting between the Crusaders fans and Reds faithful proved.
But the big thing that I took from it was that Irish League soccer can be a daunting prospect for a GAA fan. It didn’t help that I arrived late. I hadn’t a clue how to get into Windsor, I tried a couple of entrances but was sent away both times, until I was pointed towards the Boucher Road where I discovered a long caged walk way that led up to the ground.
It’s hard to feel comfortable and welcomed when you are walking along a 300 yard caged walk way, under a barbed wire canopy.
I headed for the first gate I could see, handed my ticket over and the guy, who was reassuringly as begrudging as any of the turnstile operators in the GAA, pointed me to a stand.
I walked into the underbelly and noticed that there was an odd lack of red jerseys on display. I made my way up the steps, asked a friendly steward where I could sit, and he replied wherever you like, and nodded towards the seats where in the middle of them was a huge Union Jack flag.
I realised my error immediately. I was in the Crues end, and not the Cliftonville stand.
I hastily made my retreat.
Over in the North stand the Cliftonville fans easily outnumbered the Crusaders fans, and were twice as loud.
It was a unique occasion as I watched as the team I supported actually won. But I couldn’t help but compare the experience with that of the GAA.
Corralling like-minded fans together will foster a sense of identity among a group, but an us-and-them mindset is another byproduct, and when sectarianism is thrown in the mix, it can be somewhat unsavoury experience.
One thing that the GAA has, is that you can enter wherever you want, stand where you want, and you will always be welcome no matter who you are.