Shamrock Rovers: 'You can't ban people from away grounds'

THE Football Association of Ireland (FAI) cannot confirm exactly how many Airtricity League hooligans have been banned from grounds around the country as efforts are made to eradicate trouble.

Current estimates put the number of expelled supporters at anywhere between 100 and 200 but the FAI was unable to specify whether or not it knew the exact scale of the problem.

The Sunday Tribune has learned that after years of negative publicity surrounding the behaviour of small factions, Shamrock Rovers has expelled fans for the first time – 15 in total – following a high-profile clash with Dundalk supporters last April.

The club is set to meet with the FAI this week in order to discuss the latest incident in which a number of its fans stormed the pitch at the recent Ford Cup semi final at Richmond Park.

Bohemians too have insisted that severe measures have been put in place to correct the club's past reputation for unruly supporters by banning indefinitely between 30 and 40 offenders.

However, a spokesman for the FAI was unable to say whether the ruling body had any kind of database on the identities of such fans. Its head of security did not respond to queries.

Clubs continue to insist that it is always a minority of fans who cause trouble; that there is rarely any violence and that skirmishes generally take place away from the football grounds.

However, the expulsion of supporters – which is administered individually by clubs – is seen as a necessary part of tackling outbreaks and has already proven a success.

A spokesman for Bohemians said its expulsion of up to 40 supporters has led to a relatively problem-free period over the last few seasons.

Addressing the question of whether or not the FAI was aware of exact numbers around the country, he explained: "I would think it unlikely but it's a small enough community so troublemakers would be known – someone approaching a ground would be known.

"I am not sure if the FAI even has a view on whether it's appropriate for an individual to be identified and banned. They leave that up to the clubs to regulate.

"It would be acknowledged by gardaí and others that we have effectively dealt with the hooligan problem we had and we have had very few incidents in the last two or three seasons that could be associated with ultra hooligan groups."

Although vexed by attracting the wrong kind of publicity, Shamrock Rovers - which won the league last weekend - has said it will not tolerate troublemakers in a game primarily enjoyed by peaceful football fans.

"We do everything in our power [but] you can't ban people from away grounds. I think this is something that will have to be looked at with the FAI," a spokesman said.

He said that despite the bad reputation the club often attracts, it has brought around €2.5m into the local economy in Tallaght, has brought high-profile European football to the country and is committed to investing in stadium security.

The issue of stewards will be raised in meetings between St Patrick's Athletic and the FAI next week with some criticism that there were insufficient numbers of stewards to prevent the pitch invasion, a problem that, according to league sources, is not exclusive to Richmond Park.

St Patrick's Athletic was unable to comment due to a "full ongoing review".

Some clubs believe others do not spend enough on security, while others have said that an overbearing security presence can in itself be provocative to fans.

An FAI spokesman said that the most recent incident at Richmond Park was caused by a "handful" of teenagers but the issue of security would be addressed this week.