IT was billed as the mouth watering tie of the ‘Big Four’ derby weekend in the Danske Bank Irish Premier League.
Instead the game between second placed Crusaders versus table toppers Cliftonville had to be postponed because of a Union flag protest.
‘The PSNI arrested three people following the loyalist flag protest at Seaview football ground on the Shore Road in north Belfast.
Police said a small group of protestors gathered at the venue ahead of the highly anticipated derby.
Officers attempted to move protestors away from a white line picket after 40 minutes to allow fans into the ground. Scuffles ensued and police said they were attacked with bottles and other missiles.
The game was postponed after it was initially thought it would go ahead with a 20 minute delay.
“Police, both clubs and local residents groups have been involved in the planning of this match for a number of weeks before the event and all sides had agreed that the match should go ahead peacefully,” a PSNI spokesperson said.
“Despite intensive efforts by police and football officials to negotiate a peaceful outcome, the protest did not move and as a consequence police had to move the protest to ensure the safety of fans and allow the match to proceed.
“As they did so a number of protestors began to violently resist the police and officers were attacked with bottles and other missiles.”
“Crusaders Football Club are deeply disappointed at the postponement of today’s game. It is a sad day for football,” said Crusader FC.
Police say both clubs decided the game would not proceed after learning of public disorder.
“This is a regrettable outcome for the clubs, the many genuine fans who wanted to watch the match and indeed the wider North Belfast community,” a PSNI statement added.
Both football clubs released statements saying they were disappointed the match had to be postponed.
“Cliftonville Football Club are extremely disappointed that this afternoon’s football match versus Crusaders did not go ahead,” a club statement read.
Cliftonville thanked fans for their patience and cooperation, while hosts Crusaders also thanked local residents.
“Crusaders Football Club would like to thank the local residents of Skegoniel Avenue for the considerable engagement that has taken place since November to manage this match,” a statement said.
“We would like to thank the supporters of both clubs for their forbearance. The football family need to hold together in sport at this difficult time.
“We are disappointed that these efforts have been undermined.”
Crusaders chairman Stephen Bell said a joint statement would be issued with Cliftonville, the IFA and PSNI.
Police escorted fans as they left the ground on Saturday. The area is now said to be calm.