Sky Blues face new racism probe

BALLYMENA United are at the centre of a new racism storm, Times Sport can reveal.

The Showgrounds club is being investigated by the Irish Football Association over alleged racist comments from a section of supporters towards Coleraine striker Leon Knight during United’s 5-1 home defeat by the Bannsiders last month.

It is understood that details of the alleged incidents are included in referee Raymond Hetherington’s report which states that it had been brought to his attention at half-time by fourth official Paddy McFadden that Knight had been subjected to “monkey noises” during the first half.

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Times Sport understands that Knight himself is to be investigated for an alleged “provocative gesture” towards Ballymena fans following Coleraine’s third goal, in the second half.

A Ballymena United spokesman said the club is investigating the alleged incidents and will be making no further comment on the matter until that IFA investigation has been completed.

It is the second time that the Showgrounds club has found itself in the dock for racism-related incidents.

In 2009, the club was fined £1,250 after the IFA ruled that supporters had made racist comments towards Dungannon Swifts goalkeeper Alvin Rouse in a game at Stangmore Park.

On that occasion, the report had come from the match delegate who had claimed he had heard Ballymena fans beating advertising hoardings “like jungle drums”.

Despite Ballymena producing video evidence to the contrary, the IFA upheld the comments of its representative in a case which attracted widespread publicity.

At that time, the fine was paid by United supporters who raised the money via a collection at a reserve team match, after boycotting Ballymena’s next visit to Dungannon in protest at what they felt was the Tyrone club’s part in the situation.

Meanwhile, on the pitch, United boss Roy Walker is relishing the task of stopping joint league leaders Portadown in Saturday’s Carling Premiership match at the Showgrounds (3pm).

“It promises to be a great game, hopefully with a good atmosphere,” said Walker, who isn’t at all taken aback by the Ports’ lofty position.

“From one to 11, Portadown have a good team. They have experience players, very few kids and the players they brought in at the back in the January transfer window, particularly the centre-backs, are experienced.

“I wouldn’t say I’m overly surprised at Portadown’s position – you would expect them to be up there.”

Walker may add Gavin Taggart to his panel – the midfielder missed the previous weekend’s win at Glentoran as he was at a wedding – but is unlikely to have Davy Munster available despite the defender ankle/calf injury responding well to treatment.

Eamonn Murray missed Saturday’s game with Dungannon because of flu but the manager admits he will have to address issues regarding Murray’s new job arrangements which have prevented the winger from attending training on a regular basis in recent weeks, while left-back Ross Black is awaiting a date with a specialist about a knee injury.