Militant Protestant supporters of a Scottish soccer team beat to death a Roman Catholic man in the latest sign of how sports rivalries inspire sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland, police and politicians said on Monday.
Witnesses said more than 20 Protestant supporters of the Glasgow Rangers, many of them wearing the team’s blue-and-white jerseys and scarves, drove into a Catholic district of the town of Coleraine after the Rangers clinched the Scottish Premier League championship on Sunday.
Billy Leonard, a former policeman and politician from the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, said several carloads of anti-Catholic extremists came armed with clubs “and literally attacked the first person they came across.”
Kevin McDaid, 49, was fatally bludgeoned while his wife, Evelyn, and a 46-year-old Catholic neighbor, Damien Fleming, were both injured. Fleming was reported in critical condition.
Police said they arrested seven men on suspicion of involvement in the attack on McDaid.
A Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Alan Johnston, said the Rangers supporters were drinking heavily while watching Sunday’s Rangers victory at pubs in central Coleraine and then drove across a bridge to the Catholic area.
A Catholic politician, John Dallat, accused an outlawed Protestant paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association, of responsibility.
The Rangers enjoy support exclusively from British Protestants in Northern Ireland, while archrival the Glasgow Celtic draws support only from the Irish Catholics.
Those sectarian allegiances fuel street fighting, and occasionally worse, in both Glasgow and across Northern Ireland, particularly when the two teams play each other or when the annual league championship — typically won by one of the two — is determined. Celtic, league champions the previous three years, finished second on Sunday.
Police in forensic suits erected a tent on Monday to preserve evidence at the spot where McDaid died. Someone had tied a green-and-white Celtic scarf to a pole nearby, and teenagers wearing Celtic clothing huddled on street corners drinking from beer cans and shouting anti-Protestant slogans.
The officer leading the murder investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Frankie Taylor, appealed to Catholics in the town not to retaliate. Taylor said McDaid had four children, did volunteer youth work and had been encouraging Catholics to cooperate with the police.