An attack in which a group of Ardoyne teens were beaten by men as they watched a cross community football match is being investigated as a hate crime by the PSNI.

The incident at the Hammer Pitches on the Shankill last Friday (April 25) sparked a number of other altercations at interfaces later that evening as youths, some armed with cudgels, faced off following the attacks in Carlisle Circus.

The North Belfast News understands some of the attacks had been organised on social media.

Community worker Seán Montgomery said the trouble was sparked following the attack at the football match.

“A number of young males had been over at the Hammer Pitches earlier in the evening to watch a football match and when the football ended, the gates were locked by an adult male who they say made reference to their religious background.

“The young people reported coming under attack from other young people and an adult male who was a local resident. They reported that they had been subjected to verbal and physical sectarian abuse.”

Seán said he was made aware of the prospect of more trouble occurring later that evening.

“The young people made their way back to Ardoyne where they arranged to fight with Shankill youths at Carlisle Circus.”

He said that community workers got involved and contacted their counterparts on the Shankill to prevent the fight taking place.

“We were successful in reducing about 30 per cent of the group before this reached Carlisle Circus. We continued to engage with the group that made their way to Carlisle Circus with degrees of success.

“Some of the young people had poles, sticks and pool balls and we managed to remove some of these.”

The crowd dispersed when the PSNI arrived said Seán.

“All of the young people had returned to Oldpark and Ardoyne by around 10.15.”

He praised the efforts of community workers in defusing the situation and appealed to parents to ensure their children were not getting involved in organised fights.

A PSNI spokesman said they were investigating the incidents as a hate crime.

“Police are investigating a number of reports of alleged assault relating to a cross-community football match in the Agnes Street area of Belfast on Friday, 25th April. Enquiries are continuing.”

Sinn Féin’s Gerry McCabe said those responsible for the assaults had to be brought to justice.

“This has been a disgraceful incident and those responsible must be brought before the courts as a matter of the utmost urgency. I welcome the fact that the PSNI are treating this attack by adults on the young people as a hate crime.

“No-one can justify such an attack by grown men on teenagers and those involved have acted in the most cowardly way. I’m appealing to anyone with any information what so ever about this incident to contact the PSNI,” he said.