A Belfast football club has spoken out after former Glasgow Rangers player Nacho Novo, who suffered a heart attack this year, was subject to abuse from a Celtic supporter who sang “hope you die in your sleep.”
Novo was confronted by the supporter as the player arrived in Belfast for a prize-giving ceremony for children.
East Belfast FC have said in a statement that they are “disgusted” that ex-Rangers striker Novo was subjected to “vile sectarian abuse” by a Celtic supporter as he arrived at Belfast International Airport in support of grassroots football in Northern Ireland.
Novo played more than 250 times for Rangers in the Scottish Premier League, a club which has a heated rivalry with Celtic which has expanded far outside the borders of the city of Glasgow from which both teams hail.
The Rangers versus Celtic rivalry has been considered by some as a proxy for football supporters to engage in sectarian activities. Rangers draw a lot of support from the Protestant Unionist community in Northern Ireland, while Celtic supporters are predominantly Catholic – two communities which clashed throughout Ireland during ‘The Troubles’.
Novo initially laughed off the insults but was later captured on film confronting the supporter.
“Why do you disrespect me like that,” Novo was heard saying in retaliation to the aggressive fan, adding: “What have I f***ing done to you?”
The football academy which Novo was traveling to assist released a statement to BBC News NI, saying: “We are disgusted and angry that Nacho was subjected to a barrage of vile sectarian abuse.
“Not only does such behaviour have no place in sport, but it has no place within society.”
“Our young players had a fantastic day with Nacho as part of our exciting academy development plans,” their statement said.
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“The progressive and inclusive work of East Belfast FC stands in stark contrast with the kind of narrow sectarianism perpetuated by the individual that launched a vicious tirade against Nacho, and worse still broadcasted his sectarian behaviour online.”
The club also confirmed that they have called upon the Police Service of Northern Ireland to investigate the matter.
Novo, who spent a season playing in the Northern Irish league, was warned two years ago that he was the subject of death threat from dissident republicans.