Banners, bust-ups and battling comebacks...welcome to a day in the life of Ballymena United’s madcap first month of the season.
Unlikely happenings aren’t uncommon at the Showgrounds, but the events of Friday night’s crunch clash with Carrick Rangers will live long in the memory - and not necessarily for the right reasons.
It was to be the acid test for beleaguered boss Glenn Ferguson against the Premiership new boys and it turned out to be an evening laced with high drama and mild farce in almost equal measure.
Even Ferguson’s fiercest critic must have had even a tinge of sympathy for the manager amid the chaos of the opening 35 seconds, culminating in Jim Ervin’s second dismissal of the season.
All, that is, except the individual in the stand who shouted ‘time to go Ferguson’ barely seconds after Miguel Chines had tucked away the subsequent penalty.
If Glenn Ferguson instructed Jim Ervin to go out and get sent off inside the opening minute, then I, too, would want the manager sacked. Of course that suggestion is utter nonsense but it makes you wonder about the motivation behind someone making a comment like that.
Something happens on the pitch entirely beyond the manager’s control, which throws his pre-match preparations into total turmoil - and someone wants him shown the door there and then.
I’ve witnessed some bizarre things in more than 25 years of watching and reporting on Ballymena - from the infamous ‘leg of lamb’ saga to a referee reportedly being smuggled out of the ground in the boot of a car - but what happened a couple of minutes before the interval was another extraordinary chapter.
Let’s be clear on a couple of things here; the unfurling of a flag bearing the motto ‘Spike Out’ was not the cause of the ridiculous scenes that followed. There was nothing offensive on the banner, which was a perfectly acceptable means of fans expressing an opinion.
The same cannot be said of the foul-mouthed tirade aimed at Ferguson and the verbal exchanges towards the directors’ box by a small section of frustrated supporters.
It’s high time this misapprehension of ‘I pay my money, I’ll say what I like’ was nipped in the bud. If you walked down Wellington Street and aimed that diatribe of verbal abuse towards someone, it wouldn’t be too long before you would find yourself in the back of a police car.
I suspect it was the attitude of the small group of supporters involved - much more than the fairly harmless statement of the banner itself - that led to stewards, attempting to ensure that an already tense situation didn’t escalate further, instructing them to remove the banner, resulting in the unseemly scuffles that followed.
If someone can tell me of any good, anything which benefited Ballymena United, that came out of those ridiculous few moments, I’d love to hear it because I certainly can’t think of any. Both the timing and the tone of the protest were off the mark.
No-one should have any issue with fans’ concerns about results and performances in a respectful and constructive manner which will not impact negatively on what is happening on the pitch, but the actions of those involved has actually weakened their argument.
That much was evident by the critical comments of response of many United fans sitting around the home stand, who gave Ballymena - whose 10 men had produced a gutsy first 45 minutes - a standing ovation at the half-time whistle.
Thankfully, the interval served to cool tempers and the incident seemed to galvanise Ballymena’s support, who gave their team terrific backing in the second period.
Ferguson will continue to have his critics - and the longer the poor run of results goes on, the more vociferous they will understandably become - but the support for the team remains as strong as ever.
when Allan Jenkins volleyed home a hugely merited equaliser with two minutes left it was greeted by as big a roar as I’ve heard at the Showgrounds for a long time.
There has been a steady, if unspectacular improvement in United’s performances over the last three games - certainly if the debacles of the opening games are the yardstick - but results remain a commodity that is proving hard to come by.
There remains much work to be done to turn things around on the pitch but hopefully we’ve seen the last of the scenes which brought embarrassment to a Ballymena support base which at present is United in name only.