Flag protester Jamie Bryson won't be Northern Ireland team mascot again, vows IFA
The Irish Football Association has said loyalist protester Jamie Bryson will not be selected as mascot for the international team in future after he performed the role at the side's last home match.
Mr Bryson donned the mascot's costume to act as 'Footie' for the game at Windsor Park against Azerbaijan on November 14.
The game took place weeks before the decision was made to restrict the number of days the Union flag was flown on designated days at Belfast City Hall, sparking widespread disorder.
Mr Bryson has been one of the most public faces of loyalist protesters since and is the chair of the Ulster People's Forum, set up after the December 3 vote.
He was asked to act as mascot for the match by the IFA, which has been praised throughout the game for its Football For All campaign aimed at driving sectarianism out of local football.
As well as leading both teams out, Mr Bryson entertained the fans at half-time during the World Cup qualifier.
Mr Bryson, who said he hasn't missed a Northern Ireland match in 10 years, said he was "honoured" to act as mascot.
"It was one of the proudest moments of my life to stand in front of my countrymen waving Union flags and Northern Ireland flags as they sang God Save the Queen," he said.
The 23-year-old, who has performed work experience at the IFA, was asked to step in after the regular mascot and his back-up couldn't attend.
A source at the IFA said he was picked after a staff member said he would be "more than happy to jump around a bit".
The usual mascot and back-up are selected by the IFA. 'Footie' is used on visits to hospitals, schools and cross-community projects. Mr Bryson – who has a criminal conviction for possessing an offensive weapon – was not vetted for the one-off appearance due to time constraints.
When convicted last year he said he was carrying it to protect himself from drug dealers targeting him. He was given a suspended four-month prison sentence.
The IFA confirmed Mr Bryson was mascot for the match.
A spokesman said: "The regular mascot was unavailable for the game and his replacement took unwell on the afternoon of the game and Mr Bryson stood in at the last minute. Mr Bryson is not involved in, or has ever been involved in, any of the association's Community Relations projects."
He added Mr Bryson would not be a mascot in the future.
• Jamie Bryson (23) rose to prominence in the row over the Union flag
• The Donaghadee man is the chair of the Ulster People's Forum and has been a public advocate of loyalist protests
• Earlier this week he denied a split between himself and protest leader Willie Frazer
• Recently pictures of him posing with a hurling stick and Irish flag were made public