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Let's take pride in national Northern Ireland shirt

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 14/10/2015

The tracksuit Meikle was wearing when barred
The tracksuit Meikle was wearing when barred

Is Northern Ireland the only country of the 209 affiliated to FIFA where supporters cannot wear their national football team's colours with pride? That would seem to be the case after a man was turned away from a funfair in Belfast's Titanic Quarter at the weekend.

He was refused admittance after the funfair operators deemed his Northern Ireland tracksuit "sectarian".

How they can come to that conclusion is baffling given that the squad contains both Protestants and Catholics and the manager is a Catholic.

It has to be admitted that the ban on the wearing of sporting tops - not just the Northern Ireland colours - has been enforced by the funfair since it began operating here 34 years ago.

In those days it probably made sense, ironically not because of local soccer but chiefly because of the enmity between local supporters of Glasgow clubs, Celtic and Rangers. Those respective club colours were often worn simply to provoke opposing fans.

But times have changed. Northern Ireland is trying to move towards a more inclusive society and the feats of our sporting heroes, be it in golf, rugby or football have been hailed throughout the province. The Northern Ireland football team's qualification for the European Championships for the first time ever was a matter of pride across society here last week when they won the decisive game.

Much effort has been made and with a good degree of success - to improve the atmosphere at international matches at Windsor Park with sectarian or provocative songs being clamped down on and offensive flags banned.

While it has to be accepted that a significant number of people in Northern Ireland support the Republic's soccer team in preference to their own side, it is not a matter of such great bitterness as had been in the case in the past.

Former Northern Ireland great, Gerry Armstrong, himself a Catholic, believes the ban imposed by some establishments on sporting tops, particularly the Northern Ireland colours, is unnecessary political correctness. Certainly context is everything. Hotels, restaurants, clubs, gala functions etc may have their own dress code which should be adhered to, but open air events like funfairs or music gigs should adopt a more liberal approach.

Why shouldn't we wear the national football team's colours with pride?

Belfast Telegraph

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