Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

FAI 'making Northern Ireland a Protestant team'

The FAI are in danger of making Northern Ireland a Protestant team - instead of a mixed team - by taking away these young players.

That’s incredibly short-sighted of the FAI and shows a total lack of understanding of the damage being done to relationships on this island.

The FAI’s stance is undermining the good work of so many others.

Extreme disappointment would be my initial reaction to this latest development. It’s like an Ulster player deciding to switch to Munster or a Down player deciding to turn out for Tyrone.

As a youngster I went to Northern Ireland matches and the atmosphere was superb. Northern Ireland reached the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals and the team was drawn from across the whole spectrum of our society.

Some of our supporters lost their way in the late 1980s and into the 1990s and the atmosphere became uncomfortable — it would be wrong to say otherwise.

The atmosphere at the Northern Ireland match against the Republic of Ireland in 1993 was so bad that I said I wasn’t going back again. But a friend of mine, a nationalist, told me it would be wrong for me to stay away because these people had to be challenged. He was right. But the Northern Ireland fans have embraced change since those dark days.

The work of the IFA’s Community Relations department has been outstanding. The fact there was a problem was accepted by the fans themselves.

Northern Ireland matches are now a sea of green rather than red, white and blue. The fans sing ‘we’re not Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland’. There are still issues but great steps have been made.

There were a few idiots who misbehaved in Dublin but on the positive side there were 5,000 other fans who were well behaved.

When Northern Ireland lose a player to the FAI it’s a real slap in the face given all the work that is being put in by the IFA — who have shown tremendous leadership over the last 10 years — to improve matters. It would be very appropriate for a large percentage of the gate from the game in Dublin in May between the two teams to go to charities promoting cross-community work.

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