Former Northern Ireland international Paul McVeigh says the IFA will never endear itself to young catholic footballers until it ditches God Save The Queen as its national anthem — and moves away from Windsor Park.
The west Belfast-born former Spurs and Norwich City player was capped 20 times but in a revealing interview admitted he found it difficult to have heartfelt pride in the jersey.
While the debate rages over mainly nationalist Northern Ireland-born players opting to play for the Republic of Ireland, McVeigh believes the IFA has within its power the ability to instantly change the trend.
Recent Sunderland signing James McClean has revealed his desire to play for the Republic — joining talents such as Darron Gibson, Marc Wilson, Daniel Kearns and Daniel Devine in turning their back on the Irish FA in favour of its south of the border rival.
He said: “The IFA has to make decisions if it wants to stop players from the north opting to play for the Republic and the answers are staring them in the face.
“Who are the people who make decisions at IFA level and can they really say that it is a good thing for football in Northern Ireland to have the English anthem played before games?
“I cannot understand why it is played. Fifty per cent of the people in Northern Ireland do not recognise it as their anthem and among that 50 per cent, quality footballers will emerge.
“By the time they do come through, they most likely will have had their minds made up for them by the IFA.
“When Wales and Scotland can play their own national anthems at sports events, why can’t Northern Ireland? What is the reason? What justifies the national anthem of England being played for Northern Ireland’s football team?
“Northern Ireland, as long as it continues with that anthem, will not have an identity of its own and players will continue to turn to the Republic.
“I don’t care if the next manager of Northern Ireland is Fabio Capello; whoever gets the job starts it with his hands tied behind his back because he will not have many of the best players from the country to chose from.”
McVeigh’s fellow west Belfast men Gerry Armstrong, Jim Magilton, Anton Rogan, Mal Donaghy and Sammy Clingan all opted to play for Northern Ireland but it is feared players emerging from the area in future may seek to play for the Republic — especially given its recent success in qualifying for Euro 2012.
McVeigh, now a motivational speaker, business coach and football pundit, also believes the IFA’s decision to re-develop Windsor Park as the home of international football for Northern Ireland is a step in the wrong direction.
He said: “I have no doubt that it is a tough decision for some players to play at Windsor Park and stand before the English national anthem at Northern Ireland internationals.
“Windsor Park is a white elephant and a place where one half of the population does not feel a part of — and the anthem is the elephant standing in the corner of that white elephant of a stadium.
“Northern Ireland needs to do all it can to get the best players available.
“The decision makers should sit down and ask themselves if their decision to continue with the anthem and continue playing at Windsor Park is beneficial to Northern Ireland.
“If one half of the population is saying something is wrong, then all is not right,” added McVeigh.
“It’s clear that the IFA needs fresh blood — people who will make decisions to encourage young players to play for Northern Ireland.”