Belfast Telegraph

Football club chairman in apology over 'sectarian' flag comments

The Northern Ireland flag read
The Northern Ireland flag read "Herne Bay, Loyal & True".
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

A English football club chairman has apologised after branding a Northern Ireland flag brought to an FA Cup game as "sectarian".

He said the remarks were borne out of "total ignorance" and he should have researched the matter before making his original statement.

The Ulster Banner was unfurled by a Herne Bay supporter at the FA Cup qualifying game at Haringey Borough FC's Coles Park on Saturday.

On it was printed "Herne Bay, Loyal & True".

Following the game Haringey Borough FC's chairman Aki Achillea issued a statement saying the supporter was asked to remove the "sectarian flag" which he said supported "the Ulster Unionists".

He said the flag offended some of his club's fan and the away supporter asked to remove it.

However, on Monday evening Mr Achillea apologised for his remarks.

He said: "I posted a statement which I now understand has offended many people.

"That statement was not designed in any way to offend anyone and was only designed to make the point that as a diverse community-based club we welcome everyone to our ground of all race, religion, creed and disability and that if in future anyone attended our ground and sought to display any material that offended anyone then they would not be allowed to do so."

"That was the only intent in my statement."

Mr Achillea continued: "I apologise unreservedly to anyone who was offended by my remarks as a consequence of the inappropriate language that I used in that statement. I did not in any way intend to offend anyone and I accept that my remarks have caused offence and inadvertently inflamed the situation.

"I have to confess that my remarks were borne out of total ignorance and for that I apologise once again and I fully appreciate that I should have researched matters further before commenting."

Haringey Borough FC is based in Tottenham in north London.

The supporter refused to remove the flag when asked. The club's chairman said they did not want to escalate the situation so took no further action. He said the matter was highlighted to match officials and Herne Bay.

"Any such person who brings such material to our ground in future will be asked to leave forthwith and if appropriate reported to the relevant authorities," his original statement said.

The Ulster Banner was the official flag of Northern Ireland until 1972. It remains however, the officially recognised flag for the Northern Ireland international football team.

The club's statement led to a row on the club's official website.

One fan wrote: "Absolutely outrageous statement. The flag and words are as far away from what you suggest as possible. We would suggest and urge you to retract those comments and apologise to the gentleman in question."

Another said: "Please explain in what way this flag is sectarian. It is not purely the flag of the Ulster Unionists.

"It is the official flag of Northern Ireland and is as valid as the Scottish Saltire, the English St. George Cross or Welsh Baner Cymru."

One Northern Ireland supporter posted: "That is the flag of my country you absolute clown... I find your ridiculous statement offensive and maybe you need to learn about which countries make up the United Kingdom! Watch the flag be flown at Windsor park tonight against Germany?"

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