Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland jersey is not sectarian, fumes football legend Gerry Armstrong

By Stuart McKinley and Cate McCurry

Football legend Gerry Armstrong has blasted bans on Northern Ireland fans from wearing their country's colours in bars and other premises as "political correctness gone wrong".

Armstrong scored one of the most famous goals in Northern Ireland's history when he hit the winner against Spain in the 1982 World Cup finals - a strike which put Billy Bingham's team into the second round.

Members of the Green and White Army are still on a high after the current team, under Michael O'Neill, secured qualification for next summer's European Championship finals in France by beating Greece 3-1 at Windsor Park last week.

But some supporters have had the feel-good factor marred by being blocked from entering licensed premises and other events while wearing Irish FA branded clothing.

"I'm shocked by this. Banning people from wearing Northern Ireland shirts in Northern Ireland is political correctness gone wrong," said Armstrong (below), who won 63 caps during his international career.

"Would someone wearing a GAA shirt be banned?

"The people who run these places should know themselves that a Northern Ireland shirt isn't a sectarian symbol.

"The Irish FA's Football For All campaign has worked for years to rid sectarian elements from the game and the international team has played a part in that.

"There is a great opportunity to build and unite people through football with everyone getting behind the team and in terms of where people can and can't go with shirts on, I hope common sense can prevail," added Armstrong.

Pressure has been mounting for a relaxation of rules for fans wearing Northern Ireland branded clothing in social premises, including bars and family-friendly events.

Belfast city centre bars have also come in for criticism for upholding a blanket ban policy on football tops.

The debate started after a Belfast man was told that his tracksuit emblazoned with the NI football crest was "sectarian" and was refused entry to Funderland on Sunday unless he covered it up or turned his clothes inside out.

Dad-of-two Stuart Meikle said he had to sit in the car while his partner took their daughter inside to the fun fair.

Funderland later defended its position saying that they "don't intend to cause anybody offence" and added that their policy applies to "all team colours", with marketing manager John Magee revealing that the advice not to allow football teamwear originally came from the RUC during the Troubles.

"Firstly, we don't intend to cause offence to anybody and this policy has been in place since we arrived in Northern Ireland 34 years ago," he said. "Nothing has changed in that regard.

"It's a broad policy which we were originally advised in the early days by the police of no team colours. We apply that policy in our advertising on TV and our print advertising and down through the years we've never had a sectarian incident on our ground of anything arriving out of sportswear of any kind."

Linfield defender Mark Haughey also revealed on Twitter yesterday that he was asked to conceal his team's crest on his jumper.

The 24-year-old went to Funderland after a recent match and said he was not aware of any rule prohibiting football tops.

He tweeted yesterday: "Seen recently (people) asked to cover the NI badge to gain entrance into Funderland. I also had to turn my Linfield hoodie inside out to enter."

Mr Magee also told the BBC's Stephen Nolan show: "It's not just Northern Ireland or indeed specifically Northern Ireland, it's all team colours. So if somebody turned up, for example, with an Irish rugby shirt and Ireland have qualified for quarter final of Rugby World Cup, we would apply the same policy.

"We are as delighted as anybody at the outstanding performance of Northern Ireland."

While many bars operate a policy of no sports tops in a bid to avoid sectarian tensions between rival fans, Pub chain owner Stephen Magorrian of the Horatio Group said the blanket ban across some of Belfast's best known bars is to create a particular "stylish image".

He said bars that enforce the ban are not afraid of sports fans causing trouble.

"In the past that may have been the case, it's now because they are trying to creating a certain image for that bar and that you should make an effort in what you wear," he said.

"If you want to wear your shirt of the team you support then that's fine. Years ago people would have been worried about trouble, but not anymore."

Belfast Telegraph


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