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Top football figure urges fans to focus on matters on the pitch at Irish Cup final as game marred over national anthem

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The DUP's William Humphrey, Edwin Poots , Michelle McIlveen, Jim Shannon and David Hilditch arriving to meet with representatives of the Irish Football Association earlier today

The DUP's William Humphrey, Edwin Poots , Michelle McIlveen, Jim Shannon and David Hilditch arriving to meet with representatives of the Irish Football Association earlier today

The DUP's William Humphrey, Edwin Poots , Michelle McIlveen, Jim Shannon and David Hilditch arriving to meet with representatives of the Irish Football Association earlier today

The senior figure in Northern Ireland football has urged fans to focus on matters on the pitch ahead of the Irish Cup final and accused outside influences of “stirring up” tensions.

Jim Boyce, who is vice-president of world football’s governing body FIFA and president of Cliftonville Football Club, said he was “disappointed” the showpiece match has been marred by controversy.

Unionist politicians have hit out at the Irish Football Association following their decision not to play the national anthem ahead of this Saturday’s tie between Glentoran and league champions Cliftonville.

Mr Boyce — who has been involved in local football for over 60 years — said it was imperative for the image of the local game that any issues off the pitch are not allowed to detract from the final, one of the most-anticipated fixtures in the sporting calendar.

“I have always said sport and politics should not mix,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“There should be nothing whatsoever between sport and politics mixing and I hope both sets of supporters will realise how important it is for their clubs to give the right image, not only to the people who are at the game but also to the many watching on TV.

“I hope common sense will prevail and it will be a momentous day to show Belfast can stage a cup final, with a massive crowd without any problems.”

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There have been reports of planned protests ahead of the game at Windsor Park, with security a concern given the bumper crowd of over 12,000 fans expected to attend.

A delegation of unionist politicians met with the IFA to discuss their concerns.

Chair of the Assembly’s Culture Committee, the DUP’s Michelle McIlveen, was joined by party colleagues and MLAs David Hilditch, William Humphrey and Edwin Poots as well as MP Jim Shannon.

Speaking after the meeting Ms McIlveen said: “We were able to outline the concerns which have been raised with us by football fans from across the community and to seek further clarification.

"We pressed the IFA about the standing of the decision taken by the Committee and the procedures used. The IFA have promised to provide the detailed information about this and I look forward to receiving it.

“We were fully reassured however that this decision by the challenge cup committee has no impact upon the national anthem at international matches. This was one of the concerns we raised with the IFA representatives. I know many football fans were concerned that some people would use this incident to re-open an unnecessary debate on that issue.

“Whilst we outlined our belief that the national anthem should be played at the Irish Cup final it is also important to stress that Saturday should only be about football. There should be nothing done by anyone which would take away from the sporting occasion and which would only damage the reputation of a sport which is open and welcoming to everyone in our society.”

STORY SO FAR

Last week it emerged the IFA’s challenge cup committee had decided against playing the anthem before the match at Windsor Park to create a “politically neutral environment”. But some fans have described the decision as “disgraceful” and “potentially inflammatory”.

The playing of the national anthem has been scrapped before other high-profile local games.

Four years ago it was decided not to play it ahead of the Irish Cup final between Cliftonville and Crusaders, as well as this year’s League Cup final between the two clubs.

The IFA has said it will decide upon the playing of the anthem on a case by case basis in future.


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