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Brendan Crossan: Remembrance Day guidance threatens to send IFA further into the past

Stoke City have said they "respect" the right of Derry player James McClean not to wear a poppy. Meanwhile, the IFA has decided not to kick into touch clubs' desire to perform Remembrance Day ceremonies at junior level
Brendan Crossan - The Boot Room

JAMES McClean made the news again this week, just as he did this time last year and the year before that.

While the Republic of Ireland international could probably do without the annual scrutiny over not wearing a poppy, on one level it's no bad thing that his decision still makes the headlines because it secularises the debate.

In the past, the Derry man has explained he would wear the poppy every day of the year if it were simply to commemorate Britain’s armed forces during the First and Second World Wars.

But where the Stoke City player has a problem is the poppy acknowledges all subsequent wars the British armed forces fought in.

It should come as no surprise that a man born in the Creggan estate of Derry has no interest in wearing a poppy after the 1st Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment shot 28 unarmed civilians, killing 14 on Bloody Sunday in 1972.

The previous year, the same regiment shot dead 10 people in what became known as the Ballymurphy massacre.

Callum Macrae’s powerful documentary, ‘The Ballymurphy Precedent’, recounts the story of Paddy McCarthy who was pulling a cart with milk and bread for residents when he was stopped and questioned by British soldiers on a street corner.

One soldier fired above his head.

As a result, Paddy McCarthy collapsed and died of a heart attack.

He became known as the 11th victim of the Ballymurphy siege.

For many people, it’s hard to know where the blood-red petals of the poppy start and end.

It means different things to different people.

The sliding scale of poppy wearers can swing from the pacifist to the belligerent English nationalist.

Years ago, the Irish League used to send out a directive to clubs to hold a minute’s silence around Remembrance Day.

One year, nobody remembers exactly when, the directive stopped coming.

The situation evolved where Irish League clubs could choose to hold a minute’s silence or not.

In a deeply divided society such as ours, it was undoubtedly the correct decision to stop sending out the directive.

But, given the political sensitivities and bloody past, the football authorities here should have gone further and decreed that games under their jurisdiction shall remain neutral at all times.

After England kicked up a fuss over FIFA’s non-negotiable stance on the issue of wearing poppies on jerseys, the world’s governing body subsequently relaxed their own rules on “commemorating a significant national or international event” after their opponents Germany agreed to wear black armbands with the poppy sown into them.

The re-wording of the rule came with important caveats: “The sensibilities of the opposing team (including its supporters) and the general public should be carefully considered.

“Competition rules may contain further restrictions/limitations, particularly in relation to the size, number and position of permitted slogans, statements and images. It is recommended that disputes relating to slogans, statements or images be resolved prior to a match/competition taking place.”

In a more recent development, Remembrance Day commemorations have reached further down into the ranks of local football here.

Last year, one Junior club remained in the changing rooms as their hosts performed a Remembrance Day ceremony.

In another game, a second Junior club continued with their pre-match warm-up as their opponents did something similar.

Both clubs should never have been put in that position in the first place because it creates the impression some people want to ram their political opinions down the throats of others.

Imagine if junior clubs from nationalist areas insisted on performing a pre-match ritual to remember the 1916 Easter Rising dead in front of a visiting club from a unionist/loyalist background. How uncomfortable would that be for their visitors?

If clubs wanted to commemorate the Easter Rising or Remembrance Day surely they could do so in their own time – at a training session or their meeting point - so that come Saturday the game would be free of any political trappings and be strictly about winning a football match.

Remember, too, that the vast majority of junior and intermediate games are played on council pitches and aren’t policed should trouble arise between players or supporters.

The IFA has sent out guidance to all its member leagues and divisional associations in the event of a club wishing to acknowledge Remembrance Day [on Saturday November 10].

One section reads: “If a visiting club does not feel it appropriate for them to participate they cannot and should not be compelled to do so.

“Furthermore any complaint of abuse or discrimination arising from this should be referred to the IFA for determination.”

I would argue the “sensibilities of the opposing team (including its supporters) and the general public” haven’t been “carefully considered” in the IFA’s guidance.

The fact that a club can still proceed with a Remembrance Day commemoration immediately before kick-off is not the right message to send out.

Clearly, there has been a cumbersome shift away from fostering a “politically neutral environment” – the IFA’s words in explaining why ‘God Save The Queen’ would not be played prior to the 2013 Irish Cup final between Cliftonville and Glentoran.

The same principle was applied for the 2009 Irish Cup decider between north Belfast neighbours Cliftonville and Crusaders.

And yet, spool forward to 2018, the IFA insisted on ‘God Save The Queen’ being played before the Irish Cup final between Cliftonville and Coleraine.

Boos rang out from Cliftonville supporters and the club’s players bowed their heads in protest.

Consequently, the atmosphere in the stadium was toxic at times, particularly towards the end of the final.

It begs the question: what happened between 2013 and 2018 at the IFA?

What happened to the worthy objective of fostering a “politically neutral environment”?

What does it say for their ‘Football For All’ campaign?

What message does that send out to the nationalist community?

Where is this cosy, little monolith?

In the sky?

Perhaps the IFA is still trying to foster a “politically neutral environment” in the Ladies game as ‘God Save The Queen’ was not played prior to their Irish Cup final between Linfield and Glentoran back in September.

Which begs another question: Is the anthem only reserved for the men’s Irish Cup final?

Playing ‘God Save the Queen’ at last season’s Irish Cup final could set the association back by 10 years or more.

And with Remembrance Day commemorations now set to become part of the landscape at park pitches dotted around the north, the IFA threatens to lurch further into the past.

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