Kenny Archer: Modern footballers must be sensible and consign sectarianism to the past

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty is alleged to have made a sectarian comment in Belfast last week.
Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty is alleged to have made a sectarian comment in Belfast last week.

ETERNAL vigilance is the price of liberty – it's also the cost of fame.

There's a smattering of sympathy here for modern-day footballers, but this column also always take the view that you have the pay the price for your own stupidity.

I'm certainly not immune from mistakes, I'm far from being an angel.

Yet no decent grown-up should (allegedly) make sectarian remarks, never mind in public. If there was 'drink taken' that's not a mitigating factor – 'in vino veritas'…

Nor should any decent grown-up glorify paramilitaries and make out that they're somehow a subject for joking and bantz. There was nothing funny for the thousands needlessly murdered by paramilitaries of all stripes. There remains nothing amusing for their still grieving friends and relatives.

Remember your dead, of course, but do so respectfully to others.

Sectarianism contributed largely to 'The Troubles', and it will remain a blight on this part of the world as long as people perpetuate prejudices about 'them'uns'.

To return to sport, sort of, the controversies involving two Northern Ireland internationals footballers, Kyle Lafferty and Conor McMenamin, were a consequence of that toxic combination of stupidity and social media. Both, like all of us who live here, have been brought up in a sectarian society. Thankfully that is slowly changing for the better, but laughing about the past is painful for those who lived – and died – through those awful decades.

It was quite right that Lafferty was removed from the squad, given that his alleged remark about Celtic FC/ Celtic fans was made just over a week ago, ironically after a team 'bonding' meal at a restaurant.

It was wrong for McMenamin to suffer the same fate on Saturday, not long before kick-off against Kosovo, because of an historic Tweet.

To be clear, had McMenamin chanted what he did this year, he should absolutely have joined Lafferty in being ousted from the squad.

Yet surely the IFA should have known that the video was from years ago and that McMenamin had been punished by his club at the time?

It was wrong too that manager Ian Baraclough had to be the bearer of the bad news.

However, the lack of leadership from the men at the top of the IFA put Baraclough in that awkward position.

Neither IFA President Conrad Kirkwood nor Chief Executive Patrick Nelson put their heads above the parapet to make any public pronouncement about issues which have the potential to do great damage to the reputation of the Association.

Sure, the IFA has to observe the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty', although in both cases the evidence appeared appallingly clear.

However, would it have been so hard for those IFA men to state some sensible general principles? To say that the IFA abhors sectarianism of any type? That it regularly reminds its international players of their responsibilities and their expected standards of behaviour? To announce that the IFA would carry out education programmes? Or to point out that it already does so?

None of that.

Instead, silence.

The only words coming from an Englishman sent out to deal with the sensitivities of a centuries-old conflict.

Baraclough, in my view, should have condemned the alleged comment and chant, while also providing support for his players.

Admittedly that would have been a tricky balancing act for him – and not a fine line he should have to walk.

It's understandable that he expressed concern for the footballers, not least because he has been under pressure because of run of poor results prior to the dramatic late win over Kosovo.

Baraclough was a player himself, but – as he acknowledged – in a very different era.

"When I was playing, there was no social media… You have to give yourself a chance of just not slipping in any sort of way.

"When you're in the public light you're always there to be tripped up, I suppose; it's a shame that you have to be on your guard all the time because most people that speak to you do it in genuine good faith."

For all the money that modern players are paid, theirs is not an easy life.

I can go out with my mates and make a fool of myself. No one cares - except my wife. If Kyle Lafferty or Conor McMenamin does so then it's possible, indeed probable, that someone will post a video of their misbehaviour on social media.

It might even be one of their 'mates', out to make some handy money.

Yet players also have to help themselves. Those in full-time football are pretty well paid and part of that deal is behaving differently from other young men.

Their partying may have to wait until their late 30s.

Until then, players have to be smarter, even when they're not fully sober.

The Irish FA has been working hard over the past couple of decades to eradicate sectarianism, to be inclusive of all sections of society in Northern Ireland.

Any more episodes like what has happened over the past week will only confirm prejudices and set matter back to the bad old days.