Football poppy row: Campbell criticises IFA over Armistice Day build-up

The Northern Ireland poppy shirt which was withdrawn from online sale by the IFA before being reinstated

The Northern Ireland poppy shirt which was withdrawn from online sale by the IFA before being reinstated

The Irish Football Association’s handling of poppy-related issues has been described as a “horlicks”.

The temporary withdrawal of a Northern Ireland replica shirt bearing a poppy provided the latest off-the-pitch distraction in the build-up to tonight’s game against Azerbaijan.

The shirt had been available earlier this week via the JD Sports website until the IFA instructed the retailer to withdraw it. Yesterday afternoon it was back on sale.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the IFA had become caught up in a series of problems arising from Fifa’s stance on poppies that could easily have been avoided.

“It’s does seem to be a bit of a horlicks on behalf of the IFA,” said Mr Campbell.

“They should have known what their official shirt manufacturer was selling and to withdraw it just drew even more attention.”

The IFA said it was not consulted on the shirts which were withdrawn over concerns about the advertising literature.

Since the limited edition shirt went back on sale a line has been added to the description to say all profits from the sales of the shirts will go to the Royal British Legion.

Mr Campbell said: “It looks bad on the IFA that they didn’t know these shirts were on sale. To withdraw them then put them back on sale adds to the embarrassment.”

The shirts were back on the JD Sports site yesterday alongside England, Scotland and Wales shirts bearing poppies. It is understood the company make the shirts to order by adding a poppy to the standard home shirt in much the same way as names and numbers are ironed on to replica kits.

The IFA issued the following statement: “The decision to sell the Northern Ireland shirts with the poppy was one made by JD Sports which is the Irish FA’s retail partner.

“When we were made aware of the sale of the shirts we asked JD if all profits from the sale go to the Royal British Legion. They have agreed to that request and the shirt went back on sale with the new charitable donation element made clear.”

It is the latest unwanted development in the tumultous build-up to the crunch World Cup qualifier against second-placed Azerbaijan.

The saga began nearly two weeks ago when England and Scotland asked Fifa for permission to wear poppies on their shirts for their game which also takes place tonight. When they were denied by Fifa their respective FAs announced they would be defying the ban.

The pressure was on the Irish Football Association to make a decision. After a week of deliberation it announced on Tuesday players would be wearing plain black armbands in order to avoid possible Fifa sanctions, a move slammed by many as being ‘spineless’.

Mr Campbell said: “The IFA have got embroiled in issues that they didn’t need to get embroiled in. They should have shown solidarity with the English and Scottish FAs.

“The IFA need to take a more decisive, consistent stance when issues like this arise. Fans want to pay their respects, play the match, and all being well, win it. This build-up has been unnecessary and avoidable.”