Petition for new football anthem

Northern Ireland fans cheer on their team
Northern Ireland fans cheer on their team

A petition in support of a new anthem for the Northern Ireland football team has gained more than 200 signatures since it was set up on Wednesday.

The long-running debate has been re-opened by the online appeal, described as being “another step forward in creating a more inclusive environment for all of our players”.

The petition has been set up anonymously on ipetitions.com, a website which describes itself as “the most flexible online activism tool on the internet”, and which allows users to set up a petition on any subject they wish.

News Letter sports columnist and former Irish League boss Liam Beckett said he is open to – and would welcome – a debate on the new anthem, but added that the time may not be right for such a sensitive issue to be addressed.

With the removal of the Union Flag from City Hall in December, and the fallout since the Twelfth, tensions around identity remain high.

But Mr Beckett, who claimed football had always led by example through the tough times in Northern Ireland, said: “I would have absolutely no problem with a new anthem.”

He added: “The sooner people realise that playing a game of football does not threaten your identity in any way, the better. It would only be people with weak beliefs that would feel threatened.”

Some of those who have signed the petition left comments explaining their position on the issue.

Philip Hernberg said: “An NI all-inclusive sporting anthem for an NI specific sporting team is a must, keep GSTQ (God Save The Queen) for all-UK official events held in NI.”

Another poster, Chris Reid, said England, Scotland and Wales all have their own anthems of sorts, adding that Northern Ireland should have a song “which reaches out to both sides of our community and makes people proud to live here”.

The petition aims to gather 18,000 signatures – representing the maximum capacity of the redeveloped Windsor Park which is due to open in 2015.

DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen said the anthem issue is a “red herring”.

She said: “Looking at the background of the players currently in the squad, it is evident that they are fairly representative of the breakdown in Northern Ireland.

“I want to see a successful Northern Ireland team who are proud to represent their country but I do not see the playing of the National Anthem before the game as an obstacle to this.”

‘Queen’ was axed for cup final

In May this year, delegations from both the DUP and UUP visited the Irish FA to voice concerns after a decision was taken not to play God Save The Queen at the Irish Cup final between Glentoran and Cliftonville.

At the time, the IFA said it was hoped the decision would create a “politically neutral environment” for the match.

Speaking after the meeting, the DUP said they had been assured the decision for that match would not affect international games.

The UUP’s Michael Copeland said not playing the anthem at that game was “something local football could have done without”.