A decorated veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has said he hopes the Northern Ireland team will wear poppies for their Armistice Day match in Belfast – but only if the players are united in doing so.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said no one should be made to wear the emblem against their will, although it was unfortunate many people still wrongly label the poppy a “political symbol”.
Clarification has been sought from football’s governing body Fifa around how Northern Ireland can remember the fallen when they play Azerbaijan at Windsor Park on November 11.
With three of the Home Nations having World Cup qualifiers on one of the most significant dates in the calendar, there has been speculation all players would wear a poppy on their kits as a mark of respect.
Mr Beattie said: “The Northern Ireland football team has a corporate image and if they are allowed to wear the poppy then that is great. I think they should wear the poppy but there has to be a consensus within the team as well – nobody should be forced to wear it. I wouldn’t want to see a team coming out where seven are wearing it and four aren’t.”
The English FA has been in discussions with Fifa over the prospect of both teams wearing the emblem when England play Scotland, and the Irish FA has written to Fifa asking what would be permissible under the rules. A report in the Sun newspaper claimed Fifa has banned England and Scotland from displaying poppies on their shirts as “political statements” are not allowed.
In 2011, Fifa eventually allowed the England team to display poppies on a black armband – in a match against Spain – having previously threatened a ban if the symbol appeared.
Yesterday, a spokesman for the Irish FA said some form of commemoration would take place at Windsor Park, but said it was not yet possible to say what it would be.
He said: “There will be an act of remembrance at the game on Armistice Day. We wrote to Fifa last week and are currently waiting their response as to what we are permitted to do under their game protocols.”
The issue has again caused controversy in the English Premier League with Londonderry-born Republic of Ireland international James McClean refusing to wear the poppy on his West Bromwich Albion kit.
DUP East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said McClean “was wrong to do it previously and he’s wrong now”.