NI football top is a symbol of a unifying national sports team

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Funderland’s ban on the wearing of the Northern Ireland football top is, as the Presbyterian minister Rev Steve Stockman described it, an “outrage”.

Rev Stockman goes on to reach more general conclusions about sectarianism and sporting tops and he may well be true on those points.

But even before such wider considerations, Funderland’s ban on the Northern Ireland tracksuit top is appalling in itself.

The simple fact is that Northern Ireland is one of the four countries within the United Kingdom, a position now accepted by the Irish Republic.

Northern Ireland has a national football team, of which its small population is rightly proud and supportive, through good times and bad.

Last week that team achieved an extraordinary feat by qualifying at the top of its group for the Euros, its first time reaching those finals.

Northern Ireland did this by comfortably defeating a country – Greece – that has a population six times larger.

The result has sparked an outpouring of joy and has rallied the bulk of the population round some sense of Northern Irishness, even though many supporters also admit to varied loyalties (as the passionate NI fan Rory McIlroy has done, when he has spoken of both his Irishness and Britishness).

Outside of the sort of republican drinking den that collects money for “prisoners”, no business in the land should prohibit customers wearing the top of our unifying national soccer team unless for general reasons such as a formal dress code.

This row is not unrelated to the controversies over the Union Flag, which is the flag of the nation, but which is unacceptable to those people who have an obsessive fixation with parity of symbolism at all times.

But there should not for example be parity of authority in a jurisdiction or parity of state funding of a jurisdiction. And neither should there be an expectation of perfect parity of symbols.