A London football club has given an unreserved apology after publicly describing the Northern Ireland flag as “sectarian”.
Haringey Borough FC’s chairman Aki Achillea issued a statement saying a supporter was asked to remove the “sectarian flag” which he said supported “the Ulster Unionists”.
He told the News Letter he had been erroneously advised on the flag by a number of Irish supporters of his club.
A supporter of Herne Bay had brought the flag to Haringey Borough FC’s Coles Park Stadium on Saturday.
Mr Achillea issued a statement saying the supporter was asked to remove the “sectarian flag” which he said supported “the Ulster Unionists”.
The words “Herne Bay, Loyal & True” were written on the flag, which had no reference to the Ulster Unionist Party.
He said the supporter refused to remove the flag and no further action was taken.
He added: “Rather than escalate what could have turned out to be an unfavourable situation and detract from the match itself a decision was taken to take no further action against this individual.
“The matter was pointed out to the referee and to the visiting officials from Herne Bay FC.
“It must be pointed out that the Club in so doing in no way associate themselves with the views of this individual and do not support and will not tolerate in any way shape or form the displaying of any material that is likely to cause offence to any person of whatever colour, creed, disability or sexuality.
“Any such person who brings such material to our ground in future will be asked to leave forthwith and if appropriate reported to the relevant authorities.
“We are an all inclusive diverse Club where absolutely everyone is welcome and no one will be permitted to promote or inflict upon others any views which conflict with the ethos of our club.”
However, unknown to him at the time, the Ulster Unionist Party was instrumental in securing the cross community Good Friday Agreement in 1998, has had several high profile LGBT members and gives a free vote to all members on issues of sexual orientation.
A UUP party spokesperson said: “The Chairman of Haringey Borough FC has demonstrated a considerable lack of knowledge about Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland flag is regularly flown at football grounds by supporters across the world. Indeed, it is the official flag of the Northern Ireland international football team. This looks like an overreaction that could be remedied through education to avoid future embarrassment.”
Mr Achillea called the News Letter on Monday afternoon to say that the club had been flooded with complaints and went on to make an unreserved apology for his in “inappropriate” comments which had been made “borne out total ignorance”.
Mr Achillea conceded that the complaints originally lodged with him had come from Irish fans of Haringley Borough FC.
“I know that some of the fans and some of those that were complaining are Irish,” he told the News Letter.
“After an incident at last Saturday’s FA Cup match whereby some Haringey Borough supporters were offended by a flag displayed by the opposition team, as Chairman of Haringey Borough FC I posted a statement which I now understand has offended many people,” he said. “That statement was not designed in any way to offend anyone and was only designed to make the point that as a diverse Community based Club we welcome everyone to our ground of all race, religion, creed and disability and that if in future anyone attended our ground and sought to display any material that offended anyone then they would not be allowed to do so.
“That was the only intent in my statement. I apologise unreservedly to anyone who was offended by my remarks as a consequence of the inappropriate language that I used in that statement. I did not in any way intend to offend anyone and I accept that my remarks have caused offence and inadvertently inflamed the situation. I have to confess that my remarks were borne out of total ignorance and for that I apologise once again and I fully appreciate that I should have researched matters further before commenting.”
Commentators on the club website had debated the legitimacy of the flag, some of them saying that technically, it has not had official status since the early 1970s.
However others pointed out that it is used on a day-to-day basis by the Northern Ireland football team and in many other roles.