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Sparked by the broadcast of a UTV documentary earlier this week – exploring the views of key figures in the international set up past and present – a number of media commentators have also aired their views on the subject of the anthem, with many calling for it to be replaced, or jointly used with The Solider’s Song to recognise the community background of the players from the nationalist tradition.
However, former Irish rugby international Trevor Ringland has said the divisive debate over the anthem is deflecting attention away from where it should be – on the fans’ unrivalled efforts to prevent any sectarian attitudes from the past poisoning the cross-community culture around the Windsor Park of today.
“The key thing for the Northern Ireland football fans is to be recognised for the tremendous work they have done and to keep doing it,” he said.
“The way they challenged themselves to change was fantastic. They are the one group of people on this island that have done it.
“Northern Ireland fans know there are young nationalists playing for the team, and they really respect that those young nationalists have declared for Northern Ireland, they want them to be out on the pitch, they want all of the young people in Northern Ireland to aspire to play for Northern Ireland, and they have worked really hard at creating an atmosphere that is friendly and a lot of young nationalists appreciate that.”
He also said there are those who resent the fact that Northern Ireland football fans have “proved that sectarianism can be tackled” and that “the rest of the island need to follow their example”.
Mr Ringland said his unionist background did not prevent him from recognising the Irish national anthem used for rugby internationals.
“When I played rugby for Ireland we stood out of respect for The Soldier’s Song. But it was a different Soldier’s Song – it was not wrapped around the IRA, it was one of friendship and one of a group of people who wanted us to be out there on the pitch representing them,” he said.
“Would I suggest that we look at a sporting anthem as well [at football internationals], to play in addition to God Save The Queen? I would say we did that in rugby and it works really well, because it is an extension of that constructive atmosphere.
“In the medium term anyway, and maybe forever, God Save The Queen might well be played, but it would be nice to have something else [also],” Mr Ringland added.
READ: Windsor Park 1993: worst night of sectarian thuggery that never was
READ: Opinion: 1993 match a case study in nationalist myth making
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