A disabled war veteran has criticised the decision taken by the Irish Football Association (IFA) not to let Northern Ireland players wear a commemorative poppy on their shirts on Friday.
Rathcoole man Bryan Phillips has voiced his disappointment at the decision taken by the IFA to let players wear a black armband rather than a poppy during the FIFA World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium, Windsor Park, on Friday.
Michael O’Neill’s side take on Azerbaijan in the Group C match on Armistice Day.
Bryan believes that due to the game being played on November 11, the team should be allowed to wear commemorative poppies during the tie.
He joined the British Army in 2005, before going on tours in Iraq (2007) and Afghanistan (2010 and 2012).
On his last tour of Afghanistan he stood on am improvised explosive device (IED) and lost both of his legs above the knee. He now also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Bryan said: “I have followed my country all over the world throughout the years and I am currently a block-booker thanks to the freedom I have today because of the men and women who served in all wars and conflicts. They inspired me that much that I decided to join the Army myself.”
Speaking of the comfort he gets from supporting Northern Ireland, Bryan added: “There’s one thing that helps me cope with my PTSD and that’s football. I have met so many great people through going to the games, both home and away, and many fans will recognise me for the fact that I walk around using prosthetic legs. They come up to chat to me and thank me for the service I have done for my country, but to me I’d do it again as I knew what I was joining up for.”
Bryan feels let down by the decision. He explained: “I hope the people in the IFA don’t believe that the poppy is a political symbol. If they do, I am more than willing to educate them on what the poppy stands for. After following my team and forking out a lot of money I feel let down by the IFA and truly feel they are offending the 18,000 plus people that will be wearing their poppy at the game this weekend.”
Commenting on the issue, chair of the Antrim branch of the Royal British Legion, Cllr Paul Michael said: “This decision by the IFA not to let players wear poppies on their shirts will not win favour with a lot of people. FIFA have said they do not support the wearing of political emblems, but the poppy is not a political emblem.”
The UUP representative added: “I support the decision taken by England and Scotland, who have decided to wear a poppy during their match on Friday. They will do it on the grounds that it the poppy is not a political symbol.
“This is a topic for discussion as we move towards Armistice Day and one which many war veterans will be disappointed with.”
PUP representative Scott McDowell has hit out at the decision. He said: “I think FIFA’s decision to ban the poppy is an absolute disgrace. The World Wars affected so many people around the world and I can’t understand why FIFA have decided to take this action.
“I have saluted England and Scotland for the stance they took in deciding to go against the FIFA ruling. I firmly believe that Northern Ireland should have followed this example.
“Sometimes decisions are made and sometimes they are the wrong one. Sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe is right, regardless of what the consequences will be- for me this is one of them.”