As over 10,000 men, women and children stand at attention, ‘No Surrender’ is the cry that echoes around them after being bellowed out from within their ranks.

Without the gift of vision to observe the scene in which this defiant statement was sung with gusto by a vocal minority or a sense of their current location, one might either believe they were in the middle of a warzone or, as has become more common on these shores in the modern era, the midst of a mass Loyalist protest

Alas however it is neither, with the occasion being an International Challenge match for Northern Ireland at Windsor Park. An occasion that was not too long ago regarded as a beacon for ‘Football for All’ and an example of how sport and the work of fans together could overturn the disease of sectarianism; a disease that has blighted our country for too long.

And with those two words we once again witnessed the reigniting of the fiery debate as to whether an alternative sporting anthem should be used at the commencement of International games, opposed to the National Anthem.

Needless to say, there have been some emotive comments on the subject, as one has come to expect when such a sensitive topic of change is mooted, as we move out of a post conflict period and into what we would hope is a new positive Northern Ireland.

So why are some calling for change?

When I think of a National Anthem in sporting terms, I picture players standing with their chests pressed forward with pride and beating out the words, indicating their devotion and loyalty to both their country and the team they are about to represent.

Anyone who follows the Northern Ireland International team, from U16 right up to senior level, will note that this is increasingly not the case, with a number of players seemingly not at ease while God Save the Queen is being played.

Indeed, one poster on an online forum made the following observation at an International fixture

'One of the many depressing aspects of last night was the camera panning along our squad, and bench during the anthem. Heads bowed like they were at a funeral'.

While no one doubts the commitment of any nationalist player when they pull on the famous green shirt, it should be of no surprise that giving the demographic make-up of our country, the national anthem of the United Kingdom is not something that they, or indeed a good number of supporters, can relate to.

Indeed in 2003, John Dallat, the SDLP MLA for East Londonderry, stated that the playing of God Save the Queen before international matches was ‘deterring Catholics from attending matches’.

Former ‘Elite Player Mentor’, the legendary Gerry Armstrong, also expressed similar sentiments when he noted the following when attempting to tackle the flow of players born within the six counties declaring for the Republic of Ireland.

'It is an issue which is sensitive to a lot of nationalist lads…. It (the anthem) was an issue that was brought up on several occasions and it’s something that I am aware of'.


'I've spoken to a lot of nationalist families and kids who play and represent Northern Ireland at under-17, under-19, and under-21 level, and obviously it is an issue that needs to be discussed'.

In interviews conducted with former player Paul McVeigh, it appears that Armstrong’s findings are not unique, with the ex-Norwich ace stating

'The anthem is the one sticking point that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. It could be a reason for someone not to play for Northern Ireland and really we want to encourage young players coming through to want to play for Northern Ireland'

Interestingly enough, it is not just former players who are aware of the issues in regards to GTSQ being played before internationals, with a report commissioned by the Irish Football Association themselves in 2005 concluding

'While the new stadium offers a huge opportunity to meet the 1996 Sports Council criterion of venue neutrality, this cannot be entirely achieved for as long as God Save the Queen is played at Northern Ireland games'.

One thing that is also clear from the various studies is that those interviewed have noted strongly that a change of anthem would not see them switch their allegiance from the Republic. Many of them however regard themselves as a lost generation; a generation that previously supported both teams equally, however were lost due to various incidents over the past few decades.

With that in mind, there is a school of thought that by helping to break down the perceived barriers for attending International games at the National Stadium, there is the opportunity to reverse this psychology and begin to secure the support of future generations.

For me though, the introduction of a Sporting anthem is not simply about making it a more inviting environment from those of a Nationalist outlook.

It is about being able to demonstrate a proudness of being from Northern Ireland, something that is unique to all of us born within the six counties. And having lived in both England and Scotland, I can assure anyone reading this that we our unique; regardless of where we worship or what our political views are.

That does not mean I am in any less British. It does not mean that I do not see the Queen as our head of State and it certainly does not mean that I do not regard God Save the Queen as my National Anthem.

What it means is, as Rory McIlroy put it, I am ‘a proud Ulsterman’

Why should the National Anthem be changed? It is the anthem of our country.

The above is a statement that is often thrown out by those opponents of change, along with comments like the following from infamous Loyalist protestor Jamie Bryson

‘Heinous proposals to ban the National Anthem from NI games. More fruit of the Belfast Agreement tree’.

and Brian Higginson of UKIP

‘Those suggesting the national anthem be banned are the very same people who bore us silly about the Good Friday Agreement, reminding us how their prized agreement can’t be ‘cherrypicked’’

In hearing some of their thoughts on the matter, one cannot help but think that they are in some way misunderstanding the proposals and not actually considering who is in fact calling for the change, as it is the Northern Ireland fans themselves and no one else who are pushing the idea forward.

To hopefully clear up that matter, any of the proponents of change I have discussed the matter with have always been consistent in their thoughts that no one is requesting a change to the actual National Anthem itself.

The proposals are merely to implement a sporting anthem; a sporting anthem that everyone can get behind, whether they are Catholic, Protestant or any other religious domination and celebrate the fact that we are extremely proud to be from Northern Ireland.

A sporting anthem similar to that the Scottish and Welsh were able to introduce several decades ago, with ‘Flower of Scotland’ and ‘Land of our Fathers’ respectively.

It is also worth pointing out that despite the scare stories thrown out by the likes of Bryson, Higginson and those from the DUP, the adoption of a sporting anthem has nothing to do with the Good Friday Agreement. A fact that is probably not lost on them, but a good tool to use in order to play on the sensitivities of the issue in order to grab some votes.

First our flag at the City Hall and now our anthem, but surely this is just another attempt to erode our Britishness?

Quite often I have heard the argument put forward that the call for God Save the Queen to be changed before the start of international matches, is just another attempt to take away our Britishness.

For me, while I understand some people’s concerns, I do not believe it is a valid argument.

Do they really believe that by God Save the Queen not being played before an International football match, they are going to be any less British?

Did any of us feel any less British the morning after when God Save the Queen was not played before the Irish FA Cup Final (despite the DUP’s despicable threat of legal action on the matter)?

If Northern Ireland’s place in the Union really depended on what happened before the kick-off in a football match, would our local politicians not be holding political rallies before each and every game? That’s not an invitation for them to start of course!!

If we look at the Scottish, it is worth noting that the Scottish Football Association adopted 'Flower of Scotland' as its official sporting anthem in 1997.

Was this really the catalyst for the call for Scottish Independence and is it not true that 16 years later the Scottish are still part of the United Kingdom?

Closer to home, one must also remember that ‘Danny Boy’ (sung to the music of ‘Londonderry Air’) is used at the Commonwealth Games as Northern Ireland's sporting anthem, yet no one noticed their Britishness being diminished following those events. Are we really likely to wake up to find we are being ruled by Dublin or that our passports have changed following Glasgow 2014?

Indeed, if anyone can think back to the events of 1985 when Barry McGuigan defeated Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road, they will remember with joy the pride they felt when Danny Boy was sung from all corners of the stadium, with the Ulster Banner flying alongside.

And let’s not forget, almost 30 years on, Northern Ireland still remain very much part of the Union despite God Save the Queen not being played to celebrate McGuigan’s success for our wee country.

What do England fans think of GSTQ and do the share the same viewpoint that adopting a sporting anthem will erode their Britishness?

While we are all aware that both Scotland and Wales have their own sporting anthems, it is with interest to note that in a survey conducted by ‘This England Magazine’, over 93% voted for England to have its own anthem, while in a poll by the English FA after the 2002 World Cup, 36% of England supporters wanted a change to GSTQ, even though there was zero campaigning and no alternatives offered.

The following statement from an England supporter is also telling, as it appears those in the Northern Ireland camp calling for change are not alone in their views.

'Within the UK Land of my fathers is used as the national anthem for Wales and Scotland uses Flower of Scotland. God Save Our Queen is not an English national anthem but it is the United Kingdom anthem, which may explain the lack of enthusiasm shown by the English football team'.

In 2009, the following motion was also tabled at Government level, although it is not clear on what the outcome was.

'That this House believes that it is time for England to adopt an appropriate song as the English national anthem to be used by English sporting teams and athletes; further believes that it is quite wrong that England uses the UK national anthem; considers that God Save the Queen should only be used for British or UK teams, for example the British Lions and at the Olympics, including if a Team GB football team competes at the London 2012 Olympics; is concerned that the continued use of God Save the Queen by the English and the failure to make the distinction between England and Britain is inaccurate and confusing and that not making the distinction between England and Britain actually undermines the union; urges the English people to recognise that British and English identity are not the same and that God Save the Queen is the anthem of Britain as a whole; and calls, therefore, for the introduction of a solely English national anthem to be used on occasions when England, as opposed to the UK, is being represented’

If many within the English camp are calling for a unique sporting anthem of their own and seemingly not concerned of a loss of their Britishness, is there really anything we should fear?

Will a change in sporting anthem really make a difference?

I am not naïve enough to believe that changing the song which is played before International games will have supporters flocking back through the turnstiles or stop the next generation of up and coming players defecting to the Republic of Ireland.

Indeed, I can understand where Mark McIntosh was coming from when he stated

'It is 40 seconds. I don't think it makes that much of a difference. Catholic players play for Northern Ireland now and respectfully stand during the anthem'.

However, it is words such as the following from Trevor Ringland that stick in my mind.

‘Another song could send a gesture towards those who find it difficult to stand for God Save The Queen’

and former Cliftonville footballer David Hassan

‘replacement of God Save the Queen would be ‘a welcome and magnanimous gesture’

Further food for thought for Northern Ireland fans should also be these additional comments made by Hassan

'It would unquestionably do much to convince Catholics about the degree of change that has taken place within the country’s soccer administration in recent years. A commitment to making this change, coupled with an improvement in the team’s fortunes on the pitch, could well persuade Catholics in Northern Ireland to assume a greater interest in the affairs of the country’s international side'.

And almost importantly to me, I believe that a unique sporting anthem will give us as a country the opportunity to show how proud we are to be from these shores and the six counties we were born into.

So where to now?

Gerry Armstrong, in his analysis of the situation, noted

'Predictably, there’s one view that thinks the move could bring a few more Catholics back to international matches at Windsor Park. But on the other hand it has become clear there would be a significant number of dissenters among the fans who have supported us through thick and thin.

The research I’ve done points to a conclusion I had foreseen all along - there is no point, no benefit, when it comes to bridging the yawning gap in society here.’

Unfortunately that is the situation for the Irish FA; they really are in a no win situation

If they change the anthem, they risk alienating a lot of their current supporters, yet if they don’t, they still risk alienating supporters and importantly, also potential future players.

Similarly for organisations such as the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs (AoNISC) or even ordinary IFA member clubs, to take such a motion for change forward, would be an extreme risk that could see their memberships split in two.

For those reasons, it is likely that the status quo will remain and the only likelihood for change is in the situation where former Irish FA president Jim Boyce suggestion below comes to fruition.

'perhaps a football anthem should be played at all World Cup and European games, like in the Champions League, instead of the national anthems’

On a personal level, what I would like to see is the Irish FA being proactive and actually going out and surveying their Blockbookers, as after all, they are the ones who are there at each game and within the stadium when the anthem is played.

With a new stadium almost upon us, there is no better time to implement the change; that is, if that is what the majority of supporters want.

Regardless of what the IFA decide to do, one things for sure is that our politicians, whether they be Loyalist, Nationalist, Republican or Unionist, should not be interfering and dictating what should be played.

This should be a decision for the fans and the fans alone