The England band was completely unaware it was providing the background music for anti-IRA chants during Tuesday’s friendly in Scotland, its leader has said.
The England band, which is loosely associated with the Football Association, unwittingly provided the tune for chants of “F*** the IRA” in the first half of the 3-1 win at Celtic Park.
The band has since come in for severe criticism, but its leader John Hemmingham says he had no idea about the issue until he was notified about it by one of his colleagues.
Hemmingham instead thought the band was providing the tune to a song called “Follow England Away” rather than anything to do with the IRA, and apologised for any offence.
“We were absolutely not aware of it (the IRA chants),” Hemmingham said. “All the fans around us were singing ’Follow England Away’.
“It was only when a band member saw on Twitter that some people were saying we were playing anti-IRA songs that we became aware.
“Then we immediately stopped and played something else.”
Hemmingham, who formed the England band 21 years ago, added: “If anyone was offended by what was happening, then obviously we are not very happy about that.
“The FA have apologised and we would go along with that if anyone was offended.”
However, Hemmingham disputed the FA’s claim that it got in touch with him regarding the issue and insists he was the one to contact officials from English football’s governing body, and not the other way around.
“It’s been reported they contacted us and told us, but the reality is that we contacted them as soon as we found out,” Hemmingham said.
“We contacted them and said: ’We have been made aware of this. Rest assured, we will drown it out in the second half, we will play something else in the second half’, and that’s exactly what happened.
“The FA sent me a text saying ’Thanks for letting us know. Just make sure it doesn’t happen again.’ And that was it.
“We are being painted as the bad guys here for doing this and it’s completely the opposite.
“We are actually the ones that play nothing like this, we play over it. It’s very offensive to us. It’s so, so wrong. We are very upset about it.”
England manager Roy Hodgson apologised on behalf of the FA after the game, which his team won 3-1 thanks to two goals from Wayne Rooney and one from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Hodgson said: “I was aware the crowd were tremendously supportive. I didn’t have a clue what they were chanting.
”I don’t condone it. If anyone was offended, I’m sure the FA would like to apologise to them.
”All we can do is play our football and be grateful for the support, and hopefully they will behave themselves and not get themselves into a situation where their chanting is being criticised.”
The FA will be hoping the chants do not resurface again, particularly when England play against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin next June.
Leading anti-discrimination campaigner Piara Powar criticised the fans who joined in with the anti-IRA chanting, and called on the FA to make sure it does not occur again, particularly when the Republic of Ireland game is just seven months away.
“When England play (against the Republic of Ireland) it is always potentially an edgy game so it would be useful if England got it right before the game,” said Powar, chair of the FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) Network.
“The Ireland situation is being healed. People there have been working very hard in the north and south to address the troubles they had in the 1970s and 1980s and beyond and then England fans come along, the band get involved, and there are songs which are completely irrelevant.
“Presumably they were singing them last night because they were in Celtic Park and because Celtic has a strong Irish fan base.
“It’s completely unnecessary for England fans to get involved, and I think that now would be a good time for the FA to look at how the fans are led in their chanting.”