Martin McGuinness has reiterated his desire for an all-Ireland international football team after visiting the home of the Northern Ireland side for the first time in almost 50 years.
Stormont’s deputy first minister was at Windsor Park in Belfast to watch a Setanta Cup game between his team Derry City and hosts Linfield on Monday night.
The Sinn Féin veteran’s attendance at a stadium with a history of sectarian problems and still viewed by many republicans as a cold house for Catholics represents another landmark in improving cross-community relations. It came weeks after Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson was a guest at his first Gaelic football match.
McGuinness, who last visited Windsor Park in 1964 before the Troubles began, said the warm welcome he received was a sign of changed times.
The deputy first minister has indicated he would be willing to attend a Northern Ireland game in the future but he stressed his hope that Ireland would one day be represented by one team, with one main league in the island.
“Monday night’s game was my first time at Windsor Park since the early 60s,” he said. “I have very fond memories of travelling on a train from Derry with my late father and brother Paul to see Derry take on Glentoran.
“It was a very pleasant experience to be there and I want to pay tribute to the board of Linfield and everyone associated with the club for the very warm welcome that I received, and it’s clearly a sign of the changing times.
“I think we should do everything possible to take the politics out of sport.
“Talking as a sports fan, it is my very strong view that soccer on the island would be much better served if we had an all-Ireland league and one international team.
“But that is a matter for the footballing authorities.
“That’s only my opinion as a true sports fan.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved