Irish president meets soccer stars of future on tour of NI National Stadium

By Rebecca Black, Press Association

The president of Ireland learned about efforts to tackle sectarianism in football during a visit to Northern Ireland’s National Stadium.

It was one of four visits which Michael D Higgins is undertaking in Belfast on Friday.

Mr Higgins and his wife Sabine were welcomed to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park where they heard about the efforts to promote the game for all.

Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Coyne at pitch side in the National Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast, meeting players from the Cliftonville and Linfield U9 girls’ teams (Liam McBurney/PA)

They met Irish Football Association staff involved in cross-community and peace-building work as well as the Anti-Sectarianism and Show Racism The Red Card workshops delivered in football clubs and schools.

They also heard about the association’s new strategy for girls’ and women’s football in Northern Ireland before meeting some of the potential stars of the future down on the pitch.

They then watched in action and met some of the players from rival Belfast clubs Cliftonville and Linfield Under-9 girls’ teams.

Irish President Michael D Higgins (centre right) and his wife Sabina Coyne (centre left) pitch-side in the National Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast, with IFA President David Martin (right) with players from the Cliftonville and Linfield U9 girls’ teams (Liam McBurney/PA)

The head of the Irish FA said the visit had been a great opportunity to highlight the work they are doing.

“It was great to have President Higgins and his wife at the home of football in Northern Ireland,” said Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson.

“The president is a huge football fan and his visit was a great opportunity for us to highlight just a few of the many strands of our work.”