Breaking silence | 

John Herron set to rebuild his career in Australia after ‘pro-IRA’ shirt controversy

“I went out that night to see the Wolfe Tones. I’ve grown up liking their songs and it is as simple as that”

Former Larne player John Herron pictured wearing a shirt appearing to show a 'pro-IRA' slogan.

Amy CochraneBelfast Telegraph

Ex-Larne midfielder John Herron is set to rebuild his career in Australia after he had his contract terminated by the Inver Park outfit last month when he was photographed in a T-shirt appearing to show a pro-IRA slogan.

Speaking to The Sun, Mr Herron said although he is looking forward to the move, his biggest regret is “the way I left Larne and something I’ll always regret because I do believe we would have gone on to win the league”.

The Irish Football Association hit the 28-year-old with a 10-game ban after the controversy.

The 28-year-old said, breaking his silence on the incident: “I went out that night to see the Wolfe Tones. I’ve grown up liking their songs and it is as simple as that.

“Some people may associate the songs with being pro-IRA but it was never about that for me. I’m sure there are people who like loyalist songs and I’ve nothing against that at all — it’s not about symbolising something, it was just going to a concert.

“But innocent people on all sides lost their lives in Northern Ireland in the Troubles and I didn’t think about that. I never saw the Troubles up close and never lost friends or family so I didn’t think about it in a way I should have so I am sorry for my thoughtless actions and the hurt it caused.

“I’m not making any excuses but ‘Celtic Symphony’ is my favourite song and I was handed that t-shirt as a gift. I accepted and I stupidly put it on and I’ll take the consequences.

“I’ve nothing against the people who have given me grief, and I know people looked up to me and I let them down. It wasn’t until I took a step back and saw the anger coming towards me that I started to understand.

“I’m not the cleverest person but I know what’s right and wrong. I know I should have been educated about these songs. People sing songs but don’t think about the words and we should with things like this.

"When you sing these lyrics there can be a bigger meaning and that is something I’ve had to learn, even though there was no thought process at the time.

“It was a harmless night out that turned into a nightmare. But I never did this to hurt anyone.”

The incident had impacted his family and friends, he said. “Most of my family are Protestants, so I’ve never been pro-anything and certainly not the IRA or any terrorist organisation.

“Yes, I’m known as a Catholic footballer who played for Celtic.

“I go to Mass three or four times a week, as I have since I was a young boy, but I’ve never been interested in anything outside that.

“I know I let myself down and I let my family down, as well as my partner and her family, who brought me in and have been so good to me.

“The upsetting part for me was how my own mistake meant I left Larne the way I did. I wanted to spend the rest of my career there.

“The sad part is I’ll not be able to see that through and people look at me in a different way now.”

Mr Herron said he wants to settle in Northern Ireland.

“Anyone who knows me will know I love it in Northern Ireland.

“I know the light-hearted banter in this country and I’d love to settle here and have a family when I’m finished playing but time will tell if that can happen.

“In Glasgow the sectarianism is because of football clubs, but in Northern Ireland people lived through the Troubles and understandably see things in a different way.

“There will be plenty of Celtic fans here who don’t agree with what I did and rightly so.

“Families are affected by things that happened here and that’s what I should have thought about.”

Prior to confirmation of his move to Australia, Herron had agreed to join Ballymena and Provincial League club Belfast Celtic.

“Belfast Celtic were brilliant and I want to thank them. Stephen [McAlorum, the club’s manager] was unbelievable,” he said.

“Other people have offered me help and support on and off the pitch and I really appreciate it.

“They aren’t the type of people who do things because they want credit but they know who they are.

“But Belfast Celtic were giving me a platform to rebuild my career.

“Everything was signed and agreed but the Australia move came up.

“I want to thank Mackers and the board for offering me the second chance.”

Mr Herron has now agreed to join a club in the NPL League and is set to move Down Under in January. He said it’s something he’s “had in mind for 12 months”.

“It’s something I thought about for the future,” he said. “I’ve had options before but I’ve always wanted to play abroad.

“It’s something I put on the back-burner because I was so happy at Larne and didn’t want to walk away from something not knowing what might have been.

“I’ve been to places before at a higher level and more money but I’ve never been as happy as I was at Larne.

“Moving to Australia is too good to turn down but I am not going because of what has happened.

“The thing putting me off was people thinking I was running away.

“I don’t need to leave this country because I can live with the abuse but playing abroad has always appealed to me.

“I’ve had chances before to go to Cyprus and America but it just wasn’t right at those times.

“The biggest regret is the way I left Larne and something I’ll always regret because I do believe we would have gone on to win the league.

“I’m just thankful I’ve got the opportunity to go to Australia but I’d love to come back to Northern Ireland to live.”

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