Like many things the word ‘politics’ has its roots in ancient Greece – Politiká or ‘affairs of the cities’.

Democracy might not be something we currently associate with the current Stormont Parliament in Northern Ireland but decisions have clearly been made with respect to street art at local administrative level.

Political decisions in Northern Ireland from a political perspective can be difficult; much more so than in other nations. Affairs here are backed up by strong power relations amongst individuals, religious groups and sewn together by emotive questions surrounding national identity.

The murals of modern day Northern Ireland have become symbols of Northern Ireland, depicting the areas past and present national, political and religious divisions.

But not only do they speak of a troubled past they also paint the picture of a celebratory present.

Where football is concerned Northern Ireland is a nation that has achieved far more than its country size would suggest hence the use of the word ‘celebratory’. Even when the conflict of the ‘troubles’ was at its height the national football team achieved more on the field of play than the larger Republic of Ireland had ever achieved. The period 1982 to 1986 were the golden years for the Northern Ireland national team.

This came despite the grey and sombre backdrop of murder, bombs and terrorism.

In the modern era the people of Ulster witnessed the success of Euro 2016 when participation in the French tournament saw victory obtained over Ukraine and a passage to the knock out rounds secured.

Belfast is known for its political murals, but its modern contemporary street art highlights the city’s transformation from troubles to a small football tourist hub. Political murals – once territorial markings and giant keep-out signs – have become checkpoints on the history of Northern Irish football – quite simply, the narrative has changed at many sites.

Local knowledge, a grasp of Northern Irish football and a basic grasp of symbolism is an indispensable way to learn the stories behind the imagery.

At Crusaders the founding fathers brought historical significance to the club when it was decided that ‘Crusaders’ (medieval Christian knights) be used as the club name. The naming convention of the club should, however, be seen less in terms of religion and instead more in terms of historical parallelism with evocative tales of struggle and heroism.

Likewise, the Crusader symbolism of the club should be seen less as a statement of religious rhetoric but more as a sporting inspiration for a struggle against an enemy (an opposition football team).

The rose, thistle and shamrock motif appears regularly in many sporting settings. The former is of course traditionally associated with England, the thistle has an affiliation with Scotland and the shamrock with Ireland.

It is the Shamrock which appears on the emblem of Cliftonville founded in 1879. A type of clover it is more representative as a symbol of Southern Ireland but within a religious context it is used as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity. 

Across Europe the Shamrock is one of the most common emblems. It serves as the official emblem of Panathinaikos,  Omonia Nicosia, Viborg and Greuther Fürth.

While it’s a registered trademark these days for the club, the Cliftonville badge has undergone numerous transformations since its first appearance on the jersey way back in 1887. It is not until recent years that it has become a mainstay on the Cliftonville shirt with the transition from amateurism to professionalism.

Numerous events other individuals and events are commemorated in Belfast on walls, suburbs and underpasses. Everyone from George Best to legends of the 1982 FIFA World Cup can be seen in colour across the modern city of Belfast.

Football murals in Belfast are not simply about transformation but this is a city that has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years. It is a cleaner, far more modern and much more affordable city compared to the Irish EU capital of Dublin.

Many of the new vibrant artworks are part of regeneration initiatives. Physical endevours with the purpose of restoring the historic streets. Others meanwhile are legacy murals from a different historical era that pay homage to football from a different era.

A streetscape consists of many different colourful artworks and an urban ecology of many different facets. It makes sense for football murals rather than divisive sectarian murals to be around football stadiums. Such work supports the area’s business and residential communities by improving its vibrancy and encouraging both increased footfall and long-term private sector investment.

Every mural or piece of art in Belfast (however small or big, old or new) serves as a nod to the area’s rich heritage and cultural significance. Spanning shopfronts, gable ends of a disused churches, tunnels or stadium walls the vibrant and collaborative art represents the counter-culture of a new Belfast as well as the story of its historical football clubs and heroes.