Northern Ireland

James McClean on 11 years of abuse over poppy row: 'I found out very quickly that you do this alone'

James McClean.
James McClean.

REPUBLIC of Ireland and Wrexham winger James McClean has repeated calls for respect over his decision not to wear a poppy.

The player (34), from Derry’s Creggan estate, has routinely faced online abuse and death threats for over a decade now after he first refused to wear a shirt with a red poppy in 2012 while playing for Sunderland.

At the time, he outlined his objections to the club’s chairman in an open letter – stating that his objection was not over remembering those lost in the two world wars, but because of the later association with Bloody Sunday and the Troubles.

In an interview with Sky Sports, he spoke of how the threats often extend to his wife Erin and their four young children.

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While some have suggested he takes the easier road of not speaking out, he is determined to stand by his principles even if it means becoming a target.

“I found out very, very quickly that you do this alone because there's not going to be a lot of help coming,” he said.

“I've been quite vocal about that in the past. I've highlighted the lack of support and I stand by that.

“I have been quite critical to the FA for the lack of support over the years but twice in the past few months they have taken action against clubs (Blackpool and Millwall were both charged over abuse aimed at McClean from supporters).

“So as much as I've been critical, I'll also praise them when it's due.”

He adds: “It’s exhausting when you have to keep explaining yourself over and over and over like that. That's the tiring part.

“I'm no angel and, look, I've made mistakes like the lockdown Balaclava picture.”

This refers to an Instagram picture in March 2020, where McClean posted an image of himself sitting above his two children wearing a balaclava and the caption ‘Today’s School Lesson – History.’  

“I regret that. I regret it in one sense because it's given people now an opportunity to say 'well he brings it on himself.' Every time my name gets brought up, they just attach that picture to it,” he said.

Calling what was intended as a joke an “absolute disaster judgement call,” he said it did not justify the constant threats against his family.

He also said his experience means that other young Irish players wear the poppy even though they would prefer not to.

“I speak to a lot of people and I've had players say that they don't believe in wearing the poppy and they wouldn't wear it, but they just don't want the hassle.”