James McClean: An Irish Fan’s Take.

22 Jul

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Much has been written in the past couple of days regarding the “controversy” generated by James McClean’s admirable stance (literally) when the British national anthem was played in his English club’s (West Brom) friendly match in America over the weekend.   Much guff has been written about it and too much but predictable guff has been written by Twitter and Facebook keyboard warriors. Some of stuff by “reputable” journalists in the UK has been predictably pathetic and comments on RTE’s “Soccer Republic” by football pundit Damien Richardson were lazy and nonsensical in stating McClean shouldn’t play in England if he won’t stand and face the British flag for the British National Anthem.

 

What remains however in my opinion is that James McClean demonstrated intelligence, consistency, respect, bravery and steadfastness regarding his nationality and beliefs and as a Dublin-based Irishman, I applaud his actions heartily.

 

Let’s get one thing straight. James McClean did not turn his back when God Save the Queen was struck up. His ten team mates turned to face the flag, James turned to face the original way the players were facing. James McClean is from The Creggan in Derry, a city scarred so badly by The Troubles. The Bloody Sunday atrocity of 1972 still remains seared on the psyche of the people of Derry, not least on McClean’s mind as he was growing up, when British paratroopers opened fire on unarmed and defenceless nationalist citizens of Derry, with fourteen people losing their lives. That it took 38 years for the British Government to apologise for the killings, the lies and the cover ups added to a justified sense of anger and bitterness among the nationalist community. James McClean listened to and learned what happened in 1972 and like any fair-minded person, knew where the blame lay.

 

McClean wrote a hugely thoughtful, measured and respectful letter to his chairman at his then club Wigan Athletic in 2014, when McClean opted to not wear a Remembrance Day Poppy on his shirt last year. I am quoting McClean’s statement in full here:

 

Dear Mr Whelan I wanted to write to you before talking about this face to face and explain my reasons for not wearing a poppy on my shirt for the game at Bolton.

I have complete respect for those who fought and died in both World Wars – many I know were Irish-born. I have been told that your own Grandfather Paddy Whelan, from Tipperary, was one of those. I mourn their deaths like every other decent person and if the Poppy was a symbol only for the lost souls of World War I and II I would wear one. I want to make that 100% clear .You must understand this.

But the Poppy is used to remember victims of other conflicts since 1945 and this is where the problem starts for me. For people from the North of Ireland such as myself, and specifically those in Derry, scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, the poppy has come to mean something very different. Please understand, Mr Whelan, that when you come from Creggan like myself or the Bogside, Brandywell or the majority of places in Derry, every person still lives in the shadow of one of the darkest days in Ireland’s history – even if like me you were born nearly 20 years after the event. It is just a part of who we are, ingrained into us from birth.

Mr Whelan, for me to wear a poppy would be as much a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles – and Bloody Sunday especially – as I have in the past been accused of disrespecting the victims of WWI and WWII. It would be seen as an act of disrespect to those people; to my people.

I am not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past. I am a peaceful guy, I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs which I respect and ask for people to respect mine in return.

Since last year, I am a father and I want my daughter to grow up in a peaceful world, like any parent. I am very proud of where I come from and I just cannot do something that I believe is wrong. In life, if you’re a man you should stand up for what you believe in. I know you may not agree with my feelings but I hope very much that you understand my reasons.

As the owner of the club I am proud to play for, I believe I owe both you and the club’s supporters this explanation.

Yours sincerely,

James McClean

 

Not exactly your typical comments from a modern day footballer. Indeed it is so rare for a footballer these days to comment on any issue with any degree of insight or intelligence, so McClean’s statement was particularly well written and thought out.

 

For people then to state McClean is a hypocrite for earning his living in England but not “respecting” God Save the Queen just defies all logic. McClean completely respected the National Anthem by remaining silent and still. If he had turned to face the British flag, we could then accuse him of being a hypocrite given his Remembrance Day statement. But he remained true to himself on his beliefs. If you want disrespect of a national anthem, look and listen no further to a sizeable amount of English fans who sing(?) their national anthem willy nilly during matches and in bars and on the streets without any regard for the appropriateness of a national anthem. That some deem to sing it while using a Nazi salute demonstrates who the hypocrites are when it comes to national anthems.

 

If you want disrespect for a national anthem, cast your mind back to a World Cup Qualifier in 1989 at Lansdowne Road between Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The North’s keeper, George Dunlop indulged in a notably and blatantly disrespectful session of hopping up and down on the spot as the Republic’s anthem “Amhrán na bhFiann” was played. Where was the outrage back then, the calls for Dunlop to be disciplined in the way McClean has been called out to be sacked by his club West Brom and ran out of the UK by the mob mentality?

 

If you want respect for a neighbouring Head of State, anybody care to remember Martin Johnson’s pathetic game of one-upmanship on his Irish hosts at a rugby international at Lansdowne Road in 2003? Johnson led his team to the Irish side of the red carpet deliberately and when politely asked to move to the English side, refused, which caused the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese to trudge through a heavy and dirty surface for the pre-match handshakes. Bravo Martin.

 

Then enter McClean’s club manager Tony Pulis into the affair. Tony Pulis signed McClean during the Summer, surely knowing full well that McClean took and maintained a stand over Remembrance Day. After McClean’s actions over the weekend, Pulis was quoted as saying his player should have turned to face the flag “like everybody else”. Oh really Tony? Did not it occur to you that James might have a mind of his own when it came to British national anthems or remembrances? Pulis then said McClean has been “reminded of his responsibilities”. What responsibility is that then Tony? Did he do a Gazza and mimic a flute-playing bigot? No. Was McClean found drunk behind a the wheel of a car? No. Did McClean beat up his wife/partner? No. Did James break a fellow professional’s leg and put a career at risk? No. I could find other examples of appalling acts of modern day players and their “responsibilities” but I think I’ve made my point. So don’t talk to James McClean about responsibilities Mr Pulis.

 

In short and in this fan’s eyes, James McClean behaved respectfully, rationally, consistently and bravely. He is used to social media backlashes and is clearly ready and able to deal with the flak. His opinions and stance remain rare in a modern day footballer and the fact that he won’t have stuff rammed down his throat and ordered how to carry himself as a proud Irishman is as admirable as it is correct.

 

I’m sick of people talking down to us on what Irish people should or shouldn’t sing about, what events of history and people we choose to laud or celebrate, trying to hide and tuck away history and events, events that shaped this country and have shaped James McClean into the person he is. James McClean may not be an outstanding footballer but he’s an outstanding Irishman.   We should learn from him.

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5 Responses to “James McClean: An Irish Fan’s Take.”

  1. JacksonP July 23, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    In response to your possibly rhetorical question “where was the outrage back then?” re: the George Dunlop incident in 1989, there’s a simple answer: it happened 26 years ago, in a time before social media, before 24hr rolling sports news, before football was the mass media-led global leisure pursuit / goldfish bowl / endless narrative that it’s become, before Fever Pitch, Skinner and Baddiel turned interest in the sport into a socially popular topic, and arguably before the bulk of the nation (beyond diehard Irish football people) had really got on board with the Irish national side. Had something like that happened last week instead, it would surely be very different. As it is, it’s somewhat of an apples and oranges comparison (pun fully intended).

    • Phelim Warren July 23, 2015 at 9:20 am #

      Hi, thanks for the comment, much appreciated! I would agree with you to an extent but I’d disagree that the bulk of the nation hadn’t really got on board with the national team in 1989. It was at fever pitch as we were on the verge of qualifying for the WC for the first time and there was obviously huge national interest in the match given it was North v South and this was a pre-ceasefire time so tensions were still extremely high. In my opinion, Dunlop was let away with his behaviour with barely a comment and I remember saying it at the time (as a youthful 23 year old!) that his behaviour was not on. But totally acknowledge that social media/rolling news is a factor, but not THE factor in my opinion. Anyhow, thanks for reading and commenting, appreciated.

  2. Philip Mallon July 24, 2015 at 3:19 am #

    Im sorry but your arguments are flawed in so many areas. JM followed protocol in 2013 at wembley playing for wigan in commumity shield final. He faced the royal box for the anthem. Why follow protocol then but not so for poppy and especially last week when, playing for an english football team, he was de facto representing england in the USA? He represents WBA, they represent england when abroad, protocol for players is to face flag of country they are representing. If McClean was not living, working and representing an english football team youd have a point but he is and hes compromised. Martin johnson was arrogant and disrespectful but not compromised, dunlop likewise. Youre not comparing like with like. If self beliefs were so inportant to JM why did he not declare himself unfit to play for wigan in aug 2013 at wembley? Potential of a win bonus maybe was more important to him than beliefs that day? If WBA get to a cup final will JM declare himself not mentally able to face the royal box? Doubt it very much. JM lives and works in england and he must follow general customs, practices and protocol of the land whilst doing so, he gets paid extraordinarliy well for it and facing the flag whilst representing and english team is one of those protocols. He cant take 1 stance for a cup final where he might get a medal and a win bonus and another for a friendly which is meaningless, that my friend is hypocritical…I had sympathy for him over the poppy as that is a symbol of military but the english flag is the country in general, as indeed is the union jack. So he should like it or lump it im afraid. The amount of self righteous bullshit coming out of ireland over this has been unbelievable by the way. “Bravery” “consistent beliefs” total tosh

  3. Philip Mallon July 25, 2015 at 2:36 am #

    Very curious that you haven’t published my comment and people have been going on about other publications hiding stories to suit them. James McClean has beliefs, thats a good thing. I respect that. But he must be consistent with his actions regarding his beliefs. He hasn’t been. The fact he played for wigan at wembley, conformed to protocol and faced the royal box for the anthem proves this. The abuse he has received online is not on, i’ve no time for it but it is a consequence of his actions and he is doing himself no favours as an Irishman living in England. If WBA get to a cup final this season he will be in a right pickle won’t he.

    • Phelim Warren July 26, 2015 at 11:22 am #

      Philip only getting to read your points now so delay regretted! Well made points that I take on board. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means merely a fan with opinions like us all. Ta for reading and commenting. There was a lot of tosh also from the UK press in fairness.

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