Republic of Ireland and West Bromwich Albion winger James McClean’s continued refusal to wear the poppy on Remembrance Day is something that has turned him into a very controversial and, in some quarters, even hated figure in Britain.
The Derry native, who played with Northern Ireland underage but later declared for the Republic of Ireland once he graduated to senior level, has remained steadfast in his refusal, however. This, despite the fact that he has often been a victim of shocking abuse as a result.
On Saturday the BBC’s Football Focus show (via the Irish Independent) aired an interview with McClean that was conducted several weeks ago. In it, McClean spoke candidly about his career as a whole, his decision not to wear the poppy, why this doesn’t mean that he is ‘anti-British’, his decision to play for the Republic and much more. In the process, the 28-year-old also revealed that a pair of appalling encounter’s with Sunderland fans led directly to his departure from the Wearside club in 2013.
“There’s a funny story about one of the last home games of the season for Sunderland,” said McClean, the word funny not accurately foreshadowing the rather dreadful nature of the details that followed.
“I always bring my jersey home with me after a match because you never know who might need it.
“But on this occasion, I gave it to a kid at the stadium. His father took it off him and threw it back at me.
“Then, on the way home, my car was stopped at the traffic lights. Another car pulled up alongside us, rolled down their window, spat at my car and just drove off.
“My missus, who was in the car, was pregnant at the time and I thought ‘we’re about to bring a baby into the world and I don’t need all this hassle’.
“So the next day I went to see the manager Paolo Di Canio. I explained the situation and told him it was best if I moved on.”
Following that troubled stint at Sunderland, McClean moved to Wigan Athletic, where he spent a couple of seasons before making yet another move to West Brom in 2015. His time there has been largely successful and in December of last year McClean signed a contract extension that will see him remain at the Hawthorns until 2019.
After detailing the incidents that inspired him to leave Sunderland, McClean went on to reveal an even more shocking fact.
“I’ve had a lot of death threats,” he said. “It started when I declared for the Republic.”
McClean made his debut for the Republic of Ireland against the Czech Republic back in 2012 and he has now been capped 49 times, most recently turning in a Man of the Match performance for the Boys in Green in a 0-0 draw with Wales in a World Cup Qualifier at the Aviva Stadium.
“I was an Irish fan growing up and supported the team,” McClean said regarding his decision to play for the Republic rather than Northern Ireland. “I played for Northern Ireland’s at youth level and openly admitted I took advantage of that system,”
“I’ve never hid from the fact it was to better myself.
“I never had any ambitions to play for Northern Ireland. Certain aspects make me uncomfortable, so why should I feel uncomfortable playing football?
“I’ve never had any hatred towards the Northern Ireland team or their fans. There’s a lot of Northern Ireland internationals that I’ve played with, who I get on very well with. But I was getting death threats for declaring for my country. Why should I turn away after getting abuse. It’s not like they abused me and I like them. Why should I like them? I don’t think I should have to change.”