Once again, this was the case across the football calendar over the recent Remembrance weekend. Yet despite this, over the past seven years that James McClean – now of Stoke City – has been involved in English football, the beginning of November has seen headlines less focussed on the act of remembrance, and more on this man’s supposed refusal to remember.
As he has done every year since his arrival in England in 2011, McClean this year again refused to bear the poppy on his match shirt.
A brief statement released by Stoke said that: “James has informed us that he will not be wearing a Remembrance Day poppy in our next two games. We respect his decision and his right to follow his own convictions.”
McClean’s objection stems from the events in his Irish hometown, Derry, in 1972, where British soldiers shot dead thirteen peaceful civilian protestors during what became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.
The issue for the former West Brom winger was explained by him in 2015: “If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I’d wear it without a problem. But it doesn’t – it stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in.”
Hence, given his stance on conflicts between the British army and the Irish in the latter part of the 21stCentury, and especially because of those events in 1972, McClean refuses to associate with the symbol.
The reaction this decision conjures up every year is perhaps to be expected.
McClean has to put up with boos from his own supporters, as well as being told he is an IRA sympathiser and anti-British.
He even cited this as the reason he left his first English club, Sunderland. In an interview with the BBC, McClean looked back on how he started the season very well, and then came ‘poppy-gate’.
This November has proved no different, with manager Gary Rowett revealing that his player has received packages in the post as well as death threats.
McClean is so stuck in the spotlight at this time of the year in England because he is in the absolute minority.
Up here in Scotland, the same issues sprouting from a politicised poppy are seen with Celtic fans – many of whom have Catholic Irish roots. They have recently been filmed chanting derogatory slurs pointing out what one should do with their poppy – and it is not at all pleasant.
But is the sometimes-toxic criticism McClean is subject to at this time of year warranted?
Well as both the Professional Footballer’s Association and the Royal British Legion are quick to remind everyone, it should always remain down to the individual whether or not they wear a poppy.
This being said, the Stoke City man does not help his cause by saying that those who abuse him for his decision are uneducated “cavemen,” but ultimately his beliefs have to be respected because of what the British Army means to him.
In an ideal world, the poppy would not be politicised and people could come together and respectfully remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Sadly, in an incredibly politicised world, this is unattainable.
I hope James McClean has a method of remembering those British soldiers who lost their lives during all the conflicts except those in Ireland – it could just be easier to wear a poppy, then he could avoid the sick abuse he sometimes suffers. Yet he has his beliefs, and they must be respected.
Image Credit: Miranda Wood via Flickr