James McClean and Sectarian Abuse. A sorry story with no ending in sight…

Football is the greatest sport in the world. It is one of the greatest things in the world full stop. It evokes emotion, passion and sensation in people like very few other things do and that is what makes it the thrilling and loveable phenomenon that it is to so many supporters across the globe.

However, for every supportive chant sung about your team, every rallying cry given to your players and every bit of praise handed out on social media you get the opposite. Most of it is tongue-in-cheek, light hearted jokes or ‘banter’ if you want to call it that, but as we’ve seen far too often (and once is too often in this case) people cross the line.

Wigan Athletic and Republic of Ireland star James McClean has been on the receiving end of racist and sectarian abuse for the best part of a decade now and nothing is being done to stop it. No matter how many times he, or his wife, or other members of his family, or his club, or his compatriots call it out it remains unpunished 99.9% of the time. This needs to change now!

First, a bit of context…

James McClean is from Creggan, a large housing estate in Derry very close to the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. In his own words he is an ‘Irish man, Derry man, Creggan man’ and is extremely proud of the place he grew up and the people he represents. In that sense he is no different to everybody else.

What makes James’ affiliation with his home town so special and therefore so different are the events that ‘his people’ have been through. It makes those that have grown up on the Creggan estate even more entwined with their history and their culture than most other places in the world. They have seen things most will never have the misfortune of seeing in their life.

Bloody Sunday took place in the Bogside area of Derry, a stones throw away from the Creggan estate. 14 innocent people were murdered on the streets in which they lived by occupying British Paratroopers, and another 12 were shot and wounded in front of their friends and families. Its an event that shook Derry to its core then and unsurprisingly still does to this day. McClean himself calls it ‘the day that innocence died’.

It wasn’t the first instance of troubles in the region and it wasn’t the last. Naturally it created a fair amount of anger and resentment towards the British troops and government for allowing it to happen and not condemning it once it did. Remember, this all happened whilst members of James McClean’s family were living there, watching it all unfold. I can’t say for sure but I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew victims or victims families, its a very tight knit community in that sense.

The views that James holds now are ultimately a product of his environment. He’s clearly a man proud of his home and carried the community’s views on his shoulders as he began his venture into professional football. I don’t think its unfair to say not many from James’ estate ‘made it big time’ so he’s flying their flag on his own on the big stage.

His stance on the Poppy…

In his first spell at Latics, McClean penned a letter to former Chairman Dave Whelan explaining his reasoning for not wearing the Poppy during the annual remembrance period in English football. His letter was made public and typically received a mixed response from many English football supporters.

It’s worth noting that he did get some support, and I’m proud to say the majority of Latics fans, myself included, understand and appreciate his position completely. Obviously he received huge support from fellow Irishmen and women and it pretty much cemented him as an Irish hero as soon as it became public. He was the first Irish footballer of note to take this stance to my knowledge.

What so many people seem to have forgotten, or probably more likely choose to ignore, is that he confirmed that he has ‘complete respect for those who fought and died in World War 1 and 2’. However, as he explained in his letter, because the Poppy is used to remember victims of other conflicts since 1945 he doesn’t feel right wearing it. This is a completely normal and understandable point of view for someone from Derry to hold. Here is the letter in full, please read it.

As James explained perfectly clearly and politely he has his views and stands by them, but also respects others having theirs. That is realistically all you can ask of a human being. People will never agree on everything, but you can disagree amicably and not be criticised for your views as that’s free speech. But for some people ‘free speech’ only counts when it suits them, and James McClean seems to be the victim of this ignorance.

The abuse…

Well where do I start on this section? It’s not a crown he’ll want to have, well actually he seems to thrive on it so he might, but James McClean has been comfortably the most abused footballer in English football for the past decade. You won’t see any of it covered in the main British press (because most of their readership are the ones giving out the abuse) but he has been.

The ways in which he’s received this abuse are as sickening as they are plentiful. From being spat at in public whilst with his pregnant wife Erin to having bullets posted through his letter box it’s fair to say he’s suffered ridiculous levels of scumbaggery. That’s also barely scratching the surface to be honest, there’s been far more than just a few chants on a match day.

On the topic of chants though, let’s discuss a typical match day for James McClean. I follow Latics up and down the country and since his return to the club at the start of last season I can confidently say there hasn’t been a ground in which he’s not experienced some sort of racist or sectarian abuse. That could be an individual comment or a chant sung by the best part of 30,000 people, but it always happens.

He gets booed everywhere too which he doesn’t seem to be too bothered about (like I said earlier he’s the type of player that thrives on that sort of thing) and I’d assume the excuse for that is that he’s the pantomime villain. Because he’s an outspoken person he gets booed, that’s nothing new and he’s not the only person that gets this treatment. See Wilfred Zaha, Diego Costa, Harry Kane, the list goes on of players that opposition fans love to hate.

What separates McClean from the rest is the motivation behind the abuse he receives and the repetitive crossing of the line regarding supporter antics. Boos often become chants of ‘F*ck the IRA’ or ‘God Save the Queen/King’ or ‘F*ck the Pope’ etc etc… A mixture of sectarian and racist abuse has become as regular a feature of James McClean’s game as a feisty challenge or a delicious delivery into the box with his left foot.

Just think about how crazy that is. Sectarian and racist abuse has become the norm! How can that be the case in modern life when we’re supposed to be making progress in the tackling and eradication of vile abuse. What makes the abuse James McClean receives different to the abuse anyone else receives?

Why is nothing being done?

Well the answer to the question above is I don’t have a clue and the very fact I had to write that makes me angry as it is. As a sport football seems to be getting better at eradicating abuse and even though there’s still a ridiculously high amount it’s on the decline. As I said earlier though, any is too many.

This weekend Ivan Toney, a former Latics loanee, brilliantly called out a man who’d sent an abhorrent racist message to him after his wonderful performance for Brentford in the Premier League. The story made headline news and rightly so but if we’re making the commitment to cover these things it has to be across the board.

If you go and google ‘James McClean abuse’ right now you’ll see a couple of articles relating to this weekend. An Irish newspaper and a local Wigan paper were the only two news outlets I’ve seen covering the story. Why?

Well for many he’s public enemy number one. Nobody in England is bothered about it as a news story because it’s sort of expected and therefore somehow alright. Mental I know but that seems to be the sad reality of things. A lot of people think he brings it upon himself with his actions but that argument can lead you into very murky waters when applied to other parts of life…

Yes, he’s been a bit naïve in the past. Posting a picture of himself in a Germany shirt before their match with England isn’t going to warm people to you but that’s obviously not what he wants and after years of abuse who can blame him for having a little pop back. After all, free speech etc etc.

Then people will turn to the image he posted on Instagram during lockdown and use that as an excuse for their waves of hatred. It’s not the best joke in the world but again, just for one moment imagine the frustration you’d have built up inside you if you had to sit and take 8 years of abuse leading up to that point. It’s not the smartest move but it’s an understandable one and not something that justifies a racist response!

The image in question. McClean himself acknowledges that it wasn’t his smartest move..

The sad fact of the matter is that the people responsible for dealing with the abuse he receives are unwilling to do so at risk of upsetting the masses of morons that agree with it! James McClean has reportedly ‘challenged’ the FA time after time on this and they’re yet to make any sort of changes. You can really start to see why the frustration is growing in him can’t you.

And just quickly, if your answer to this problem is that ‘he’s more than happy to earn British money so he can deal with what comes his way’ please never read one of my articles again. If your response to racist or any kind of abuse is to support the abuser or criticise the abused you’re part of the problem and need to reassess your stance on this.

Some final thoughts.

Ultimately something has to change. This weekend James McClean spent 90 minutes getting abused by a large number of Sunderland’s 30,000 fans at the Stadium of Light and whilst some of it was the classic pantomime villain booing there was a lot of sectarian and racist abuse. So much that it led James to speak out about it publicly on his Instagram.

The response on social media from a lot of people has been positive. Latics fans are fully behind our number 11 and he can live safe in the knowledge that he’s found himself a club where he’s loved for who he is. His wife and 3 young children are regular visitors to the DW and I hope they feel as loved as James is as based on what I’ve seen on social media they’re a wonderful family.

One reaction to the McClean statement yesterday…
Another response on Twitter yesterday evening 😳

However, whilst Latics fans have fought McClean’s corner after this weekend’s goings on an embarrassingly large amount of people see no problem with it all. Some of the responses I’ve personally received are almost too stupid for me to type and a lot of people, Sunderland fans and others, have shown themselves to be stupid and ignorant this weekend.

My reasons for writing this are pretty simple. I’m embarrassed as an English person but also a human being that there are still people willing to justify racism and sectarian abuse simply because they don’t like James McClean. You can disagree with his stance on things as much as you like but do so properly, bringing someone’s nationality or religion into things is cowardly and needs to stop immediately.

Will anything be done? Probably not. But I didn’t want to sit quietly. This website has given me a platform, albeit a small one, to call out the lack of support for one of my favourite football players, one of my heroes is receiving on a very serious subject and I shouldn’t sit around quietly.

James McClean, aha!

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