Monday 27 February 2017

If McClean hates England so much, he should leave the Premier League

Luke Edwards

James McClean's decision to turn away from the England flag as the national anthem was sang has been called 'insulting, stupid and hypocritical'
James McClean's decision to turn away from the England flag as the national anthem was sang has been called 'insulting, stupid and hypocritical'

James McClean's refusal to turn and face the English flag as the national anthem was sung ahead of West Bromwich Albion's pre-season friendly in America was insulting, stupid and hypocritical.

It was an act of defiance that invites the question, if you do not like the British so much, because that is what your behaviour suggests, why have you spent the vast majority of your career living and working in England, the country at the heart of Britain's 'colonial power'?

McClean was trying to make a political point and, while I would defend everybody's right to protest, as well as their freedom of expression, this was a disrespectful act that hints at something ugly in his views.

McClean's behaviour was designed to show he believes the British should get out of Northern Ireland. He is free to hold those views, but in refusing to acknowledge the England flag while playing for a British/English team, which is supported by British/English people, while he plays alongside British/English team-mates, McClean has gone too far. It was an insult.

I do not believe you should insult the flag of any country that you visit, let alone one that has welcomed you and one where you have made your home.

McClean does not believe he is British, which is fine. He elected to play for the Republic of Ireland rather than the North, which under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement is his right. I fully support him in that decision.

Allegiance

He has already made it clear where his allegiance lies and what his political views are. He refused to wear a poppy on his shirt because he felt it was a military symbol. Again, I supported him because I agree that, for all the positive connotations of the poppy, it can be perceived as a symbol commemorating those who have fought in armed conflicts for Britain, of which Northern Ireland is one.

Yes, it commemorates those who have died on both sides of the conflict, but for McClean and many like him in Derry, it holds a different meaning. I was not one of those who argued he should have been forced to wear it. I respected his beliefs, and it was abhorrent that he was sent death threats because of it.

However, to insult a nation's flag and anthem is to insult a nation. And before anyone claims this makes me some sort of rabid nationalist, I would say the same thing about any national flag. I hate it when national anthems are booed in sport.

Imagine if Steven Gerrard refused to acknowledge the American flag while playing for LA Galaxy because he disapproved of American imperialism and interference in global affairs?

Imagine if any footballer playing abroad, from any country in the world, did what McClean did to the national flag of his host nation?

In case we forget, McClean lives and works in a country where the national flag is either the cross of St George or the Union flag and the national anthem is God Save the Queen. He is apparently more than happy to do so given he has played for three different English clubs - Sunderland, Wigan and now West Brom.

If he finds the sight of the flag so abhorrent, why is he here? If he hates the national anthem so much, if it stands for something he is so hostile to, why would he want to make his home in a country where his neighbours, friends and employers are loyal to that flag?

I know plenty of people who are anti-monarchy, but I do not know anyone who recoils at the sight of the England flag.

The British and English flag means different things to different people. To me they represent the NHS, a country that welcomes people of all religions, colours, faiths and creeds. It is a country that believes in democracy and freedom. It represents my country, despite all its faults, ills and blemishes.

It is the national flag of the country that has welcomed McClean and he has insulted it to make a crude political point.

Interestingly, when the Republic of Ireland played England in an international friendly back in June, I don't remember McClean refusing to face the flag while the English (and British) national anthem was played, which is the protocol for international matches at the Aviva Stadium.

Quite rightly, England fans were repeatedly warned not to sing the stupid, ugly, insulting and out-dated 'no surrender to the IRA' song ahead of that game.

Idiots

But for me, McClean's behaviour is just as bad as the idiots who sing that confrontational chant in the name of patriotism.

McClean did not have to look up at the flag, he certainly did not have to sing the national anthem, just as the many other players from different nations in the WBA team did not, but he deliberately refused to turn and face it. He was deliberately disrespectful.

Would he have done the same thing had Albion reached the FA Cup or Capital One Cup final, where the national anthem is played and the Union flag and English flags fly? Would he refuse to play in those games?

McClean's behaviour hints at someone who is not willing to move on, to forgive or forget. It points to someone who does not believe Northern Ireland's troubles are over.

It suggests he holds anti-British/English views, yet he pays vast amount of taxes in England as a result of his handsome living as a Premier League footballer that go towards the up-keep of, among other things, the British Armed Forces.

McClean will argue the Union flag is a symbol of oppression where he comes from, but it was the England flag he refused to face in America. He will argue he was raised to believe the British national anthem belongs to an enemy, but does this sort of language have any place in modern Northern Ireland any more? Is it the right sort of behaviour for a Premier League footballer to adopt?

This is the language of the sectarian Troubles. This is the language used before the Good Friday Agreement and power sharing in Northern Ireland. More importantly, McClean has insulted many of those who support West Brom, as well as those who play for them. It was stupid.

If McClean hates the national anthem so much, if he finds the flag so abhorrent, maybe he should go and play in a country where he does not have to listen to or see either.

Luke Edwards is a sports reporter for the Daily Telegraph based in the north-east of England. He has also covered Ireland internationals

Telegraph.co.uk

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