Monday 16 September 2019

'A car pulled up alongside us, rolled down their window, spat at my car and just drove off'

James McClean has revealed two incidents that led to him deciding to leave Sunderland
James McClean has revealed two incidents that led to him deciding to leave Sunderland

John Fallon

IRELAND international James McClean has outlined the tipping point which forced him to quit Sunderland in 2013.

The decision by the Derryman not to wear the commemorative poppy to mark Remembrance Day since his breakthrough in English Football back in 2012 courted controversy, particularly during his time on Wearside.

Speaking to Football Focus, McClean revealed that he had been sent death threats as a result of his stance and the matter ultimately led him to leaving the club he joined from Derry City in 2011.

"There’s a funny story about one of the last home games of season for Sunderland," he explained.

"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."

McClean later outlined his annoyance at Sunderland, claiming they had "hung him out to dry" as he developed into a hate figure in the Premier League.

It wasn’t until after he joined his current club West Bromwich Albion, via a stint at Wigan Athletic, that he fully explained the rationale behind his standpoint. The issue came to a head when he refused to turn towards the Union Jack flag when "God Save The Queen" was played before a Baggies pre-season match.

"If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I would wear it without a problem," he said in 2015.

I'd wear it every day of the year if that was the thing, but it doesn't – it stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in.

"Because of the history of where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that.

"I have no issue with people that do wear the poppy – I absolutely respect their right to do that.

"But I would hope that people respect my right to have a different opinion on it too."

McClean was forced to delete his Twitter account back in February, 2013, when he tweeted that he was listening to Irish Republican band The Wolfe Tones.

It was an incident that caused huge controversy at the time and wrongly so, according to the Irish winger.

"That’s where the negative press came from.

"Back in Derry, I can tweet and say what I want and nobody cares. When I came over, the slightest wee thing I wrote got in the papers.

"I’m still the same person. If I did change I would be a fraud.

"When people become footballers, they work off a script which is boring and isn’t them. This is me, you like it or you don’t.

"A lot of petty stuff that was blown out of proportion. I was an Irish lad growing up, 96pc of the population probably listen to the Wolfe Tones, so I wrote on Twitter that I was listening to the Wolfe Tones. I was listening to them since I was no age. Then, all of a sudden, its in the papers that I’m pro-IRA.

"The way it goes now that if you see something in the paper, then you’ll believe it. Whether it’s true or not.

"I’ve been lucky that my managers have understood my side of the story. We understand how it’s seen too so they say here’s is what you do to save yourself getting more flak than you need."

Despite McClean's attitude towards Irish nationalism, he pointedly insists he is not anti-British.

"Yeah, I’ve had a lot of death threats. It started when I declared for the Republic.

"I was an Irish fan growing up and supported the team. 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.

"People see me as being ant-British. I want to go on record to say that I’ve never been anti-British, to be honest.

"There are certain things that I don’t agree with. I’ve made that very clear in the past.

"I take people at face value, I treat people how they treat me."

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