Monday 23 September 2019

God save McClean - Irishman has an absolute right to protest

The Republic of Ireland international James McClean during the national anthem
The Republic of Ireland international James McClean during the national anthem

Roy Curtis

AS James McClean was reminded this week, the Kingdom of the Perpetually Offended has a tuneless national anthem of its own, one it insists on blasting interminably out via loudhailer.

God save Our Vented Spleen is the hymn of choice for those residents of the high moral ground, a forever-aggravated tribe who grow lonely and wizened if they abandon their sense of outrage for so much as a nanosecond at a time.

Twitter and radio phone-ins, where armed with unflinching certainty and bad grammar, they act as judge and jury on the most ephemeral affairs, are the natural habitats of these self-appointed, po-faced arbiters of good taste.

McClean and seagulls were the two birds targeted this week by the one great slab of angry stone that is the sole, cumbersome and tactless weapon of such humourless, eternally-wounded souls.

Read more: Dion Fanning: James McClean lucky to live where eejitry is easily accommodated

Read more: Stephen Hunt: Duty to family trumps James McClean's perceived duty to Derry

The Irish international’s “crime” was to bow his head and turn away from the Union Jack during a rendition of God Save the Queen.

To read the feverish reaction might have been to deduce that McClean had instead surrendered to his inner Guy Fawkes and planted explosives under Westminster even as Her Majesty prepared to address a joint-sitting of the Commons and Lords.

Ireland's James McClean
Ireland's James McClean

Even for those of us who might largely disagree with his politics, there is something admirably refreshing about McClean.

The very fact that he is a footballer willing to take a stance, a Premier League player with genuine conviction is sufficient to set him apart. 

Nobody is confusing him with Nelson Mandela, but that he is willing to put his career on the line to make a point speaks of a substantial core.

Born in Derry, from a staunchly nationalist background, he has spoken eloquently in the past about the reasoning behind to his refusal to wear a poppy on Remembrance Day.

McClean believes that such a gesture would be disrespectful to those gunned down on the streets of his home city on Bloody Sunday; similar conscientious objection was behind his decision to turn away from the Union flag in America last week.

I’m not completely sure I agree with James. As the grand-nephew of two Dublin men who lost their life in World War One, I would happily wear a poppy.

And if there was one “anthem” I would choose not to stand for it would be the excruciatingly awful Ireland’s Call.

But I would defend absolutely McClean’s right to protest.

In taking a route paved with landmines, he can hardly be accused of showboating.

Death threats and hate mail are the reward for making his views public.

Only last week the Scottish defender Kirk Broadfoot was banned for 10 games for launching a sectarian tirade at McClean.

James was abused by his own fans at his former club Sunderland over his stance on the poppy and compelled to write an open letter to the owner of his subsequent employer, Wigan, as that Remembrance Day row rumbled on.

Now, just weeks after joining West Brom, he has, overnight, made himself a figure of hate with a large chunk of their fan-base.

He has been publicly chastised by his manager Tony Pulis; many of his new team-mates – for whom the great crime is having a view on anything that doesn’t involve money, fast cars or women – may have immediately have made up their mind about him.

Imagine playing for a club where some of your team-mates may view you with suspicion and some of the supporters may regard you so low on their ladder of affection.

On a point of principle, McClean is wilfully endangering his own career. He has painted a giant target on his own forehead.

McClean’s protest is entirely peaceful.

As he articulated in that letter to Whelan, he is “not a war-monger, or anti-British or a terrorist… I am a peaceful guy.”

He then added: “I am very proud of where I came from and I just cannot do something that I believe is wrong. In life, if you’re a man you should stand up for what you believe in.”

Of course his gesture immediately raised the blood pressure of the mob.

One ludicrous non-sequitur argues that as he has no problem taking the Queen’s shilling he really ought to belt out the anthem like the most enthusiastic, flag-waiving attendee at the Last Night of the Proms.

McClean has not always helped himself. His tweeting of his fondness for the IRA paean “The Broad Black Brimmer” was ill-advised, and – given the heightened sensitivities which are, inevitably, engrained in Northern Irish DNA – provocative.

And yet there is something noble in setting the easy life of the well-paid footballer’s existence to one side and taking a stance.

A friend of mine who conducted a long one-to-one interview with McClean in recent months was taken by his sincerity and maturity. And that word again, his conviction.

Of course that is insufficient for the taste police.

They will always be with us, those who place a microscope to every debate in the hope they can locate some tiny morsel by which their even tinier minds might be offended, who would – and have – taken umbrage at the content of some children’s nursery rhymes.

Next time they take out their loudhailer to force their vented spleen anthem down our throats, maybe we should just turn our backs on their flag of outrage.

And laugh uproariously at their sad little lives.

Read more: Dion Fanning: James McClean lucky to live where eejitry is easily accommodated

Read more: Stephen Hunt: Duty to family trumps James McClean's perceived duty to Derry

Read more: Former Scotland defender hit with record ban for launching sectarian abuse at James McClean

Read more: Eamonn Sweeney: In a world where Martin McGuinness can meet the Queen... surely McClean can acknowledge her anthem

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