Daniel McDonnell: 'Mob rule on poppy can't be allowed to force James McClean out of English football'

Stoke City’s James McClean will not wear a poppy on his shirt (Nick Potts/PA)

McClean: finds himself in the eye of storm for not wearing a poppy. Photo: PA Wire

thumbnail: Stoke City’s James McClean will not wear a poppy on his shirt (Nick Potts/PA)
thumbnail: McClean: finds himself in the eye of storm for not wearing a poppy. Photo: PA Wire
Daniel McDonnell

If the latest instalment of the James McClean poppy saga has passed you by then here's the recap.

The English FA felt compelled to investigate the Ireland winger for describing a bunch of uneducated cavemen as uneducated cavemen.

OK, so maybe the Derryman was inviting trouble by going onto social media on Saturday evening to take aim at the fans from both sides who had roared abuse in his direction after Stoke's draw with Middlesbrough. He has typed himself into trouble before.

But it doesn't quite sit right to castigate someone for not being a good boy and keeping his head down when there's a tirade of invective aimed in his direction both in person and via online communication.

All because he has taken a decision not to wear a poppy, a principled call that he has explained time and time again. It shouldn't be an annual story, but it has become one.

Admittedly, there does appear to be broad sections of society across the water that have come to understand his stance.

Maybe it's a coincidence, but it would appear that those who do not understand his viewpoint - and like to remind people of the fact - share a lot in common with the mostly angry young, white males that are affiliating themselves to organisations such as the English Defence League.

Organisations who've effectively won support through fear-mongering and convincing a section of society that they are under threat from people who are different to them.

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Of course, the poppy subject is an emotive one and there are some people who are genuinely offended by his actions.

But the footage around Saturday was just a noisy mob taking turns to hurl insults from a distance. Post-match clips indicated that some were genuinely furious whereas others were just laughing away and going along with the crowd with the 'F**k McClean' trope.

The 29-year-old from the Creggan Estate says he regularly hears anti-Irish chants. He has also received death threats. There's a dubious undertone to the view that he has brought it all upon himself.

Remember, there was no grand announcement by McClean when he first opted not to wear a poppy on his shirt. It flew under the radar until the absence was spotted in photographs and the story grew from there.

It coincided with the rise of the online outrage era which has now made the poppy an essential part of apparel for absolutely everybody in British life who pops up on a screen. If the Aintree Grand National took place in November, there's every chance the horses would have to wear one.

Sunderland - like Stoke - is an area that has strong links with the armed forces and it was always going to pose some difficulty. It wasn't handled especially well by the Black Cats, whereas it was an articulate statement during his time at Wigan that helped to explain his position better.

James McClean challenges Seamus Coleman during the game against Everton in November 2012 at Goodison Park, the game in which the Sunderland winger decided against wearing a poppy. Photo: Getty

That should have been the end of it. Granted, there's an element of media responsibility here; it's a yarn that consistently generates clicks. 'James McClean will not wear a poppy AGAIN' has become a hardy annual.

Perhaps there are people across the Irish Sea with no knowledge of McClean's background who anticipated that he would soften his stance and just conform. Recent political developments would indicate that we should not be surprised by this lack of understanding of feelings on this island - especially north of the border.

Stoke kicked off this year's festivities by trying to get ahead of the story and releasing a statement to confirm that McClean would be sticking by his convictions. A flawed call.

There was no statement from Manchester United ahead of Nemanja Matic's decision to wear a shirt without a poppy. The anger towards Matic is slowly growing - give it time - but will never reach McClean levels.

Matic's view comes from his memories of the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999; there was heavy British input into that decision. McClean's locality still bears the scars of the Bloody Sunday attack of 1972. It took the British government 38 years to concede that the people of Derry were due an apology. Lest we forget.

Ultimately, McClean's sensitivity is borne from the belief that his grievances are not taken seriously because he is a 'proud Fenian.' Stoke are now under pressure to defend the decision to sign him.

It's clear the mob will not rest until he's driven out of English football. The fear now is that their intolerant wish will eventually be granted. More proof of the old adage that sport and politics should not mix.