Irish football star James McClean has been sent death threats following his refusal to wear a poppy before matches .
The poppy is a traditional way of honouring Britain’s war dead each year in the run up to Armistice Day on 11 November. Public figures including politicians, entertainers and professional sportsmen make a point of being seen wearing a poppy each year.
Millions of British people also wear the poppy, which raises money to help ex-servicemen and women.
McClean, who plays from English Championship team Stoke City, says he won’t wear the poppy because of the actions of the British Army in his home town of Derry and the rest of Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
His actions have led to him being subjected to threats and abusive chants from opposing football fans. He has also received death threats, and the Stoke City manager Gary Rowett says that abusive and vicious packages have also been sent to him at the club’s ground.
Rowett said: “He’s been sent stuff which I’ve seen. You can understand in a way why he reacts. He’s only human.”
McLean has received the backing of the English Professional Footballers Association (PFA).
A spokesman said: “The poppy symbol is an important recognition of the sacrifice so many made in the World Wars in the UK however it should always remain an individual’s choice whether or not to wear it.
“There is no justification for the abuse he and his family have received for his beliefs and he should be supported in the same way as any other player who receives abuse based on his or her race. We call upon the other stakeholders in football to recognise this and support an individual’s right to express his personal and religious beliefs without fear of threats and abuse.”
McLean reacted angrily to abuse from the fans and has criticised the football authorities for not doing enough to support him.
His manager Rowett said: “Certainly criticising a minority of our fans is not the way to go and we spoke to him about that. We can’t condone that but I think when you understand the background to his beliefs and you see that his family have had death threats, you see that his wife and kids have had abuse constantly, you see that he’s been sent stuff in the post, which I’ve seen recently from fans and you can understand, in a way, why he reacts.
“We can’t condone certain parts of those actions but we can understand some parts of it because the abuse is pretty bad. We will try to move forward. The club have spoken to James about it. It’s certainly not something that we want to condone.”
The Professional Footballers Association of Ireland has also backed McLean’s right not to wear a poppy if he so chooses. In a statement it said: “This statement is a joint call from Show Racism the Red Card Ireland, Show Racism the Red Card UK and the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland to both the Football Association in England and the Scottish Football Association to have a more robust approach to abuse faced by players like James McClean and managers such as Neil Lennon.
“Racism on the basis of colour, nationality, religion or ethnicity is not acceptable and all within the game have a responsibility to respond appropriately. James McClean has stood in solidarity with team mates who have experienced racism and spoken out. We stand in solidarity with James McClean, Neil Lennon and all those who experience racism. We call on both the Football Association in England and the Scottish Football Association to investigate all incidents of anti-Irish discrimination.”
McLean is from Northern Ireland but elected to play for the Republic. He has since gone on to be one of their most capped and popular players.