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James McClean had to switch clubs after being spat at over poppy stance

By Staff Reporter

Footballer James McClean has revealed how "hassle" from fans, including a spitting incident, led to him moving clubs.

In a BBC TV interview, he also spoke about his joy at playing football with a team of children with Down's syndrome.

The Londonderry-born midfielder, who has been a controversial presence on social media, told Football Focus of his shock at the death of close friend, Derry City FC captain Ryan McBride.

McClean played for two seasons at Sunderland before transferring to Wigan Athletic in 2013.

He said the move was partly motivated by abuse he was taking from supporters following his decision not to wear a poppy to mark Remembrance Day.

On one occasion, someone spat at the Irish international's car while he was driving home with future wife, Erin, who was pregnant. The same day, an attempt to reach out to fans after a match was spurned.

"I always bring my jersey home with me after a match because you never know who might need it," McClean explained. "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'."

McClean also told of his joy at playing a match with a team of children with Down's syndrome in Derry. Oxford Bulls were formed in October 2015 with players such as Caoimhin Breslin, but struggled to find another side to play against.

After a social media appeal, McClean got in touch and arranged a kickabout at the end of March. He told of his happiness at bringing so much joy to the team.

"I had the best day ever, if I'm being honest - just seeing how happy they were to see me," McClean said.

"It just made me feel on top of the world - it was amazing."

He also spoke movingly of the sudden death of his friend, Derry City captain Ryan McBride, earlier this year.

"The news was something nobody expected," he said. It was a massive shock," he said.

"I went to the wake and, when Ryan was in the coffin, it didn't seem real. I'm standing there just in shock. I had no emotion and didn't even cry, almost feeling guilty because I couldn't cry."

McClean also insisted he was not anti-British despite refusing to wear a kit bearing a poppy.

"There's certain things that I don't agree with, but I take people at face value," the player stressed.

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