Belfast Telegraph

Wigan player James McClean explains why he will not wear a poppy

Derry-born player refers to Bloody Sunday killings in letter to his club boss

By Claire Williamson

Premiership footballer James McClean has once again refused to join his teammates in wearing a shirt with a poppy emblazoned on it, sparking controversy across the UK.

The 25-year-old Wigan midfielder from Londonderry also decided against wearing the poppy last year, when he was playing for Sunderland, after which he found himself engulfed in controversy.

This time around people attacked him again via social media, branding his decision a "disgrace" and telling him he should be "ashamed".

Others sided with the player, stating that it was his own choice whether to wear the poppy or not.

At the weekend, football clubs up and down the country wore poppies on their jerseys to commemorate Remembrance Sunday on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.

However, Republic of Ireland international McClean again took the personal decision not to.

Latics' official website published a letter from McClean addressed to Wigan chairman Dave Whelan before kick-off on Friday night in which the winger, who was named among the substitutes, clarified his stance.

In it he said that he has "complete respect" for those who fought and died in both world wars.

He said: "But the poppy is used to remember victims of other conflicts since 1945 and this is where the problem starts for me.

"For people from the North of Ireland such as myself, and specifically those in Derry, scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, the poppy has come to mean something very different. Please understand, Mr Whelan, that when you come from Creggan like myself or the Bogside, Brandywell or the majority of places in Derry, every person still lives in the shadow of one of the darkest days in Ireland's history - even if, like me, you were born nearly 20 years after the event.

"It is just a part of who we are, ingrained into us from birth.

"For me to wear a poppy would be as much a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles - and Bloody Sunday especially - as I have in the past been accused of disrespecting the victims of WWI and WWII. It would be seen as an act of disrespect to those people; to my people."

He also said he was "not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past".

Did James McClean do the right thing?

YES says Colum Eastwood, SDLP MLA:

It's important that everyone respects people's right to remember. We have moved in the last number of years to a position where we can remember and understand people from all traditions who died as part of two world wars.

But we should also respect people's right not to wear the poppy. I don't think remembrance is about forcing people to remember in any given way. When you do that it becomes political. People are entitled to remember in whatever way they see fit - and if that means wearing a poppy that is all well and good, but if it means not wearing a poppy that is equally valid.

I think it moves beyond the realms of remembrance and in to the realms of the political when you start criticising people for not remembering in the same way that you do.

Remembrance is an individual thing and we have come to a stage in our history where people can feel comfortable wearing a poppy from whatever background and we have Irish government ministers and nationalist politicians at the cenotaph and that's a good positive thing.

But I don't think anybody should be forced to wear or feel pressurised into wearing a poppy. It was a very mature statement from McClean that has been thought out and I think he's entitled to his position and I think we all are.

NO says Gary Middleton, DUP deputy mayor of Londonderry:

It's once again very disappointing that James has taken this stance this year. It's unfortunate because a lot of young people would see him as a role model and certainly his latest stance, I think is quite disrespectful.

I just came from the cenotaph this morning and there were representatives there from right across the community whether they be unionists or nationalists, people gather together to pay their respects to those who lost their lives.

Those who paid the ultimate sacrifice didn't do so on the basis of their political stances or their religion, they did so because they wanted to do what was right. I think people will be disappointed looking on at this. Ultimately (wearing a poppy) it is an individual thing and ultimately everybody has their personal choice to make, but when the whole of the Premier League and all of the players wear the poppy on their shirts as part of a campaign of respect that the Football Association has put in place, I think it's unfortunate that he's the only one that refuses to wear it.

I believe the poppy symbolises exactly what it has done over the years. I don't believe he should be targeted because sadly I've seen it too many times, people taking to Twitter to verbally abuse people.

Belfast Telegraph

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