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James McClean turns his back for national anthem igniting calls for him to quit English football

By Claire McNeilly

Published 20/07/2015

James McClean bows his head and turns to the side as his West Brom teammates stand for God Save the Queen before the game in the US
James McClean bows his head and turns to the side as his West Brom teammates stand for God Save the Queen before the game in the US
McClean wears a poppy-free shirt while playing for Wigan last year

A Northern Ireland MP has told controversial footballer James McClean to quit the English game if he cannot respect the national anthem.

The DUP's Gregory Campbell was speaking after the Londonderry-born winger plunged himself into a fresh row by bowing his head during the playing of God Save the Queen before a football match in the United States.

The Republic of Ireland international broke ranks with his new West Bromwich Albion teammates by turning to his right and facing downwards as the national anthem was played at the Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina.

McClean went on to help the Premier League side defeat American opponents Charleston Battery 2-1 in a pre-season friendly, but his actions prompted angry exchanges on social media.

Mr Campbell said McClean's actions showed "disrespect and discourtesy", although SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan disagreed.

"James McClean is a highly paid footballer playing in the English Premiership, so if he's going to continue behaving like this he needs to reconsider who he's playing for," Mr Campbell said.

"He should reconsider who his paymasters are or move elsewhere so there isn't a problem.

"He needs to keep his head down and play football, but what he shouldn't do while earning money from the UK is set himself up as a controversial pseudo-political figure, which is what he's doing.

"If he didn't want to sing the national anthem I don't think anybody would have complained, but he should have had the courtesy and respect to simply stand there.

"It is time for his manager to take him in hand and have a word with him. It is only a few months until Remembrance Day and we'll have a problem with the poppy and McClean again."

Mr Durkan said he didn't believe what McClean had done was disrespectful.

"He has probably been singled out because of the principled stances he has taken in the past while at other clubs," said Mr Durkan.

"When Darren Kelly, another man from Derry, was appointed manger of Oldham Athletic recently, he was attacked and threatened on social media just because of who he was and where he was from.

"There are elements out there among the support base of clubs who will look for reasons to attack players, based on where they come from."

Reaction on Twitter included a comment from Robert Johnstone: "James McClean, a man who has no issue earning a living in the UK yet time and time again disrespects everything British."

Meanwhile '@KieranSunlin' added: "James McClean really is on a par with radical Muslims in this country. Happy to live and earn here, whilst hating us."

But '@stekelly' defended the 26-year-old, stating: "I don't understand why some people lose the plot over James McClean. The guy has principles and stands for his beliefs. Just respect him!"

The winger's stance is unlikely to endear him to the Baggies fans who opposed his recent £1.5m transfer from Wigan in the light of his refusal to wear a Remembrance Day poppy at previous clubs Sunderland and Wigan.

McClean, who represented Northern Ireland up to under-21 level before opting for the Republic senior team, received death threats in the wake of his anti-poppy stance.

When McClean was at Sunderland, the club banned him from Twitter after his stated admiration for rebel song The Broad Black Brimmer by The Wolfe Tones.


Last year McClean wrote to Wigan owner Dave Whelan outlining his stance on wearing a poppy.

"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," an extract read. "Mr Whelan, 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 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."

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