James McClean's full-time celebration 'sparks West Brom v Sunderland pitch bust-up'
James McClean may face disciplinary action by the Football Association after he was accused of causing a mini-riot.
The controversial Londonderry-born Republic of Ireland international was described by his club manager, Tony Pulis, as “not the sharpest tool in the box” after becoming embroiled in an on-pitch melee.
It followed West Bromwich Albion’s victory over McClean’s former team Sunderland.
Ironically, the fracas occurred after he thanked West Brom fans in writing for their support in the match programme ahead of Saturday’s Premier League clash.
It follows a series of high-profile incidents which have helped McClean hit the headlines.
The Creggan native sparked fury when he refused to acknowledge the national anthem during West Brom’s summer trip to the USA. He also provoked anger by refusing to wear a poppy in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday while playing for both Sunderland and Wigan Athletic, saying it would have been disrespectful to the “innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles”.
During Saturday’s match, many of the 2,700 Sunderland fans pointedly chanted “No Surrender to the IRA” at the Hawthorns. When the final whistle signalled Albion’s 1-0 victory, McClean ran towards the Sunderland fans and pumped his fists triumphantly. The fans reacted with fury, as did many Sunderland players, with Danny Graham and Lee Cattermole shoving McClean before others joined in.
Pulis did not see the incident but he has vowed to reprimand the 26-year-old midfielder if necessary. “If he’s out of order, I’ll have a word with him,” he said.
But in defence of McClean’s character, the West Brom manager added: “He’s not the sharpest tool in the box, and that’s not being disrespectful to him. He’s a smashing lad. The lads here have taken to him.”
McClean is well aware that he is considered a divisive figure in English football because of his personal views, prompting him to defend his position in the match programme ahead of the weekend clash with his old club, for whom he played between 2011 and 2013.
“My attitude is live and let live, honestly, and I don’t think we should have ideas forced on us, just as I don’t want to force my ideas on anybody else,” he wrote.
“The Albion fans have been great to me, and I just want to put it out in black and white why I do what I do and give my side of the story. I have the greatest respect for their culture, and it’s been nice that they seem to have the same for mine. I hope that by saying this, people will realise I mean no disrespect to anyone. But I have to stand by my principles.”
The Sunderland manager, Sam Allardyce, also missed Saturday’s incident but hinted that it may have repercussions for McClean.
“I suppose he felt like they must have been giving him a bit of stick, and because they’ve beaten us, he felt like showing a bit back,” he said. “But it’s not my responsibility to say what happens. The regulations will look after that.”
In July, McClean became embroiled in a political furore after tweeting his views on the Derry/Londonderry name debate.
His involvement in the row came just days after he was warned by his club to show respect for the English flag and British national anthem following his snub during the club’s American trip.
Belfast Telegraph Digital