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I've been target of sectarianism, says McGinn as NI star urges football to tackle bigots

Niall McGinn

Niall McGinn has called for football to provide greater support for players dealing with abuse after revealing his personal hurt over songs sung at matches regarding the hunger strikers.

The Aberdeen winger and Northern Ireland international's mother is first cousins with Martin Hurson, who was one of 10 prisoners to die on hunger strike in 1981.

Now McGinn has opened up on what he says has been a small level of abuse suffered during his playing career, primarily but not solely during the three years he spent at Celtic between 2009 and 2012.

"Even now at Aberdeen, it's not like Celtic and Rangers and that greater rivalry, but when I go to places like Tynecastle at Hearts, you're getting called names or getting abuse when you're on the sidelines warming up," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback.

"It's just abuse all the time. Yes, don't get me wrong, it's a small minority, but you're getting called a f**ian whatever and it is hard to take at times.

"You have different songs sung at different games regarding the Hunger Strikers and that can be quite hurtful. Although I was young and didn't experience too much of that growing up, different things like that are always hard to hear and take under your wing.

"You just have to try and manage it and keep moving forward."

McGinn was speaking in reply to James McClean's irritation that almost a decade of sectarian abuse directed towards him has not led to the same solidarity from team-mates as is being shown towards black players standing against racism.

During his time at Celtic, McGinn was sent bullets in the post. He says that players suffering abuse of any kind should have greater support available to them.

"There is an area there for an association to get up and going, even for a footballer to have somebody to speak to," he said.

"That's probably James' situation now where he needs people to speak to.

"James has received all sorts of abuse for so many years. For the likes of myself it's been very small but at the end of the day it's still abuse.

"There definitely needs to be people out there that you can speak to and relate to rather than just trying to forget about it.

"Everyone's a human being at the end of the day. It could be the simple thing of making a phone call and trying to make things better at the grounds.

"Once these people are caught making these comments whether it be at matches or on social media, they (should be) punished for their actions."

I've had a brilliant international career and haven't looked back.

McGinn also called for social media companies to provide more stringent registration processes, collecting identification data for each account, in a bid to tackle online abuse.

The 32-year-old has 60 caps for Northern Ireland, many won during his time as a Celtic player, and played down any abuse he has received from his own international supporters.

"It's only been a very, very small minority," he said.

"Maybe the younger generation or older generation who are 100% conservative on their side of the politics.

"I've been very, very lucky. I can't speak about too many situations. I've always given 100%, had a brilliant international career and haven't looked back."

Republic of Ireland international McClean has been targeted throughout his career, which has included spells at Sunderland, Wigan, West Brom and current side Stoke City, over his decision not to wear a poppy.

As well as being abused at games and online he has also received death threats and bullets in the post.

He admits he has not always helped himself and regrets an incident in March when he posted a picture of himself on social media homeschooling his children wearing a balaclava, describing it as a “history lesson”.

He has called for solidarity from his team-mates.

He told Talksport: “The point I was trying to make was it leaves a sour taste in my mouth because I am seeing all this support (for black players and) I’m thinking, ‘I’ve been abused for the last nine years and where has my support been? Where has been my level of attention?’

“I’m not looking for attention but, in my mind, discrimination is discrimination.

“But it almost seems that one holds a higher precedence over another and that’s what irritates me. I’m not looking for sympathy or attention, I’m just asking for equality.”

Belfast Telegraph