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Gareth McAuley: James McClean deserves a fair hearing

James McClean has become used to abuse over his refusal to wear a poppy (Dave Thompson/PA)
James McClean has become used to abuse over his refusal to wear a poppy (Dave Thompson/PA)
Gareth McAuley

By Gareth McAuley

I find it sad that James McClean will not be remembered for football and instead the controversies that have surrounded his career.

James is a decent player, someone I always enjoyed playing with when he was at West Brom, and I consider him to be a friend.

We don't agree on a number of issues, say around the poppy and Remembrance Sunday, but I believe we have mutual respect over each other's stances. It has never got in the way of our friendship. While I maybe don't agree with him, I understand where he is coming from.

I feel, in England, there is little understanding of James' viewpoint.

Just the other day in Huddersfield, when playing for Michael O'Neill's Stoke City, he was abused with anti-IRA chants aimed in his direction. It was the same when I played with him up there.

There appears to be very little tolerance and even though James has tried to explain in detail why he takes such a stand and the right to respect his wishes, it has largely fallen on deaf ears.

James is extremely thick skinned, has stuck to his guns and refuses to back down - which, sadly, is probably what he'll be remembered for, rather than the quality of his football.

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