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James McClean will struggle to escape the hole he has dug for himself but he really is a decent young lad

Liam Beckett



James McClean

James McClean


James McClean

Football, like life, is a game of opinions and once you're high profile and choose to publicly air your views on contentious subjects, you've got to be prepared for the mixed reaction you'll inevitably receive.

This week, it's been the Stoke City and Republic of Ireland player James McClean who, not for the first time, has been grabbing all the tabloid headlines and airtime but, once again, I feel for all the wrong reasons.

Normally this subject is taboo for most people because, no matter what's said, it never seems to please everyone, but if no one is prepared to address the problem and people continue to bury their head in the sand then we will never find an acceptable solution.

From the very outset, let's cut to the chase and agree that McClean is no stranger to controversy and, to his credit, he never attempts to hide the fact that he's a proud Irish republican. He continually makes that clear and he is, of course, fully entitled to his opinion.

However, once you raise your head above the parapet and go public - particularly regarding history and politics here in Northern Ireland - you are in many ways making a rod for your own back. You are leaving yourself wide open to a wave of criticism, some of it acceptable and some of it certainly not.

But if you've taken that all important decision to air your views then you've got to be prepared to take the flak as well as the plaudits.

I suspect all of us have our own personal views on most things, but sometimes those are best kept to yourself, particularly if it's political and especially if it's in this part of the world.

In sport, it's best to park your political hat and confine your political thoughts and wishes to the ballot box when it comes round to election time.

However, with regard to this latest McClean outburst, it saddens me because I know James, I had him as a kid when I was manager at Institute and a quieter, better behaved young lad you couldn't have met.

He also does an awful lot for charity and people in need, but sadly all of his good work is all but completely lost on the general public every time he decides to let off steam - and with social media so rampant nowadays, it's inevitable he's going to get slaughtered by many for acting out in public like he does.

James has clearly got some bad memories of feeling hard done by in the past and that's been compounded by a bitterness towards the state and he's obviously still very proud of his culture.

I have no problem accepting that because I too am very proud of my culture, but there is a time and place for celebrating such things and that doesn't include washing dirty linen in public for want of a better phrase.

Unfortunately, as a result of the poppy fiasco, the national anthem controversy, the Wolfe Tones rebel songs and wearing a balaclava while administering home teaching to his children, the professional football career of James McClean has now become tainted and irreparably damaged.

He has basically dug a deep hole for himself and, despite his cries for help, it's a hole which I think he will struggle to get out of and that's sad because behind that facade, there's actually a decent young lad.

This new-fangled nonsense has gone on for VAR too long

I've said it from day one and  I'll say it once again - knock this VAR nonsense on the head immediately before someone strangles a referee.

Recent events have proved even more conclusively than ever that this shambolic electronic decision making system is causing far more consternation and bad blood between officialdom, players, managers and staff than the old traditional method ever did.

The final decision is still arrived at by a human being and the last couple of weeks have produced some of the most diabolical calls I think I've ever seen in a game of football.

The sad fact is that as well as cheating the ordinary fans out of even more game time with these unnecessary stoppages, it's become totally divisive as well.

Some of the VAR decisions in the English games I've seen on telly have beggared belief and could well cost some clubs an absolute fortune in the long term.

So would someone in authority please just grow a set and call a halt to this disaster and accept the fact that it will never improve what we already have. In fact, I believe it will only devalue the game even further.

Enough is enough!

Substandard amendments

Footbal fans of a similar vintage to myself, who grew up on a diet of watching a fierce, frenetic, pulsating and physical non-stop 90 minutes of action with only one referee, feel like we're witnessing the total eradication of the game we love.

Just for the time being, let's try and forget the practical removal of the art of strong tackling; the Oscar-nominated divers who go down for next to nothing and then proceed to roll around like they've been shot; the kicking of the ball into touch every other second; the various crazy editions of the offside law; the definition of what exactly constitutes a handball nowadays; and all of the many other insults to our intelligence we've had to helplessly stand by and watch being inflicted upon us over recent years.

Let's even forget for the moment the shambles that is VAR and its contribution to even more fall-outs, rows and controversy.

Now hold on to your hat and try to nurture your sanity because the International Football Association Board have confirmed plans which will allow Leagues to retain the temporary law change increasing the number of permissible substitutions from three to five, which was introduced back in May as a direct result of the coronavirus crisis.

I don't like the idea at all because it would obviously give the bigger clubs with better quality players - who already have more strength in depth and a much stronger bench than the smaller sides - an even bigger advantage and that's not on.

Then, as if this possible rule change was not hard enough to stomach, comes the even more bizarre suggestion that some of the Einsteins in suits are also toying with the idea of retaining the current water breaks midway through each half, practically turning the game into a basketball-style four-quarter contest.

Incredible as it may seem, I wouldn't put it past the do-gooders to introduce even more crazy rule changes and, hand on heart, I can honestly say if that ever happens then I may well have to say farewell to what was once the greatest game on the planet.

Superstar Dallas has always been in a different league

After a near miss last season and the odd stuttering, nerve-jangling performance towards the tail end of this campaign, Leeds United will finally be back mixing it with the big boys in the English Premier League.

Thursday night's 1-0 win over Barnsley at Elland Road, and Huddersfield's 2-1 victory against West Brom on Friday, sealed their return to the big time and what a wonderful and appropriate send off that is for the former United giant and legend Jack Charlton, who sadly passed away last week.

After seeing that promotion was confirmed on Friday night, I was absolutely delighted because that means one of our very own lads, Stuart Dallas, will be playing Premier League football next term and that can only be good news for all Northern Ireland fans as we don't have as many top-flight players as I'd like in our international squad.

I am also chuffed for Stuarty himself because he is a shining example to all talented young Irish League players that if you are prepared to make sacrifices and put in the hard work and dedication, you too can dare to dream.

So no better man than Stuart to now get the opportunity of rubbing shoulders with some of the most talented footballers on the planet on a weekly basis next term and believe me when I say no one deserves it more than Stu.

Belfast Telegraph