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'The football authorities are a bunch of hypocrites...if you’re a white Irishman, nobody cares'

James McClean received vile sectarian abuse in a birthday card last month, and is furious at the lack of action.

James McClean.
James McClean.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

JAMES MCCLEAN IS sitting in a suite overlooking the Aviva Stadium, surrounded by journalists and batting away standard, unsurprising questions with his gracious tolerance. 

How was the training camp in Portugal? 

“It was grand. Lovely weather, but we worked hard. We got a good week under our belts.” 

How do you reflect on the qualifier wins against Gibraltar and Georgia in March? 

“Two wins. That’s all that matters. They are done now, we have to look forward to the next two coming up.” 

What do you have to do to improve our record against Denmark? 

“Score more than them. Bar the game out here, which was a disaster, it’s been all tight games. We have to take our chances when they come, and it would be nice to get a win.” 

And then…

James, a few weeks ago you put up on Instagram after your birthday the card you received and the abuse you received on it. Are the football authorities doing enough about that? Because a lot of people were shocked about the abuse that was in that card when you put it up. 

“Do you want to know the God’s honest truth?” comes a bracingly quick reply. 

Yea-

“They’re a bunch of cowards.

“The football authorities, they are a bunch of hypocrites.

“[Raheem] Sterling is a hero and is getting awards. Compare what I get week-in, week-out to what he got in one game, one week.

“For the last seven or eight years, there hasn’t been a word. Yeah, they are a bunch of hypocrites. Bunch of cowards.” 

The social media post in question was of a birthday card that had a death threat on its cover and a screed of sectarian and anti-Irish slurs within it. McClean was labelled a “two-faced hypocritical bastard”, Bloody Sunday was derided as a “bloody good laugh”, and the Irish were referred to as “a race of inbred, subhuman parasites.” 

Anti-racism group Kick it Out described the abuse as “a disgrace and brings shame upon the sport” although when contacted by The42, the FA and EFL declined to comment, saying it is a police matter. 

McClean says he was sent that Kick it Out message after they were contacted on his behalf, and describes it as “a measly statement” that “meant nothing, to be honest.”

He maintains that he shared the abuse to highlight the fact his is taken less seriously than the abuse of others in English football, and says it doesn’t personally affect him. 

“To be honest, it’s water off a duck’s back at this stage. It’s been going on the last seven or eight years. The reason I put it up was just to highlight the fact that if I wasn’t a white Irish guy there would be a bigger uproar about it.

“And I was right in doing that as there was still nothing [done].” 

Aviva Soccer Sisters Dream Camp James McClean at the Aviva Soccer Sisters Dream Camp. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

Why do the authorities not take the issue seriously? 

“To put it bluntly, it’s because I’m a white Irishman. Whether that doesn’t matter to them…this happens to Neil Lennon, he gets abused and nobody does anything.

“The proof is in the pudding. If you’re a white Irishman, nobody cares.

“It’s pretty clear what they have to do to change it. It’s what they are doing with the Sterling thing. Don’t be a hypocrite.

“Racism, sectarianism: it’s all the same. It’s discrimination.

“I don’t want praise. The reason I highlighted it was to prove a point. I don’t want their praise, they can ram their praise for all I care.

“It was just a matter of highlighting the difference and showing them for the hypocrites they are.”

McClean didn’t contact the police – “I’m not a grass” – although they did receive a third-party complaint about the abuse. Jon Walters and Keiren Westwood defended him publicly, and he received a few messages of support. As for his Stoke City teammates – he prefers not to make it a talking point in the dressing room. 

“I don’t like talking about it, I don’t want the sympathy, it is what it is.

“To be fair, I don’t know what was more insulting – the card or the spelling. Idiots will be idiots.” 

McClean has been a target for abuse in English football for years, stemming from his refusal to wear a poppy on his shirt for Remembrance Sunday. Last year, he was barracked by a section of his own support, some of whom threw missiles at him. 

A frequent response to this is why, if he endures such consistent abuse, does McClean continue to earn his living in England? 

The42 puts that question to him. 

“If I were working in Dubai, would they make me wear a burka? No.

“Where you work doesn’t mean you have to bow to their culture, their way of living, their principles.” 

Some players have the dignity of full interviews with only standard, unsurprising questions.

James McClean was speaking at the Aviva Soccer Sisters Dream Camp at the Aviva Stadium. 
See aviva.ie/soccersisters or check out #SafeToDream on social media for further details.

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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