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'I've had a lot of death threats. People see me as anti-British and pro-IRA'

James McClean gave a searingly honest interview on BBC’s Football Focus.

JAMES MCCLEAN HAS opened up about death threats over his decision to declare for the Republic of Ireland, as well as vile abuse which forced him to leave Sunderland in 2013.

James McClean James McClean. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

The Derry native faced criticism in the past as he chose not to represent Northern Ireland at international level after lining out for underage teams.

The 28-year-old has also been heavily criticised for refusing to wear a remembrance poppy on his jersey after making the move to England’s club scene.

Speaking to BBC One’s Football Focus, the West Brom winger insisted that he had never intended to play for Northern Ireland at senior level, and was sent death threats following both his decision to declare for the Republic and refusal to wear a poppy.

“I’ve had a lot of death threats,”he said. “It started when I declared for the Republic. People see me as anti-British. I want to go on record as saying it — I’ve never been anti-British.

“There’s certain things I don’t agree with, my beliefs and I’ve made that very clear in the past. But I take people at face value, I treat people how they treat me.”

“I was an Irish boy growing up, I supported Ireland. I played with Northern Ireland for the youth system. I’ve openly admitted I took advantage of that system to better myself.

I’ve never had any ambitions to play for Northern Ireland. Certain aspects make me uncomfortable, so why should I feel uncomfortable playing football?

“I’ve never had any hatred towards Northern Ireland or their fans or their football team. There’s a lot of Northern Ireland internationals that I’ve played with, who I get on very well with.

“But I was getting death threats for declaring for my country. Why should I again turn away after getting abuse? You [certain Northern Ireland fans] abused me, I don’t like you, simple as that. Why should I? I don’t think I should have to change to suit certain people.”

He spoke about his move from Derry City overseas, and how the press have slammed him in the past.

James McClean wearing the number 5 shirt in memory of Derry City captain Ryan McBride McClean wearing the number 5 shirt as a tribute to the late Ryan McBride. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“That’s where a lot of the negative press came from. Back in Derry, I was being me. I could tweet and do what I wanted and no one cared. All of a sudden [when I came over to England], the slightest wee thing I wrote was in the papers.

“I haven’t changed, I’m still the same person. I wouldn’t want to change, that’s not me. If I did change I would be a fraud.

“When people become footballers, they go off a script which is boring and isn’t them. I’m me, if you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t.

“There’s been a lot of petty stuff, which I thought was blown out of proportion. I was an Irish lad growing up, 95 per cent of the population in Ireland probably listen to the Wolfe Tones. So I wrote on Twitter that I was listening to the Wolfe Tones, which I’v been listening to since I was no age. Then, all of a sudden, it’s in the papers that I’m pro-IRA.

The former Wigan and Sunderland player spoke at length about his move away from the Stadium of Light and how before a certain point, all was going well. “Then came the whole poppy gate and it very quickly turned,” he recalls.

“There’s a funny story about one of the last home games of season for Sunderland. Like I normally do, I took my jersey home because you never know who needs one or asks for one.

“I gave it to a kid outside the stadium. His father took it off him and threw it back at me.

“Then, on the way home, we pulled up at traffic lights. Another car pulled up alongside us, rolled down the window, spat out the window and just drove off.

“My missus was in the car and she was pregnant at the time and I was thinking ‘I’m about to bring a baby into the world, I don’t need all this hassle’.

“So I went and seen Paolo [Di Canio] the next day. I said ‘look I think it’s time that I move on.’”

McClean paid an emotional tribute in the interview to his former teammate and friend Ryan McBride, who passed away in March, and he also spoke about his act of kindness for the Oxford Bulls.

The Derry native concluded that he’s happy at West Brom and how things are going at the minute:

“I want to be the best I can be, and West Brom feel the same — they want to be the best they can be.”

You can watch the full interview here:

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