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Ireland's James McClean writes letter outlining his reasons for not wearing a poppy

The Derry-born midfielder says he’s not a “war monger, anti-British or a terrorist”.

McClean is in action this evening for Wigan.
McClean is in action this evening for Wigan.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

IRELAND INTERNATIONAL JAMES MCCLEAN has moved to defuse any potential controversy over his decision not to wear a shirt embroidered with a poppy by writing a letter to the Wigan chairman Dave Whelan explaining his reasons for not doing so.

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the first World War and clubs will, like they do every year in the build-up to Remembrance Sunday, wear poppies on their shirts.

McClean, however, has once again decided not to partake in the commemorations and after becoming embroiled in controversy twelve months ago, decided to explain the reasons for his decision.

Minutes before Wigan’s game against Bolton Wanderers in the Championship this evening, the club released a statement on their website clarifying the 25-year-old’s standpoint.

McClean met with Whelan, the Latics’ owner and chairman, this week and the pair felt it would be right for the letter to be published before the game at the Macron Stadium.

“I have complete respect for those who fought and died in both World Wars – many I know were Irish-born. I have been told that your own Grandfather Paddy Whelan, from Tipperary, was one of those,” the letter said.

“I mourn their deaths like every other decent person and if the Poppy was a symbol only for the lost souls of World War I and II I would wear one.

“I want to make that 100% clear .You must understand this.”

McClean, who was named among the substitutes for the game, goes onto explain why it would be “an act of disrespect to my people” to wear a poppy.

Soccer - FA Cup - Fourth Round - Wigan Athletic v Crystal Palace - DW Stadium McClean was named among the substitutes for tonight's game against Bolton Source: Clint Hughes

“But the Poppy is used to remember victims of other conflicts since 1945 and this is where the problem starts for me.

“For people from the North of Ireland such as myself, and specifically those in Derry, scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, the poppy has come to mean something very different. Please understand, Mr Whelan, that when you come from Creggan like myself or the Bogside, Brandywell or the majority of places in Derry, every person still lives in the shadow of one of the darkest days in Ireland’s history – even if like me you were born nearly 20 years after the event. It is just a part of who we are, ingrained into us from birth.

“Mr Whelan, for me to wear a poppy would be as much a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles – and Bloody Sunday especially – as I have in the past been accused of disrespecting the victims of WWI and WWII.

“It would be seen as an act of disrespect to those people; to my people.

“I am not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past. I am a peaceful guy, I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs which I respect and ask for people to respect mine in return. Since last year, I am a father and I want my daughter to grow up in a peaceful world, like any parent.

“I am very proud of where I come from and I just cannot do something that I believe is wrong. In life, if you’re a man you should stand up for what you believe in.”

Last year, the then Wigan manager Owen Coyle had to dispel claims that McClean had been left out of the match day squad for refusing to wear a poppy.

The former Derry City winger has been included in Martin O’Neill’s squad for next week’s Euro 2016 Qualifier against Scotland at Celtic Park. He scored twice in the 7-0 victory over Gibraltar last month.

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Ryan Bailey

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