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McClean: My daughter has asked about the abuse; it's not a nice conversation to have

The Republic of Ireland midfielder also discussed his support for an All-Island domestic league.

James McClean is pictured at the unveiling of Aviva’s new Sensory Hub in Aviva Stadium.
James McClean is pictured at the unveiling of Aviva’s new Sensory Hub in Aviva Stadium.
Image: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

Updated Jan 28th 2020, 7:00 PM

IN AN IDEAL world, an interview with James McClean would concentrate solely on football.

And there is plenty of football to discuss.

His club, Stoke, have been climbing up the Championship table since Michael O’Neill came on board as manager in November, while at international level the Republic of Ireland are looking forward to their Euro 2020 qualifying play-off against Slovakia in March.

If only life was that straight-forward for McClean.

In the past three months alone, McClean has been on the receiving end of discriminatory abuse from fans in games against Barnsley, Huddersfield and Millwall.

And while the Stoke winger is no stranger to abuse from the stands, the 30-year-old admits his attitude toward the situation has changed over the years.

As a married man and a father of three young kids, who attend all Stoke’s home games, there are other people affected.

“Personally, it’s never troubled me [the abuse], it’s never bothered me,” McClean explains.

“Now, because my kids are of the age when they’re starting to ask questions, that’s different altogether because I shouldn’t have to explain to my children [why I'm getting abuse]. If they want to come and watch football, I shouldn’t have to explain to them why I’m getting so much abuse. As a parent, it’s not a conversation that I want to have.  

“The oldest, she’s six now; she asks questions and picks up on everything. She’s been asking [about the abuse] and that’s not a nice conversation to have.  

sporting-legends-james-mcclean-and-jamie-heaslip-launch-aviva-sensory-hub-in-aviva-stadium James McClean pictured with his 2 year old daughter Willow at the unveiling of Aviva’s new Sensory Hub in Aviva Stadium. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

“She’s not aware of the context. She’s just asking ‘Daddy, why are they singing that to you?’ or ‘Why are they saying that to you?’  

“You’re thinking that it’s easy now because she is six, to kind of brush her off, but if it continues she is going to get to the stage where she is aware of what it actually means.

“Then it’s obviously a different conversation, and it’s one I don’t want to have.”

Despite the growing curiosity from his children, he hasn’t considered keeping them away from matches. 

“Why should they miss out because of mindless idiots in the stand? That’s not fair on them. They love going to games, they love watching the games and obviously I love them being there, you know?

“I’m not going to let some idiots keep my family at home.”

McClean is keen to point out that the powers that be in England have been quick to act on his behalf, which was not always the case in previous years. 

In January, a PFA statement condemned the ‘vile abuse’ McClean has been subjected to in a 5-2 win at Huddersfield on New Year’s Day. Kick It Out, an organisation which campaigns for equality in football, also went public with their support for McClean after a 0-0 draw with Milwall.

However, McClean accepts that the issue, which dates back to his decision in 2012 not to wear a poppy on his jersey during the build-up to Remembrance Sunday, is not going to disappear anytime soon. 

Yet his frustration lies in his belief that those who direct abuse his way are not fully informed on his stance surrounding the poppy, which he outlined clearly in an open letter during his time with Wigan, or the complicated history of his hometown, Derry. 

“I can 100% say they haven’t a clue. They are so uneducated [on Derry], it’s complete ignorance. If you sat down and quizzed them you would end up blowing their brains because they wouldn’t have a clue. It’s like… ‘The person beside me is booing, so I have to boo as well.’ I think that’s a football fan mentality. 

“It’s not [an easy problem to solve]. You pull people here and there and ban them but if you’ve got 30,000-odd [in a stadium], I mean, are you going to go around and pull every single one of them out? It’s not possible. 

“But if there’s a way of sanctioning a club or sanctioning individuals to make an example, then hopefully that can stop others from doing the same.”

Over the years McClean feels the problem has intensified, but doesn’t believe the issue is restricted to football.

james-mcclean-dejected James McClean in action for Ireland. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I think that now in general it’s just a society thing. I think society has got worse. With football, obviously it’s in the spotlight so it brings it to light a bit more because of the platform it gives. But no, I think society in general has just gotten a lot worse in terms of being racist, [dealing with] diversity.” 

There has been a fair share of turbulence when it comes to his international career too.

With no shortage of controversies hounding the FAI over the past 12 months, Mick McCarthy’s Ireland team have often found themselves caught up in the storm.

And while the problems behind the scenes haven’t generally impacted the day-to-day lives of the players, McClean admits he has been concerned with how supporters’ unhappiness with the FAI has, on occasion, come to the fore during matches, namely when a fan protest resulted in a long stoppage during the home win against Georgia last March.

“The FAI has made a complete balls-up [of things] to be honest. I don’t know the ins-and-outs, but it’s obviously not a good situation.  So hopefully that can be resolved soon.

“The situation here [at the Aviva] with all the tennis balls [against Georgia], I was a bit annoyed at that because you are trying to play a game instead of… I was going to say it doesn’t help anyone but we ended up scoring from the free-kick so it probably distracted Georgia, but it’s not ideal. I’m not a big fan of fan protests during games, throwing things on the pitch and that. But I stayed clear of it because I don’t know the ins-and-outs and it’s not my specialty. I try to just do my own job first and foremost.”  

In particular, McClean would like to see more support from the FAI towards the League of Ireland, and given his hope to see a United Ireland someday, it is no surprise that he backs the proposal to create an All-Island league.

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“You have to take steps forward in achieving that [a United Ireland] in some way. It’s [All-Island league] another step forward. I just think for the island in general, it makes a lot more sense and is better for all the teams involved. I can’t see the downside.

“I think it would be exciting to have an All-Island league. I think it would bring in more excitement. Better gate receipts. Better crowds,” he says.

james-mcclean-at-the-brandywell A young James McClean attends a Derry City match at the Brandywell in 2012. Source: Lorcan Doherty

“And if it’s not an All-Island league, then hopefully the League of Ireland can thrive even, because it is very important. It gave me my education in the game and a lot of others. So a thriving League of Ireland is obviously good for everybody.”

McClean’s love for the League of Ireland is well known, and he still intends to finish his football career back at Derry City.

Life beyond that remains unclear.

He has done some of his coaching badges, but isn’t set on a career on the other side of the touchline.

“I haven’t really though about what’s next. It’s good to have the badges. I might want to be a coach, but at the same time I might say, you know what, football has been my life for 30-odd years, I might just say I’ve enjoyed it but I want to do something else.”

The only certainty is that his family’s future lies in Ireland.

“Derry was always the plan. I want to finish my career at Derry. Obviously that’s home, but my wife is open to the idea of living in Dublin, so I’ll try and talk her around yet…

“She’s followed me around England for the last nine or 10 years, so I think’s it’s only fair if she wins that one.”

Forever the family man. 

James McClean was speaking at the launch of the Aviva Sensory Hub, Aviva’s latest initiative to make Aviva Stadium a more inclusive space. For more information  follow Aviva on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using #SafeToDream or  visit www.aviva.ie/sensoryhub

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