James McClean explains poppy stance

James McClean
James McClean

While accepting that British soldiers courageously gave their lives in two world wars, footballer James McClean says he will not wear a poppy because the symbol has come to mean something entirely different in Derry.

The former Derry City player says that he comes from the city where British soldiers carried out a massacre on Bloody Sunday and as the poppy represents soldiers who served in all conflicts he cannot disrespect his own people.

He says he would wear the poppy if it referred only to World War I and II and that his own grandfather had given his life.

Wigan Athletic’s Republic of Ireland international winger has explained why he would not be wearing a poppy shirt on Friday night alongside the rest of his Wigan Athletic team mates, as the club took part in football’s annual Remembrance Day commemoration.

This is a personal decision by James, who explained his position in a letter to Latics Chairman Dave Whelan before the two met face to face to discuss the issue this week.

Following the meeting, Mr Whelan accepted James’ decision and it is both their wish that the letter is published in full, alongside the club statement. There will be no further comment on this issue by the club.

James McClean’s letter said:

Dear Mr Whelan

I wanted to write to you before talking about this face to face and explain my reasons for not wearing a poppy on my shirt for the game at Bolton.

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.

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.

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.

I know you may not agree with my feelings but I hope very much that you understand my reasons.

As the owner of the club I am proud to play for, I believe I owe both you and the club’s supporters this explanation.