Only A Game? It’s about personal choice, lest we forget...

Sunderland's James McClean, Scott Heppell/PA Wire.
Sunderland's James McClean, Scott Heppell/PA Wire.

The vitriol and diatribe that followed in the wake of James McClean’s decision to not wear a poppy adorned football jersey during Sunderland’s game against Everton last weekend was nothing short of shocking, atrocious and repulsive.

Before I go any further, I have to state that I have absolutely no problem with anyone disagreeing with McClean’s actions. I also respect the decision of people who want to wear the poppy and who want to commemorate members of armed forces killed in war.

It’s also important to stress that some of those who expressed their disappointment with McClean’s decision in a fair and respectful manner were also subject to horrible levels of abuse on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

McClean, a 23 year-old from the Cregan estate in Derry, took a personal decision, (and it’s important to remember that it was a personal decision) not to wear a football jersey specially designed to commemorate Remembrance Sunday. That’s where the story and stops and ends for me.

Whether people like it or not, McClean, love him or hate him, was in his place of work when he took the decision not to wear the poppy. How would you feel if you were told that you had to wear something you weren’t comfortable with at work? Put yourself in McClean’s shoes. Think about it.

Many put forward several reasons why they thought McClean opted out of wearing the poppy but as of yet, he has yet to explain the reasoning behind his decision.

If you were offended by McClean’s actions last weekend, I’d be interested to hear why (provided it’s done in a fair and respectful way). If anyone thought that McClean’s decision to not wear the poppy was disrespectful, then I have to categorically say that I every ounce of me disagrees.

Exercising the right to personal choice does not equate to disrespect and nothing that anyone can ever say will convince me of anything different.

If an English player plying his trade in Ireland, of which there are many, opted out of wearing an Easter Lily, would I be annoyed? Absolutely not. It’s a personal choice and trying to force someone into wearing something that they do not want to takes away from the very thing that should be remembered and celebrated. The same respect for McClean’s personal choice should prevail.

There’s nothing wrong with registering your disappointment or explaining why you disagree with someone but when your argument turns into an attack or an all-out verbal assault, I am sorry, but your opinion is rendered worthless.

I engaged with several people who were annoyed with McClean, all of whom hailed from various parts of the United Kingdom.

Some said that they thought that simply because McClean lived and worked in England (Sunderland) he should compromise on his beliefs, views, opinions (whatever you want to call them) and wear the poppy. It’s a suggestion that I found utterly insane. Where will it stop? Providing no laws are being broken (and McClean did not break any laws) how can anyone have any issues?

Others said that McClean should have worn the poppy because if it wasn’t for (and I quote) ‘the British army he’d be speaking German and goose stepping all over the place’. Utter balderdash.

Newsflash: the poppy, although it’s traditionally worn in the United Kingdom and other parts of the commonwealth, owes its origins to an American woman by the name of Moina Michael. In 1918, she vowed to wear a poppy as a mark of respect for all those who died during World War I after she was inspired by the poem ‘In Flanders Field’, which was written by Canadian soldier and war poet Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.

The sheer ignorance on show last weekend was sickening and ill-informed opinions were chucked around like they were going out of style. It was so frustrating.

I could understand it if McClean had done something which could be interpreted as disrespectful but he didn’t. He told his employers that wearing a poppy in his place of work was something he was not comfortable with and said that he would prefer to wear a jersey with no poppy on it. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

If people want to wear poppies and lay wreaths at cenotaphs to commemorate the dead on Remembrance Sunday, then you have my respect and I wish you the very best. But the same respect and courtesy should be offered to those who choose not to. It’s a personal choice and, like I said, personal choice does not equate to disrespect.