Erin McClean: "It makes me feel sick to the pit of my stomach"
THE WIFE of Republic of Ireland winger James McClean says she constantly fears for her family’s safety after a decade of daily abuse and sick threats to her husband and young children.
Mum-of-three, Erin, felt she needed to break her silence about the torrent of vile ant-Irish and sectarian threats in the hope that the evil internet trolls would somehow be held accountable for their actions.
She used her social media platform this week to make a passionate defence of her husband and to give an insight into the non-stop threats, obscenities and offensive hate mail her family are constantly subjected to.
And in a rare interview, Erin told the ‘Journal’ about a particularly ‘scary’ incident when she had to flee the Trafford Centre in Manchester during a shopping trip with her family after a sinister threat from an anonymous person.
On another occasion she watched a Sunderland match in genuine fear after someone threatened to bring a gun to one of her husband’s games in 2012 after his refusal to wear a Remembrance Day poppy the previous weekend.
Threats to burn down their family home, death wishes and comments about her children contracting coronavirus are just some of the ‘toxic’ abuse the McClean household endure daily.
As recently as Wednesday morning, McClean’s brother Patrick – who plays for Glentoran – received a message saying it would be preferable if McClean’s three young children had to watch him burn to death.
It’s relentless but the abuse isn’t limited to social media as the fear of being challenged in public has left Erin feeling ‘on edge’ when on family outings in England.
Indeed, Erin’s biggest fear is that someone actually carries through with their threats and she’s worried how the anti-Irish invective targeted at them will affect her children, Allie-May (7), James Jr. (5) and three year-old Willow.
She has called for social media platforms and government authorities to do more to combat online abuse and hopes her story will show those responsible the impact it has on her family.
“People just weren’t taking it seriously but there’s only so much you can take and I decided to come out and explain just how bad it has been,” explained Erin.
“James hasn’t got the best image on social media and through the media so I thought maybe hearing it from someone else might hit home for some people.
“He’s been getting abuse from all ends for nearly 10 years now. It kills me seeing it sometimes because as much as he says it doesn’t bother him, it does get to him when he sees people saying things about his kids and his family.
“It’s more so when it’s directed to the kids,” she added. “Myself and James can be called any name under the sun and we can laugh it off but as soon as the kids are brought into it, it makes me feel sick to the pit of my stomach. It just turns my stomach when I see the kids’ names and any comments directed at them.
“There was a time when we were shopping in the Trafford Centre when James had just joined Wigan which was a while ago now. I stupidly tagged myself online and some boy knew where we were in the centre and said he was coming for us. That, for me at the time, because that kind of abuse was so new to us, was probably the scariest.
“But the worst abuse is directed at the kids. There’s stuff I wouldn’t even put out there that they’ve said because it’s so disgusting but threats to hurt the kids or anything like that is the worst. The recent ones were saying ‘I hope they die’ or ‘I hope they catch coronavirus’, there’s been so much really.
“Some people don’t realise the impact it has on footballer’s wives and families. Even James’ mammy, she has struggled with it a lot. She worries so much about him.It just blows my mind that people feel like it’s okay to do this. People would ask me if I was bitter about it all but I would tell them I’m not because I don’t understand how I could hate somebody I don’t know.”
Erin admits feeling insecure in her family home on Stoke-on-Trent when James has gone to represent Ireland or when Stoke City is playing away.
“When I’m on my own with the three kids, there’s always a wee thought in the back of your mind saying; ‘what if?’ There are crazy people out there so you just never know.”
She also fears that James could understandably react negatively to abuse or obscene comments, leaving her feeling anxious when in public.
“I’m very hyper aware of it all when we’re out shopping for example,” she explained. “It’s always on the back of my mind; ‘what if someone says something to James’ because he would react. And it wouldn’t backfire on other people, it would backfire on him when you’ve got the kids with you.
“So it is always on the back of mind when we go out anywhere but I don’t really say that to him either because it would probably annoy him that I’m feeling like that. It has happened before which is why I’m always aware of it happening again.
“We’ve been spat at, shouted at, nights out have been ruined by people making remarks towards him. He’s dealt with the abuse for so long now he just doesn’t have the same patience for it so he does react and the only person it comes back to is him which makes things worse for himself.”
James himself has spoken out this week and admitted his annoyance that people were justifying the abuse because of some of the mistakes he’s made on social media in the past. His home schooling ‘history lesson’ Instagram post where he was wearing a balaclava backfired and he admitted he made a mistake at the time.
Erin revealed that particular post was the cause of some debate between the pair at the time but while she agrees it was ill advised, she insists it’s no excuse for what they’ve suffered.
“People may say he brings it onto himself,” she continued. “He’s the first to say what he’s done in the past on social media has been wrong and it was just a reaction but he’s not going out to wind people up or stir the pot. He’s doing it as a reaction.
“When he put up the home schooling post, that was wrong and he shouldn’t have done it. It was stupid. I thought he was just doing it to show his friends and let’s just say there was a bit of an argument in this house about it,” she laughed.
‘I don’t care how many doors I have to bang on, I’m going to be heard,” declared James on a radio interview this week as he hopes to stop the anti-Irish slurs aimed at him, his family and fellow Irishmen.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster have publicly condemned the threats and praised the McClean family for bravely speaking out.
The PFA, the FAI, Stoke City and several of McClean’s teammates have also backed the Derry man which has been warmly received by Erin and her family.
She desperately wants people to recognise James for being a true ‘family man’ who dotes on his children and stands up passionately for his beliefs and claims his anti-British persona couldn’t be further from the truth.
“There’s always the small minority who think he’s anti-British, he hates the English, he’s only here to make money which blows my mind. When we moved to England, James was 23 and I was 19 or 20. We’ve been here for nearly 10 years and most of my best friends are English. Most of his friends are English, his teammates.
“So how can we live here and have friends here and be anti-British? He’s never ever come across that way and most footballers who meet him are shocked that he’s not like this persona which is put out there.
“He’s honestly so quiet,” she said. “People have the impression that he’s this angry person all the time but he’s not. He can get angry when he loses matches but on a normal day he’ll get up, get his breakfast, play with the wains and go in and watch Sky Sports.
“He’s very chilled out and laid back. He’s too chilled out for my liking to be honest, she laughed. “He’s a big softie really when it comes to the kids. He’s very much family orientated. It’s all about his mammy, daddy, brothers and sisters and his family. He’s very protective over them all and that’s what he says really matters is his family at the end of the day.”
The couple’s five year-old son, Junior, is ‘football-mad’ and dreams of being just like his daddy when he grows up. Erin and James both hope that times will have changed by then and that their personal crusade will have somehow impacted on how online abuse is policed in the near future.
“If you ask Junior what he wants to be when he’s older he’ll say ‘a footballer’. ‘Where do you want to play football?’ He’ll say ‘Stoke’. He’s obsessed with Stoke City.
“You kind of think, if that’s his dream you don’t want this happening to him when he’s at James’ age. You would like to be able to relax and know you’ve done as much as you can to stop these kinds of threats online or at least making sure people get some sort of punishment for it.”