Irish soccer international James McClean has set the internet alight this week, after he turned his back on the English flag and refused to join in the national anthem before a friendly match.
McClean, who plays for English club West Brom, was in America on a pre-season tour with his team.
Before a match against Charleston Battery of South Carolina the players stood for the national anthems of each team’s country – America and Britain.
However, when the British anthem ‘God Save the Queen’ was played, McClean refused to turn and face the English flag.
His gesture has divided opinions in both Ireland and England. To some it was a needlessly provocative act ahead of a friendly match, while others have praised him for sticking to his principals.
McClean is from Derry, where the Bloody Sunday massacre took place. He also refuses to wear a poppy on his shirt as is traditional in Britain to remember the soldiers who died in the First World War.
In the past McClean explained: “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.
“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.”
While there have been plenty of messages of support for the Derry man this week, he has come in for a lot of criticism, some of which has descended into disturbing online abuse.
British journalist Luke Edwards accused McClean of hypocrisy for living and working in England and paying taxes, some of which go to the funding of the British forces.
He wrote: “McClean’s behaviour hints at someone who is not willing to move on, to forgive or forget.”
The Irish Mirror report that McClean’s manager Tony Pulis has warned him that while he respects his Republican stance and his right to expression, he must tone down his anti-British behaviour while he is a part of the club.
Meanwhile, many people on social media have descended into ugly and abusive name calling, with the player being branded ‘scum’, an ‘attention seeker’ and even compared to a terrorist by many English fans.
There have been plenty of trolls who have sent extreme messages about McClean that are too explicit to display on this site. Here are a few of the anti-McCLean tweets that we can reproduce on this family website
If you choose to take tens of thousands of pounds a week in this country then don't show faux disgust for it #jamesmcclean
— Greg Paterson (@GP) July 19, 2015
There is not a person in the world I hate more than James McClean!
— Lewis Shepherd (@lewisshepherd12) July 19, 2015
The only place James McClean should be standing is the dole queue
— Roaring Meg (@RoaringMeg1872) July 19, 2015
James McClean… Happy to live and earn in England, not happy to respect its traditions or beliefs.
— Amy (@amywiseman22) July 19, 2015
Many others said that if he hates the English so much then he should leave the country.
However, a number of English people, not all of them West Brom fans, have tweeted their support for McClean’s stance.
Tottenham fan Flav Bateman tweeted
Whether you agree with him or not James McClean shouldn't abandon his principles just because he's stood on a football pitch
— Flav (@Flav_Bateman) July 19, 2015
Nottingham Forest fan Hannah Dexter said:
Whatever happened to Freedom of Speech? James McClean should be allowed to express his views. https://t.co/syPRPRwOcB
— Hannah Dexter (@hannahforest) July 20, 2015
Middlesbrough fan Ryan H S said:
Do the people who are arsed about James McClean not realise that the British army murdered people in his town?
— Ryan (@Ryan_H_S) July 18, 2015
Many English fans mocked the strong reaction of some of the people who directed angry messages at McClean.
Peter Charles said:
Shocking to hear that James McClean put on a balaclava, burned the Union Jack, and threw an armalite in the centre circle #SCUM 😡😡 NS 🇬🇧🇬🇧
— Peter Charles (@peter27afcb) July 18, 2015
Meanwhile, sports banter twitter page Benchwarmers suggested a new song for West Brom fans to sing to McClean
West Brom fans new chant for James McClean… pic.twitter.com/g9FLPBt4hm
— BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) July 21, 2015
Here is a video of the match. Skip forward to 3.28 to see the McClean incident.