Football’s ability to protect players from crowd abuse and to respect their freedom of expression is being called into doubt after James McClean became embroiled in yet another controversy over his choice not to wear a poppy.
The Derry man has spent seven years explaining why he opts not to sport the symbol on his shirt but when he was abused by his own fans during Stoke’s goalless draw against Middlesbrough on Saturday it was his social media reaction, and not the abuse, which was investigated.
The Republic of Ireland winger was warned by the Football Association for use of an offensive word in an angry post in which he praised some Stoke fans for their support but described others as ‘uneducated cavemen’, saying: “To the section of uneducated cavemen in the left-hand corner of the Boothen End stand that want to song their anti-Irish song each game and call me a Fenian this and that… I am a PROUD FENIAN no c**t will ever change that, so sing away. Your abuse, your throwing things, your booing, do your worst.”
The FA says there will be no further punishment for McClean but the incident has wider implications, coming in the same week in which Hibs boss Neil Lennon suffered merciless abuse in a derby game against Hearts and was struck on the head by a coin thrown from the terraces. Both Edinburgh clubs condemned the poor behaviour of fans, while Lennon later defended his own behaviour and described the sectarian abuse aimed at him as ‘racism’.
In McClean’s case, after reports emerged the FA were investigating him rather than the abuse, he was similarly angered as he posted on social media: “The FA are investigating me after Saturday’s event — for what, exactly? Yet week in, week out for the past seven years, I get constant sectarian abuse, death threats, objects being thrown, chanting which is heard loud and clear every week which my family, wife and kids have to listen to. They turn a blind eye and not a single word or condemnation of any sort.
“Huddersfield away last year while playing for West Brom where there was an incident with their fans which was on the game highlights, where cameras clearly caught it. Yet the FA, when complaint was made to them, said there ‘was not enough evidence’.
By Chris Hatherall – Irish Examiner