Once again the face of James McClean has been flashed across the pages of Britain’s tabloid newspapers. Once again, James McClean has been the vilified, abused and threatened in the world of social media. His crime? Not looking at a flag, while a song was being sung.
In this era of faux outrage, where people love nothing more than being offended on a daily basis, James McClean is like manna from heaven. His latest ‘crime’ is not turning to face the English flag, while God Save the Queen was being played before a friendly game in America, involving his current team, West Brom.
While his team mates turned and looked at the flag, he stood where he was, head bowed. This has sparked ‘outrage’ in the world of social media and across Britain, where he has been labelled as ‘scum’, ‘worse than ISIS’ and other phrases that cannot be repeated. This is the very same James McClean who refused to wear a poppy for the past two seasons, which incensed the English media and football fans in general.
McClean, to his credit, has clearly stated his reasons for not wearing a poppy or for not standing to attention for God Save the Queen and anyone with a modicum of education would understand his reasoning, but as the saying goes, ‘there are none so blind as those who will not see.’
McClean hails from ‘The Creggan’ in Derry, which is a staunchly Republican area of the city. This is a city that still bears the scars of ‘Bloody Sunday’ where fourteen innocent civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers for taking part in a peaceful demonstration. The British public love their army, but as David Cameron said, their actions were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable.’ While those words were welcome, they were over thirty years too late.
The city and its inhabitants are shaped by those events in such an indelible way, that the symbols and songs of the British establishment are anathema to them. Carrying a Union Jack in the Bogside area of Derry would be akin to a death wish, such is the hatred for the flag, they deem ‘the Butcher’s Apron.’
Back to the events of the weekend. McClean has been accused of disrespecting the flag and the anthem of England by refusing to turn along with his team mates. First off, it’s not the flag of his country, he has no reason to turn to face it. Second, how is standing with your hands behind your back in a silent manner being disrespectful? He didn’t shout over the anthem, he didn’t sully the flag of the nation, he simply chose to stand the way he did for the American anthem.
It’s ironic that the Loyalist community of Northern Ireland have been vocal in their condemnation at his ‘lack of respect’ for the flag. This is the same group of people who have burning effigies of the pope, burning tri-colours by the hundreds and the odd unfortunate Ivory Coast Flag, while also flying proudly the Swastika and the Confederate Flag outside their homes. Hypocrisy must be missing from their dictionaries.
I have heard many people arguing that McClean should just go along with the rest of the players, stand for the anthems, wear the poppy and forget about politics. That obviously would be the easy thing to do. He would avoid the abuse he receives and fans would get off his back. But that’s the thing with principles, standing up for them is never easy. McClean, instead of being vilified, should be applauded for having the courage to stand up for what he believes in. This is a man who has to go back to Derry, to the estate where he comes from and be able to hold his head up high. That matters more to him than appeasing the British establishment. In an era where players soon forget their roots, when the money rolls in, McClean should be held up as an example of a young lad who did not forget his home city and its unfortunate history.
The twitter trolls have been quick to point out that the IRA murdered many of its citizens and they are, of course, correct. But to compare like with like is disingenuous. The IRA were a paramilitary organisation, the British Army were a legitimate army, whose job it was to protect, not murder. Recent revelations about the role of the British Army in Northern Ireland has further highlighted the level of collusion that existed between the British Army and Loyalist murder squads, something UK citizens seem happy to ignore. To James McClean and the people of Derry, the symbols of Britishness are a constant reminder of the suppression of Catholics in Northern Ireland, which was set up as ‘a Protestant state for a Protestant people.’
And finally, to those who say that he is happy to accept the money, so he should respect the establishment. Perhaps you should take a look to the North towards Merseyside, where the good fans of Liverpool happily drown out the national anthem with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ The people of Merseyside have a lot in common with the people in Derry and neither wish to revere an unelected head of state.