by John O’Hara
The season is only one weekend old and James McClean is making headlines again for the wrong reasons but no blame can be attached to the Derry man, who is now public enemy number one in the eyes of the British media.
McClean, who was making his competitive debut for West Brom in Monday night’s game against Man City, had a difficult start to his baggies career and was subbed at half-time, as Tony Pulis added an extra midfielder to counter the dominance of City.
His cause was not helped by the booing of the crowd, every time the Irish international touched the ball, which has added a lot of pressure to his game. But the major talking point of the half was when Sky Sports’ Alan Parry, who was commentating on the game, referred to McClean as the ‘Northern Irishman from Londonderry.’
The fact that McClean, who is a regular in Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland squads seems to have escaped Parry, who was undoubtedly trying to provoke a reaction from McClean and his faithful supporters in the Maiden City. So why was a professional commentator like Parry going out of his way to get a dig in at the West Brom winger?
It seems that McClean’s decision to not face the Flag of England and sing God Save the Queen has not only angered the ultra-nationalists in the country, but the main-stream media seem happy to also jump on the anti-McClean bandwagon. His refusal to wear a poppy for the past two seasons has seen ridiculous levels of vitriol aimed in his direction, while the critics ignore the irony of this poppy-fascism, that is all the rage in England.
Parry’s description of McClean was both childish and vindictive, while he consciously ignored the complex issue of identity for those living in a city, that has been the victim of decades of conflict. McClean has reiterated time and time again, his issues with the symbols of British rule, which represent the oppression of his people back in his home city. He has stated clearly that he has no problem with English people but that he will not stand to attention for a flag and anthem that are forever associated with the men who shot and murdered fourteen innocent people on the streets of Derry.
There are those who say that if he is happy to live in the country, he should not be a hypocrite and respect the symbols of that country. These people lack the intelligence to look at the issue in an objective manner and casually ignore the fact that McClean pays more tax to the British exchequer than 90% of people in the country.
It is a tough situation that McClean finds himself in. He has been vilified by his own fans, opposing fans, publicly admonished by his manager and yet he still stands up for what he believes in. This is an admirable stance from the Derry man, whose stubborn refusal to adhere to the status quo has gained him respect from around the world. It’s interesting that Parry, a scouser, would make such comments, when Liverpool fans do their best to drown out God Save the Queen with You Never Walk Alone. He also hails from a city that has suffered immense tragedy and has been let down and vilified by the state authorities. In fact, it is baffling that he would take such a public swipe at McClean, knowing the controversy he would cause, especially after McClean gave his support for the renaming of the city to Derry.
There are others who argue that McClean is a hypocrite because the IRA committed heinous acts of violence against British people and yet he only concentrates on the actions of the British. This is not only a foolish but totally disingenuous. The IRA were a terrorist organisation, who when captured, were jailed for their actions. The British Army were soldiers of the state, tasked with keeping civilians safe, yet it was they who fired those bullets at innocent people, it was they who armed loyalist gunmen with arms and information. That is why McClean has a right to be bitter about the symbolism of a state, that for decades watched the oppression of Catholic people, while supporting their oppressors in any way they could. Not one British soldier who was on duty on that fateful day has ever served a prison sentence for the murder of those people, so to compare what the IRA did and the British Army did is ludicrous.
The people of Derry, like McClean, are a resilient people. They will admit to being stubborn, but it is a stubbornness borne out of years of standing their ground, never giving up, even when all hope was lost and being steadfast in their refusal to be subjects of the British state.
McClean has never denied his roots, rather he has put them front and centre and despite the grief it causes him, he continues to act as if he is a representative for the city and for the people of The Creggan.
The problem facing McClean now is that he has caused so much trouble, even among his own fans, that he is going to have to produce the form of his life to hold down a regular slot in Tony Pulis’ side. He is exactly the type of player Pulis likes, with his strong work ethic and high energy levels, but the crowd can sway a manger’s decision with their reaction to a player and at the minute, McClean is going to find it difficult. Parry has added further fuel to the fire and he did so purposefully, hoping to ignite further reaction to McClean’s justified views.
It was interesting to note that he did not make any reference to Raheem Sterling’s Jamaican heritage during Monday night’s commentary. Sterling was born in Kingston and spent his early childhood in the Caribbean country, before moving to England, yet he now plays international football with England. It’s also an interesting comparison when you compare the two young men and their beliefs. Sterling’s belief system lies solely in his name, while McClean is fighting a one man battle against the British establishment and its media.
Alan Parry might think that James McClean is a ‘Northern Irishman from Londonderry’ but anyone with even a passing knowledge of Irish history knows differently. McClean, in his time of need, might find solace in a quote, from the most unlikely of sources. It was Winston Churchill that said, ‘You have enemies? Good. That mean you’ve stood up for something in your life.’