Another Remembrance Weekend and the return of something else in Premier League football we never forget. The annual issue of James McClean refusing to wear a poppy. The story hasn’t changed since his days at Wigan or Sunderland and they continue now he’s in West Bromwich Albion’s colours. It makes him the target for the boo boys but does he have a point?
It’s uncomfortable when football and politics clash. Most of the time players skirt certain contentious areas or are protected by their clubs. Even potentially awkward PR moments get given a little bit of spin by media departments.
It’s impossible to do this when passions are running high. In the United Kingdom it’s rare for the Armed Forces to be openly praised like they are in countries such as America. Being patriotic on these shores is a sure fire way to open up oneself for accusations, so more often than not the good work of the Forces goes without praise.
Remembrance Sunday, and the weeks surrounding it, is the one time of year that bucks the trend. Most people wear their poppy with a pride not reserved for anything else. They pay thanks to servicemen and women that gave their lives to ensure our freedom.
For most of the public the greatest emphasis in this thanks is reserved for those that fell in the two world wars. To see someone openly go against this creates instant anger. The knee jerk reaction is that James McClean is ungrateful, that he is dishonouring all those that died to afford him the luxury of playing Premier League football today.
The problem is, James McClean has said, if the poppy only represented World War One and Two, he’d happily wear it. The small print that comes with a poppy is that it is for all British personnel from every conflict. He’s sees it as representing the British soldiers that shot 26 unarmed civilians in the Bloody Sunday Massacre.
The incident took place in Derry, where McClean grew up. How many of us would wear a symbol, that while represented the best of intentions, reminded you of a such an act?
He’s right to stand by his principles. One thing about in society worth fighting for is freedom of expression. Since the Saville report into the incident British Prime Minister David Cameron has made a formal apology on behalf of the entire United Kingdom, further justification for McClean to oppose the concept of supporting every conflict.
His attempt to stand by his beliefs has brought a certain level of naïvety into his actions. People will always make the connection to the two World Wars. To ignore the poppy will always draw their fire. A simple statement that he’s thankful for that sacrifice but not others dilutes his gesture.
Also, now that the British Prime Minister has made a full and frank apology, the admission alone removes the Sunday Massacre from being representative of the Armed Forces. It was an isolated incident within The Troubles that haunted Northern Ireland for years. If his issue is with the perceived UK occupation there, he is right not to outwardly say, doing so would open up a political can of worms never seen before in football.
Wearing the poppy would not be giving justification to the British that performed the massacre in Derry, it would be acknowledging the human loss that has enabled us to live in a free world.
It’s easy to understand why people will always boo James McClean, but he’s not coming from a place of ignorance.