Symbol is a personal choice
22 November ~ Sunderland winger James McClean has had a difficult relationship with Twitter. He first shut his account in May, having received threats after choosing to represent the Republic of Ireland internationally and then responding to abuse from Northern Ireland fans by mocking their team's absence at Euro 2012. He returned to the site in September for some crude jokes and a rant at Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni, before going offline again. His account has been inactive since but police are now investigating more Twitter death threats against the 23-year-old.
This time, McClean is at the centre of another Remembrance Sunday poppy row. For Sunderland's game at Everton on November 10, he played in a shirt without the Royal British Legion symbol printed on the front. Sunderland put out a statement making clear that it was "James's personal choice not to wear a shirt [with a poppy] on this occasion". McClean grew up on the Creggan Estate, where six people were shot by the British Army on Bloody Sunday in 1972. So it is understandable that the player might have a different conception of the British military to those who grew up in other parts of the world.
Yet Twitter was outraged by McClean's plain kit. Of particular interest to police was a message sent by Cody Lachey, a Manchester doorman, who claims to be a former British soldier. He posted pictures of bullets and the message: "Poppy bullies' death threats against James McClean! Too right he deserves to be shot dead + body dragged past the cenotaph!!"
According to the Guardian, Lachey has since retracted his threat but added: "I think he's [McClean] a fucking disgrace. I know I'll end up in trouble and maybe in prison over this but I'm willing to go to court, that's how strongly I feel." Police continue to look into the tweets.
Wearing a poppy should be a personal choice, made by the individual alone, for reasons that shouldn't have to be justified to the media, fans or employers. As Chris Simpkins, director general of the Royal British Legion, said during the row over England wearing a poppy in a match against Spain last year: "We are grateful when people wear it as a sign of respect. However, the decision must be a free one – after all, the poppy represents sacrifices made in the cause of our freedoms."
The poppy on football shirts debate is not new. WSC commented on the sport's obligations to Remembrance Sunday in 2009 after the Daily Mail's campaign of "poppy pressure" on Premier League clubs.
McClean has also received support (on Twitter) this week from broadcaster Jon Snow, who said in 2006: "There is a rather unpleasant breed of poppy fascism out there: he damned well must wear a poppy." Snow added: "In the end there really must be more important things in life than whether a news presenter wears symbols on his lapels." Surely the same should apply for footballers. Any gesture of respect that is mandatory is diminished in its true importance. Ed Upright