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'Caravan' jibe should hopefully be end to anti-Irish abuse

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Sam Finley. Photo: PA

Sam Finley. Photo: PA

PA

Paul McShane. Photo: PA Wire

Paul McShane. Photo: PA Wire

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Sam Finley. Photo: PA

Accrington Stanley midfielder Sam Finley was not the first footballer in England to direct "abusive or insulting language" at Paul McShane based on his nationality.

And it may be optimistic to assume that, with an eight-game ban and a fine of £850 imposed by the FA on Finley for what he said to McShane on the field of play in January, "f*** off back to your caravan you p****'" it will be the last time an Irishman has to endure that. A statement by Finley's club, in reference to an incident at the Accrington-Rochdale game in January, said their player "admitted using abusive or insulting language" and that his comment "included a reference to nationality".

But the punishment meted out to Finley by the FA, not so long after the same body sanctioned one club (Barnsley) for failing to deal with sectarian abuse directed at another Irishman (James McClean) is at last a sign that authorities in English football have recognised how serious the matter is.

It's just such a pity that they have taken their time, as McClean has pointed out. Neither McShane nor his club nor the PFA have commented but those familiar with the case feel that the incident, on New Year's Day, was not McShane's first encounter with comments which picked on his nationality but was instead "the last straw".

Finley has paid a price, whether it's high enough to be a deterrent for others remains a topic, not just for English football but British society and the sectarian scar on Scottish football won't disappear overnight.

Of course, it's not just Irish footballers who have suffered due to their nationality while trying to live a life and earn a wage in Britain.

It's been there for decades.

Second-generation Irish like John Lydon and Kevin Rowland wrote books and songs about anti-Irish abuse, like Dexys Midnight Runners' 'Dance Stance', a searing response to the "thick Paddy" jokes which singer Rowland, of Mayo stock, knew too well.

So if ordinary Irish people had to suffer comments, those with a high profile, like footballers, had it worse.

Dubliner Paul McGee was a top-flight footballer at Wimbledon in the late '80s but stardom wasn't a shield.

"It was hard to be an Irishman in London," he once recalled. "You'd get stick in training on a Monday after a bomb in the West End over the weekend."

If a team-mate can make someone feel deeply uneasy, it can only have been much rougher when it came to opposing players or fans.

Richard Dunne recalled in his column in the Herald how some Chelsea fans would shout "potato" at him when he played at Stamford Bridge. Now, in 2020, McShane has done Irish footballers a favour by calling out Finley.