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Saturday 7 December 2019

FA probe alone is not enough to back McClean

James McClean
James McClean

It's only taken a few years but finally, James McClean is being taken seriously by football authorities in England.

And while the Derry man will be relieved that the annual Festival of Hatred that comes his way has passed for another 12 months, at least McClean can hope that the FA will look and listen more closely the next time he's subjected to sustained bouts of hateful abuse.

It was revealed yesterday that the FA will investigate whether McClean was subjected to "discriminatory behaviour" when he played for Stoke City away to Barnsley last weekend, with the FA awaiting a report from the match referee before deciding on a course of action.

That McClean was abused by a large section of the home fans is not in doubt. The bigger questions are whether the FA decide that it was "discriminatory" and whether they are willing to do anything about it.

And McClean won't hold his breath on that one, as this is a drum he has tried to bang before.

"If it was a person's skin colour or if it was anti-Muslim, someone's gender, there would be an uproar and it would be taken in a completely different way and dealt with in a different manner," he said last year of the anti-Irish, anti-Catholic abuse heard at football grounds.

"But like in Neil Lennon's case in Scotland, because we are Irish Catholics, they turn a blind eye and nothing is ever said and done."

It's one the FA wishes would go away for longer than a year, as this case is fraught with problems. It's not just supporters of the opposing clubs - if a Stoke fan is found to be abusing McClean (while a Stoke player) and using anti-Irish racial slurs, will the FA act then?

What about November 2025, when McClean is no longer a professional footballer but still has UK-wide notoriety for his poppy position and is simply walking down the street when he's accosted? Who can he turn to?

When pubs in England proudly promise (as one Bristol hostelry did last week) to refuse service to any customer not wearing a poppy on Remembrance Sunday, does anyone think it's going to get easier for conscientious objectors, whether they are footballers or not?

FA sanctions against Barnsley alone will not calm this storm, as the speed with which English football has embraced the poppy, and all that comes with it, in the last five years is frightening.

Of the hundreds of professional footballers who lined out for their clubs across Britain last weekend, it cannot be only McClean who is uncomfortable with the militarisation of club football in England every November.

When there are cannons on the pitch, serving soldiers in full uniform on the centre circle and army recruitment desks outside the grounds, this is no longer about honouring your grandad for his sacrifice at the Somme.

Solidarity with McClean and fellow players opting not to wear a poppy would, at least, be a start.

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