James McClean and Poppy Day

This year I have bought two poppies.
One went straight into the lapel of my replica 1937 Sunderland top for the Aston Villa game. The second was purchased when I was realised it was still there (on the shirt, in a cupboard). One of them will be worn with special pride today.

Not everyone takes the same view. This weekend, there was been a row of the sort that is a logical extension of the authoritarian zeal that obliges television presenters and reporters to start wearing poppies absurdly early to avoid causing offence to retired brigadiers in Dorset.

Eyebrows have been raised, dismay expressed and insults levelled because James McClean would not wear the SAFC poppy top at Everton.

In the street, I pass people who do wear poppies and people who don’t. I have not seen a white poppy this year though this was a concept I, while not a complete pacifist, admired. It enabled people who oppose war to show they could still honour and respect the fallen, specifically from the First World War though Remembrance Day and the wearing of poppies have come to be seen more widely as a tribute to sacrifices made by British and allied service personnel in all conflicts.

Now, if McClean were the great grandson of a British soldier who had died in the 194-18 war, the grandson of one killed in the Second World War or the son of a dead or maimed serviceman/woman from Middle Eastern or Afghan conflicts or the Falklands, I would perhaps be surprised if he chose not to wear one. And it is certainly true that many Irishmen, from north and south, have served and fought in the British Armed Forces.

But I would still respect it as his absolute right, the very right of freedom of expression that is so frequently listed among the reasons we went to war against Hitler.

In fact, as everyone commenting on his choice should know, McClean is a young man from the Roman Catholic community of Londonderry/Derry, a product of the Creggan. I’d guess that the vast majority of those he grew up among regard themselves as Irish, not British, and they have the right to travel on Irish passports and choose to play (if chosen), heaven forbid, for the Republic of Ireland instead of Northern Ireland. Mention the Army to them and their minds go instantly to what they know or have been told about Bloody Sunday, Jan 30 1972 – 17 years before McClean was born.

Under no circumstances am I a standard-bearer for the IRA, which carried out countless despicable, murderous and often very cowardly attacks on men, women and children throughout the Troubles and whose dissident elements broke away to continue their squalid campaign after a flawed peace emerged. There are arguments to be had over politics and the island of Ireland, and Britain’s role there, but this is not the place for them.

But Bloody Sunday was much more about the suppression of unarmed protest than countering terrorism. Fourteen civilians died.

It was not our finest hour. Even the essentially discredited Widgery Tribunal described the soldiers’ shooting as “bordering on the reckless”; the much later Saville Inquiry found that all of those shot were unarmed, their killings “unjustified and unjustifiable”. After the Saville report appeared, David Cameron made a formal apology on behalf of Britain.

Mistakes are made in all conflict. Men in uniform are sometimes badly led or required to enforce or act on bad political decisions. The use of troops in times of civil unrest is fraught with danger. But we should not be surprised that when innocent lives are destroyed, victimhood and bitterness prevail.

It is naive to be shocked when any Irish Catholic/nationalist chooses not to honour British military sacrifice. That naivety is all the more inexplicable when considering the case of a Catholic from Derry.

However, the freedoms we nominally hold so dear extend to the freedom to disagree – loudly – with McClean’s actions and every word I have written.

Colin Randall

61 thoughts on “James McClean and Poppy Day”

  1. This is an emotive subject and I thought twice or three times before posting the original article. With great reluctance, but for fairly obvious reasons, I feel the time has come to draw the discussion to a close.

  2. Is it glorification or remembrance, with the poppy? I can’t imagine too many Derry people wanting to remember people who shot and killed innocent civilians…….

    • Please just go away with your anti British rhetoric.

      This is a British blog which attempts to encompass most views BUT some things are just unacceptable, to many other contributors.

      I say that as one who has NO editorial control, as I have NO financial (or other) investment.

      The ONLY person who can make a decision to bar/block/censor is the owner of the website – M Salut (Colin Randall).

      My first comment was made with “all due respect” of which, I feel, very little is due!

  3. Scotter said “I bet the corporate people at SAFC are pulling their hair out with yet more adverse press reaction whilst they are trying to promote the “Brand” worldwide.”

    The only adverse press reaction seems to be a response to McClean and not the actions of the club.

  4. The amount of people posting on here about forcing people to wear poppies is crazy (around half) – you should have the right to wear one or not without being abused.

  5. If you walked round the city centre in the last few weeks most of the poppy wearers were 40+ the youngsters didn’t seem to bother;so why should JM be any different?

    Whilst I respect his decision it will be interesting to see the crowd reaction at the next home match.

    I bet the corporate people at SAFC are pulling their hair out with yet more adverse press reaction whilst they are trying to promote the “Brand” worldwide. Can they afford to wait until this individual embarasess the club with his next faux par?

    Sorry he’s not good enough for the Premiership and,as a liability, he should be farmed out to a Conference side where his over-inflated ego might discover the meaning of humility.

    • “why should JM be any different”

      That’s because he’s made an active decision NOT to wear a poppy and as a result, to select a different top to the rest of his teammates. That’s very different from refraining from buying a poppy from a poppy seller.

      Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Let’s see the back of him.

  6. I think that is well worth mentioning that Manchester City’s three Argentinian players (Carlos Tévez, Sergio Agüero and Pablo Zabaleta) all wore shirts with poppies, during their game with Spurs.

    Maybe, some of our youth should understand that using the free speech that so many of our armed forces have fought and died for does not mean it is acceptable for them then use it to support a lack of respect for those they should, instead, be thanking!

    • I see that “Matt F” has cleared his cookies and logged in a few more times.

      Imbeciles think they are clever BUT are, very quickly, exposed!

  7. I hope he never plays for Sunderland again. He has no respect for the SAFC fans who have fought and died in the past. He is also a crap player… Not good enough to wear the famous red and white shirt.

    • He is certainly not a crap player and is (or was last season) good enough. This season definitely not. He certainly seems to have personal issues to deal with and appears to lack respect for anyone. Sadly (football wise), I think these problems will eventually end with a parting of the ways. A career going down the pan.

  8. If McClean has a point at all then maybe it’s time we all started hating the Germans again then? (he said as if everyone had stopped; Ed).

  9. I believe MON has Republican sympathies too,so we d best be careful how we deal with this topic.I’ve had many a conversation with Republicans and whilst I do not agree with their views you have to accept that feelings about the British Army run very high and with good reason as far as I see it.It is perfectly understandable that McClean has his view bearing in mind his upbringing(however petty or spiteful it seems to us).

    At least we have peace in N Ireland and hopefully this will all blow over in a few generations,so let’s not start it all over again.

    BTW,I wore my poppy with pride today.

  10. It all boils down to RESPECT and obviously he has none the same lack of respect to his country football manager Mabe the boys out of the armed forces shud teach him some does he think he is getting to big for his boots or what

  11. So, have we heard his reasons, or have any inkling as to why he didn’t wear one? One would assume the manager knew about this beforehand?

  12. Of all the people who have contributed to this thread, you were odds on to descend into insults and spout about loyalty – well done, you are clearly very mature.

    Who cares how long you have supported the club? It has no bearing on the paucity of your argument.

    Clearly, McClean will play for Sunderland again and the club will not force players to wear poppies as it’s a personal decision (as many posters have attempted to explain to you), not one you can dictate.

    Therefore, you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to defend a position akin to those who espoused the very same nationalistic tendencies which got the world into the mess of war in the first place.

    I await the inevitable last word syndrome with baited breath – good bye.

  13. I fear a perfectly respectable difference of opinion is threatening to degenerate into something I will probably step in at some stage to prevent. Even strongly held views can be expressed without resorting to insults.

    • You are quite right Colin.

      It is not something that I normally do and I feel that I must apologise for my use of the word “cretin”.

      • No problem Colin.

        I believe that anything I post on the internet I would be prepared to say to a person, face to face, in a pub.

        Some of the “kiddies”, though do not seem to share that philosophy and will happily be supercilious and condescending because they can remain anonymous.

        I should not have “bitten” in much the same way that he would not have dared to be so obnoxious in person.

      • Merely clarifying the apparently flexible definition of an insult with M. Salut.

        However, this spat really must end here.

        You have a tendency to declare that people who disagree with you must all be children, and cursory inspection of your internet activity confirms this. it simply won’t do.

        This is a shame as some of the things you have to say on football are worth reading so lets just stick to that and agree to disagree on the whole poppy thing, shall we?

        For the record, I am over 40 and far too long in the tooth for all this, as you should be too.

  14. McClean has shown himself to be an idiot, many times over who has no respect for anyone – his countrymen, his manager or his team mates.

    I DON’T care about his personal beliefs – he is employed by an English club and should appreciate the feelings of its supporters.

    If he cannot understand that then he should request to have his contact (not his registration) terminated and return from whence he came.

    He is someone that I never wish to see in an SAFC shirt again!

    • Then perhaps it might be better to address this complaint to the club and if they fail to satisfy the demands to enforce poppy wearing, then another club, one which forces its players to comply with this doctrine, might suit better.

      • I’ve supported SAFC since 1962.

        For you to make that suggestion I can, only, assume that you are a spotty, Guardian reading teenager who understands nothing about loyalty or standards!


  15. Part two of Mike’s family reminiscences, off topic but re-posted because they follow on from a response at Blackcats appreciating the story of his father’s thoughts on Poppy Day … …

    He certainly was a character. He was the “Milk King” of Sunderland during
    the 1920’s and a very wealthy man. Unfortunately his experience in the
    trenches turned him into a bit of a boozer and he ended up getting divorced
    and going bankrupt – both of which were huge things in those days. For those
    of you old enough to remember “When the Boat Comes In”, he was very much a
    real-life Jack Ford character and even resembled James Bolam a bit.

    He was an old man by the time I came along in 1954 – although in fact he was
    only 55, but in those days that was definitely old whereas today it’s

    Sadly I only ever knew him as a kid. He died in 1971 aged 71, I was only 16
    and in hospital with TB at the time.

    He really was quite an Andy Capp figure. His life revolved around Woodbines,
    the Pub, Horse-racing on the TV and the Bookies. He always wore a hat or a
    cap – even to bed. An abiding memory of my childhood is him asleep in his
    armchair in prime spot in front of the telly, his feet up on a chair, flat
    cap over his face, snoring gently in front of the box – with his false teeth
    gently rattling as he slept off the afternoon’s beer session.

    He was pretty reluctant to talk about many of his experiences particularly
    the trenches but he did pass on a few stories of growing up in Sunderland
    before the first world war.

    He claimed that he and his mates have learnt to swim by jumping in and
    swimming across the Wear under the Wearmouth Bridge. He also claimed to
    have worked for Buffalo Bill Cody, who came to Sunderland in the first
    decade of the 20th century. My old was horse-daft (he was in a cavalry
    regiment at one point) and earned free tickets to the show by mucking out
    the stables. Sadly his claim was incorrect – he had in fact worked for a
    Buffalo Bill impersonator, several of whom toured the UK after the real guy
    and his Wild West Show went back to the USA. He also had an after-school job
    doing sounds-effects for the silent movies with a pair of coconut shells,
    an old bass drum and a sheet of tin. His Saturday job was as a lather boy –
    soaping up shipyard workers beards when they went in for a shave on pay day.
    He said it was like trying to soap up a wire brush and his fingers were
    bleeding by the end of his shift.

    I guess I should record some of his stories sometime, but it’s been over 40
    years since he died and I wonder how much of what I recall is what he
    actually told me or stuff that has “grown” in the telling. I think I got
    some Idea of the things he went through by reading “Birdsong” by Sebastian

  16. Reproduced with Mike’s permission from an excellent, longer debate on the same subject at the Blackcats list ..

    I’m with McClean on this – if he wants to not wear a poppy that’s his business.

    Some people seem regard wearing poppies as mandatory it’s not – it is a
    purely personal decision and I expect JM has his reasons.

    My father was a boy solder in WW1, he enlisted in 1915 aged 16 years old. He survived the trenches but his health was ruined. He lost most of his lungs to mustard gas on the Somme and suffered major heart when he was hit by shrapnel. He saw nearly all of his mates killed or hideously maimed and witnessed things that no teenager should ever have to experience and which I can’t begin to imagine. The bloody fool then lied about his age and health and enlisted again in 1939, managed to avoid a medical and only got found out after a training exercise in the Highlands went tits up and his platoon got stuck on a mountain-side in the snow for days.

    He steadfastly refused to wear a poppy for all sorts of reasons, not least of which was his disdain for the political and military establishment that so cynically exploited millions of ordinary working people then promptly neglected them once the war was over. He associated wearing poppies with that exploitation and gung-ho militarism and wanted nothing to do with it.

    When people pointed out that the British Legion supported ex-soldiers his retort was that the need for such an organisation only highlighted the neglect of the establishment.

    He always observed the 2 minutes of silence on Armistice Day as it was called then – but always in private and I don’t think a day passed without him thinking of the comrades he had lost.

    He also seemed to know a hell of a lot about the “Black and Tans” and the atrocities they committed in Ireland and I’m sure it wouldn’t have bothered him one iota that JM didn’t wear a poppy.

  17. It was not only British troops who fell, French, Australian, New Zealand, South African American and Russian soldiers all died in WW1. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the NI “troubles”. The respect they deserve is hard earned and to not honour it for some bigoted reason shows he is misguided and misinformed. Does he have that right YES because freedom and liberty was earned on the field of battle and some good men died McClean has chosen to disrespect their sacrifice for no good reason.

    • Whilst, in WWII the Irish were collaborating with the Germans.

      Mcclean is a throwback who, and I am ashamed to see his name associated with our club.

      Get rid – NOW!!!

      • Ireland was NOT collaborating with the Germany during WWII.

        It was the other way round what with the Irish government cooperating British intelligence, sending British pilots to the North while Germans were interned. Accepting British refugees from the Blitz, giving detailed weather reports for the benefit of the D-day landings.

        But carry on, don’t let facts get in your way.

      • Another fact, just to be complete, is that de Valera maintained Irish neutrality throughout the war despite the bulk of the civilised world finding it fairly easy to distinguish between the rights and wrongs of the conflict.

        And I must look up the offer Churchill made to de Valera. Wasn’t it a 32-county republic in return for complete support for the Allied effort?

        No, not quite. Just looked at Wikipedia – flawed as it is – in the last few seconds and it says this …

        Churchill indicated to the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera that the United Kingdom would push for Irish unity, but believing that Churchill could not deliver, de Valera declined the offer.[21] (The British did not inform the Government of Northern Ireland that they had made the offer to the Dublin government, and De Valera’s rejection was not publicised until 1970).

      • Two things:

        First of all. Not that long previously Ireland had just gotten out of two wars (one for independence & soon after a civil war) along with a trade war with Britain, which it lost, in the 30s. The country was devastated and was in no fit state to go to war with Germany.

        To go in another war on the side of the British would have been political suicide, courting another civil war with the IRA fighting against the Irish government.

        Lets just say that Dev took up Churchill on his offer. Ireland had no money for heavy armaments & what they did have was old hand-me-downs from WW1 given to the pro-treaty in the Civil War. Ireland wouldn’t have been able to defend itself from foreign invasion. And let’s just say that if Ireland survived relatively unharmed & if Churchill kept his promise, quite a few men up in Ulster would not have taken it lying down.

        Secondly. The the bulk of the civilised world didn’t find it fairly easy to distinguish between the rights and wrongs of the conflict. That’s hindsight speaking. The Allied powers were fine the Anschluss & Germans taking over the Sudetenland. Lets not pretend that the war started in order to protect the Jewish population of Europe because that clearly wasn’t the case.

      • De Valera had his qualities but would not a more imaginative statesman have pushed Churchill for a detailed and dependable proposition, made sure the US was in on the act and then found a way of massaging Irish support for the Allies? I am sure Churchill was more interested in access to ports etc that in forms of words. Yes, the Unionists would have objected loudly but it might have started the peace process a whole lot earlier. How would Britain have been able to wriggle off such a hook? I am not saying it would have worked, or that it would not have got de Valera into deep trouble (especially with the IRA/Sinn Fein so chummy with those cuddly Nazis) or led to serious strife up north. But the What Ifs are fascinating (even if I originally said this was not really the appropriate forum for a discussion of the political background to the Troubles)

      • Collaborating? Were they? So is it because he is Irish you have a problem with him, or if he was American or Finnish, would you still have a problem with him…?

      • I have a problem with him not because he is Irish, I have a problem with him because he has shown that he has no respect for the feelings of the supporters of the club that pay his wages.

  18. So. He doesn’t wear a poppy, therefore he has no respect for other British people in the stadium who have relatives who fought in wars?
    I wouldn’t wear one. I have relatives who were in the British army. I have no interest in wearing one, as I’m not British.

    • He doesn’t wear a poppy, therefore he has no respect for other British people in the stadium who have relatives who fought in wars?

      With McClean, though, you KNOW it it is MORE than that!

      The idiot is a moron!

    • Maybe, he should remember where he was born?

      Many Northern Irishmen fought and died in both world wars.

      McClean is just someone who has no respect for anyone (see earlier comment) and I NEVER wish to see the lowlife in an SAFC shirt again!

    • Going on your responses, on this topic,you also have NO appreciation/understanding of the personal sacrifices made by many British families (and many other nationalities), who fought “under the flag”..

      So, do everyone a favour and refrain from commenting on something that you, clearly, do not understand!

      • Well, flags and symbols are things that take on a different meaning in Northern Ireland.
        As a southern Irish guy, if I were playing football in England, I wouldn’t have a problem playing in a jersey with a poppy on it. I am playing in England, and if the club feel they want to put a poppy on a jersey, I would play away.

        I would not wear one walking around the street. A personal decision. I am not British and have no affinity to the British army. I may as well wear one for the Bolivian army or the Mexican army while I’m at it. Or the American army.

        I wasn’t born in Northern Ireland/Derry, so don’t have first hand experience on what it is like to live there, nor do any of my relatives. The army weren’t there handing sweets out to kids, that’s for sure. So, I can understand again why McClean would refuse to wear one. It would have been easier for him to just get on with and wear one, like so many other Irish footballers. (and other nationalities).

        I suppose you could say lots of German players could well have refused to wear one too…
        But, I just get the whiff of people saying “You have to wear a poppy” or you’re some kind of traitor. Not too unlike some guys in black shirts in the 1930s might get you to do…..

        Same as the yokels in America giving out about politicians not wearing the stars and stripes on their lapels. Does it make them any less American?

        If I were to appear on a UK tv show and was asked to wear one, I wouldn’t know how to answer that right now. One part of me would probably say yes, as it would be respectful, being in the UK on a UK tv show. Another part of me would say “no, I’m not British, so I’m not wearing one. I’ll wear a white one if you want me to wear one”. But I think I would probably wear one…

      • Exactly. While he is playing for the club he should wear one, if he doesnt want to personnally that is his right. The poppy should be used to remember those who fought Hitler and Nazism.Including many many people from the Republic.
        Did ONeill wear one?

  19. I’m with bazza on this one.

    I feel that there is a herd mentality on the issue of poppy wearing. If you don’t conform, there is something suspicious and yes, unpatriotic about you.

    Any sort of remembrance should either be neutral in its nature – it should remember all dead on all sides, or else explicitly for the dead of the particular nation in which it takes place.

    In observing the events in London today, it is easy to see why this comes across as far from neutral.

    If someone reads the event as being one-sided or nationalistic, then surely they have the right to abstain from taking part, and that includes the wearing of symbolic flowers.

  20. He has every right to refuse to wear a poppy. That is his choice. We also have the right t condemn that choice and criticise him for it

    At the end of the day you respect the fallen or you don’t. McClean needs to realise that there are Sunderland supporters who have died in uniform on a foreign field during his time at the club. They paid his wages and shouted him on. He has no respect for them. How could he possibly have any respect for the rest of us?

  21. So, do you think everyone HAS to wear a poppy? Or else they are being offensive to British “culture”. I don’t get this? How can you offend British culture. Since when is the British army the same as British culture?

    Chris Cornell, an American, didn’t wear a poppy on Jools Holland last Friday night. What do you think of that? What do you think of Rob Kearney not wearing one in Dublin on the BBC yesterday for the rugby?

    McClean doesn’t hold any moral high ground, but it’s his decision, and there are many more Irish living and working happily in the UK who don’t wear a poppy. There are also many British who don’t wear a poppy.

    They are selling poppies on the streets of Dublin this week too. Not many will buy them, but nobody is giving them grief for selling them.

    I get the feeling that it’s a case of “Wear a poppy or else…..”

  22. No he chose to disrespect the sacrifice made by ordinary people. He could have worn the shirt, but he asked them not to print the poppy on his. His behaviour this season has not been good and he certainly does not old any moral high ground. He was wrong and offensive to the British people their culture and the fallen.

    • It happens every year in Scotland with some of the Celtic support, but many Irish people fought for this country against fascism and then were discriminated against by the republic afterwards.

  23. I stood at the Cenotaph in Walmer, Port Elizabeth today, there were leaders of the Protestant Churches,Catholics and a Rabbi represent oour Jewish friends, there were all races and all shared the same respect for those who gave their lives. All wore poppies and regardless of where they stand politically shared the silence that honours those who paid with their lives, why would anyone hold a grudge or a disrespectful thought over this. I find it outragous that James McClean can dishonour or choose to pretend these sacrifices were not for him or his generation

  24. Think my backside has a few splinters in it regarding this one. I’m pretty sure I may feel the same way as James if I was from Derry. The fact he lives here is relevant though as it’s such a prestigious and celebrated thing within British culture and It sometimes seems only the British must respect everything and everyone when it comes to beliefs, culture and heritage. We are labelled as racists if we ask for the same.

    Suppose as I’m torn with it, I just have to conclude that as I wasn’t instinctively and immediately offended when I noticed the Poppy’s absence, I can understand and respect James’ decision.

  25. This is the lyric to the finest song I know about the First World War and possibly as good a song about war as you’ll find. Written and sung by Eric Bogle, a Scottish-born naturalised Aussie, and called No Man’s Land:

    Well, how’d you do, Private William McBride?

    Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside?

    I’ll rest here awhile in the warm summer sun,

    I’ve been walking all day, Lord, and I’m nearly done.

    And I see by your gravestone you were only 19

    When you joined the Glorious Fallen in 1916

    Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean,

    Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?


    Did they beat the drum slowly?

    Did they sound the fife lowly?

    Did the rifles fire o’er you as they lowered you down?

    Did the bugles sing “The Last Post” in chorus?

    Did the pipes play “The Flowers of the Forest?”

    Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind?

    In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?

    And, though you died back in 1916

    To that loyal heart are you always 19?

    Or are you a stranger without even a name,

    Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,

    In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,

    And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?


    The sun’s shining
    down on these green fields of France.

    The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.

    The trenches have vanished long under the plow;

    No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.

    But here in this graveyard it’s still No Man’s Land

    The countless white crosses in mute witness stand

    To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man.

    And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.


    And I can’t help but wonder, now Willie McBride,

    Do all those who lie here know why they died?

    Did you really believe them when they told you the

    Did you really believe that this war would end wars?

    Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame

    The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,

    For Willie McBride, it all happened again,

    And again, and again, and again, and again.

  26. James McClean does not have the right to dishonour the fallen, who died for his freedom, if he is so anti British I suggest he makes his living eleswhere. The poppy represents the memory of men of all creeds who paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure future generation could rest easy in their beds. I find his protest offensive and uninformed bigitory of the highest order.

    • Well, he does have the right not the wear a poppy. Are you saying he MUST wear one just because he is making a living in England? Should everyone wear them if they are living and/or working in the UK?
      What would you say if it was an Englishman who refused to wear one?
      Brian O Driscoll and Rob KEarney didn’t wear one for the rugby on BBC yesterday. Granted, they were in Dublin. What do you have to say about that?

  27. As usual I’ve been out selling poppies this year.James McClean has every right not to bother if he so wishes.For my own part the wearing of a poppy is not militaristic but an acknowledgement of the suffering and loss endured in war and that by remembering the dead we might avoid the horrors of armed conflict in the future.If people see wearing a poppy as a mere attempt to conform then it seems to defeat the object.

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