James McClean urges more players to speak out after online threats

Ireland winger’s wife says she fears for his safety following years of ‘relentless hatred’

James McClean has said that he is grateful for the expressions of support he has received from former players and teammates since he publicised the latest threats he had received last weekend, but he urged other Irish professionals to speak about their own experiences of abuse so as to highlight the wider issue.

McClean had expressed his frustration on Instagram last Friday at the persistent stream of abuse he is subjected to and the lack of an adequate response from the authorities and his wife, Erin, subsequently acknowledged the toll of what she said was nine years of relentless hatred directed towards the player had taken on him and his family.

In response to his comments, McClean received a message from one Instagram user threatening to burn down his home with his family inside. Speaking on OTB AM on Wednesday morning, McClean said his brother, Patrick, who plays with Glentoran, had since received a message from a young person saying that it would be preferable for James’ three children to have to watch him burn.

“This is from a kid,” he said. “That sort of hatred shouldn’t be in you at that age. Where is learning that? I hope and I pray that my kids wouldn’t have that sort of hatred in them. If they did, I would do my best to educate them; to sit them down and tell them that their words have consequences.”

The player said that he tended not to take the threats themselves too seriously and that when somebody first claimed nine years ago after he had declined to wear a poppy around Remembrance Sunday, that they were going to bring a gun to a game and shoot him, he did not really think that it would happen, “but,” he said, “you can imagine my mum and Erin watching that game and being a bag of nerves”.

The 31-year-old says he has been targeted relentlessly since and that the frustration involved contributed to what he describes as an “ill-judged” attempt at humour when he posted a picture of himself supposedly teaching his kids Irish history during lockdown while wearing a balaclava.

“You think it’s funny at the time but you don’t think of the hurt it’s going to cause people,” he said, explaining that he had removed the picture himself but that it was then widely circulated as people had taken screenshots. “It annoys me now,” he added, however, “because it’s used as a justification for the abuse people give me.”

McClean said that as his children (who are seven, five and three) get older he and his wife will have to explain to them what has been happening. “It’s a difficult conversation, I’ll just have to be as honest as possible but how do you sit your kids down and tell them that their daddy is hated so much”.

He said that the PFA had been more supportive over the past year or so but he expressed his continuing frustration at the lack of concrete action taken against perpetrators of racist and other abuse online. He insisted he had reported many cases without tangible results, either from the police or the social media companies.

“The cops have had all the information over the years that they needed but nothing’s ever done so you can probably see that I’m not holding my breath.

“These people are being temporarily suspended (from social media). If you said, or I said, something deemed derogatory online, we’d probably be sacked. The people being abused are held accountable for what they say online but the abusers aren’t. That baffles me so much.”

McClean says that he has had many messages of support during the past few days, particularly from players and former teammates who he has previously suggested had not done as much as he might have expected. He hopes, he says, that the outpouring of goodwill might represent a “turning point” but urged others to speak of their own experiences so as to make clear the extent of the issue and so encourage change.

“That have been absolutely brilliant and they don’t know how much their support means, not just to me, but to my family. I would like to think now is an opportunity for them to come out and speak about their own abuse.

“The more people speak about it and raise awareness, especially public figures; it’s going to help other people, normal working class people in nine to five jobs. When people speak out hopefully they can take inspiration from that and help to change this once and for all.”

Photo identification

Meanwhile, McClean’s wife Erin called on social media platforms to insist on photo identification before allowing accounts to be set up so abuse can be reported.

"Something should be in place, if photo id was needed to verify an account, then if something was said you can report it and the social media platform could ban them," she told RTÉ radio's Today with Claire Byrne show.

Ms McClean told of the abuse the family has experienced because of her husband’s stance on not wearing the poppy emblem. Her husband was not anti-British, she said, they had friends and neighbours who were English and they loved them.

It was always at the back of her mind that someone would take the abuse too far and she feared for her husband’s safety and that her oldest child might suffer from comments at school.

Ms McClean acknowledged that they had “kind of gotten used to it, but we shouldn’t have to. I don’t want others to have to go through what we have for the past 10 years.”

The family had suffered comments while out shopping, usually when someone had passed by, “it’s never straight to your face. It’s very hard not to react.” The comments had included the suggestion to “get out of England”.

Her husband had been talking for years about the abuse they experienced “but he was not listened to,” she said. The abuse had been constant over the years, but she was now concerned that it would impact on her children, in particular her seven-year-old who was now at school. “We tell her that there are other teams that don’t like Daddy.”

The family has security at their home and if they ever order items, they do so in her name or have it delivered to the club, but she was always concerned that someone would follow her husband home.

England was their home, the family was content there and their children were at school there, but eventually they would probably move home to Derry, she said. “I think it has crossed his mind (to retire), he has made mistakes and he has paid the price for them. He shouldn’t have to leave a job he loves.

The abuse was now so frequent that they did not always report it, she said. On occasions in the past when they did complain, the platform had said there had not been a breach “and you end up giving up”.

Both of their families live in Derry and were aware of some of the threats. “They do worry. James’ mammy is a big worrier. It’s hard for them not to be here.”