My purpose here is generally to find some information and to give you my “spin” on it, to interpret it through my “lens.” That can be fun, it can be informative, and it can probably be annoying as well. Today, however, I’d like to pass something along to you as is because there is simply nothing I can add to it- the person behind it has done all of the necessary work. I’ll simply set the scene:
Every November 11 the Commonwealth of Nations (the United Kingdom and many of it’s former colonies/territories) observe a memorial day called “Remembrance Day.” Originally it was meant to mark the end of the First World War, but since then it has come to be a day to remember the dead of all wars and conflicts since then. If you know anything about the history of the U.K. and the British Empire you will see you, given the not-always-rosy relations between the Empire and its conquests, this day has the potential for both awkwardness and hostility. This is particularly the case when one looks at relations between the U.K. and Ireland (both the Republic and the North- which is now, or course, part of the U.K.).
In the world of football- especially English football- this means the wearing of red poppies on kits as a symbol of this remembrance. Those who choose not to wear the poppy (for any reason) are often the objects of scorn by those whose ignorance is both personal and historical. A U.S. equivalent might be those who would respond to somebody not wearing a “yellow ribbon” by saying, “What? You don’t support the troops?!” Failing to recognize that one can support those involved without supporting the actions in which they have been engaged.
Which brings us to Wigan Athletic F.C.’s Irish winger James McClean. McClean was born in Derry (in the North), a city that was a hotbed of violence during “The Troubles” of the 1960’s and 1970s- it was the site of “Bloody Sunday” in 1972. McClean, however, has chosen to lay internationally for the Republic of Ireland (one of those “quirks” FIFA allows for teams representing the Home Nations), so his perspective is even a bit more broad and nuanced.
Below is the letter that McClean wrote to Wigan club chairman Dave Whelan (himself of Irish descent) prior to a face-to-face meeting explaining his choice not to wear a poppy on his kit this weekend- Whelan accepted his explanation. Also keep in mind that McClean is only 25.
Dear Mr Whelan
I wanted to write to you before talking about this face to face and explain my reasons for not wearing a poppy on my shirt for the game at Bolton.
I have complete respect for those who fought and died in both World Wars – many I know were Irish-born. I have been told that your own Grandfather Paddy Whelan, from Tipperary, was one of those.
I mourn their deaths like every other decent person and if the Poppy was a symbol only for the lost souls of World War I and II I would wear one.
I want to make that 100% clear .You must understand this.
But the Poppy is used to remember victims of other conflicts since 1945 and this is where the problem starts for me.
For people from the North of Ireland such as myself, and specifically those in Derry, scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, the poppy has come to mean something very different. Please understand, Mr Whelan, that when you come from Creggan like myself or the Bogside, Brandywell or the majority of places in Derry, every person still lives in the shadow of one of the darkest days in Ireland’s history – even if like me you were born nearly 20 years after the event. It is just a part of who we are, ingrained into us from birth.
Mr Whelan, for me to wear a poppy would be as much a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles – and Bloody Sunday especially – as I have in the past been accused of disrespecting the victims of WWI and WWII.
It would be seen as an act of disrespect to those people; to my people.
I am not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past. I am a peaceful guy, I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs which I respect and ask for people to respect mine in return. Since last year, I am a father and I want my daughter to grow up in a peaceful world, like any parent.
I am very proud of where I come from and I just cannot do something that I believe is wrong. In life, if you’re a man you should stand up for what you believe in.
I know you may not agree with my feelings but I hope very much that you understand my reasons.
As the owner of the club I am proud to play for, I believe I owe both you and the club’s supporters this explanation.
So, if this weekend James McClean’s “refusal” to wear a poppy on his Wigan top comes across your footballing radar remember that there’s a big difference between “refusing” and “choosing.” You don’t have to support McClean’s politics- if you must call it “politics”- but I have a hard time believing that any intelligent and compassionate person could fail to support his “choice.”