The Only "PoppyCock" Is Those Who Abuse The Freedom To Choose

Alex Livesey

During yesterday's defeat against Everton, James McClean chose not to wear a poppy on his shirt. This seems to be the latest in a long line of incidents involving the outspoken Irishman, but in this instance his decision should be as respected as those who wear one.

It looks like it's that time of the month again where we must write about the latest James McClean controversy.

We've been through a few of these now. The spat with Giovanni Trapattoni, the crude jokes on Twitter, the subsequent quitting, rejoining and quitting again of the social network, the decision for him to turn his back on Northern Ireland to represent the Republic and so forth.

So when McClean chose not wear a poppy on his shirt this weekend where Premier League clubs honoured Remberance Sunday, this was entirely his choice and I'm backing him to be allowed to do as he wishes.

There's been a fair mix of outrage and faux-outrage at this on various social networks - a voice for the good, often taken to by the most moronic of society to express such emotions. Call me naive, but I just don't get it at all.

Even the briefest of glances and most minor pieces of research will tell you that McClean will have felt strongly about wearing a poppy this weekend.

Born, raised, and incredibly proud to be from Creggan - a Derry suburb and near neighbour of Bogside - the very site of "Bloody Sunday". An incident where fourteen civilians lost their lives to the hands of the British Army during The Troubles.

Some cite the fact that this took place long before McClean was even born - seventeen years in fact - and thus he shouldn't be slapping on a poppy and not getting involved. If only it was that simple eh? The sheer magnitude of the unlawful killings is one that will live strong in the heart of the local community. As McClean is a man who clearly feels a strong sense of community with where he's from, it's easy to see why he'd be fully aware of what happened, and it might have even more of an effect on him.

As we've said though, this is perhaps the most idiotic argument used anyway. If he should have stayed away from it because it happened well before his birth, perhaps all footballers should have ignored the World Wars, what with them happening long before any of them were born.

The poppy appeal is a great one. I'm not against it in the slightest, and they do some great work. Sunderland fans in particular can feel proud the the club was one of the first to embrace it to the degree of putting them on shirts. We should also be proud that we allow freedom of speech and the freedom to wear a poppy if they wish, not enforce it.

Now then, the poppy itself does not stand for any one particular war, skirmish or fight, but all soldiers who have lost their lives in conflict, preserving the ideals which James McClean exorcised. 30,000+ Irishman put aside their differences with Britain to fight in WWII under the Union Flag. That's 30,000 people with the free will to do so, much like McClean is one man who has the right to not wear a poppy if he so wished.

Perhaps he should have worn one for all the Irishmen who have lost their lives in conflicts around the world? Maybe. But it's difficult one to argue when something as large scale as Bloody Sunday happens in your neighbourhood. How that sticks in the craw of the local community.

Much like many things in football these past few seasons, people seem to have a struggle to comprehend that doing one thing, is not to do the other automatically.

Luis Suarez was charged with using abusive language including a racial reference. Rightfully, he was punished, but it doesn't inherently make him a hooded racist burning crosses in his spare time. Rio Ferdinand (among others) chose not to wear the Kick It Out t-shirt recently, again, this is entirely his choice and by not wearing does not suggest the supports the alternative. There are many, many grey areas.

To say that James McClean is actively disrespecting those who lost their lives fighting for the freedoms we enjoy today by not wearing a poppy is ludicrous. To wear a poppy and show support, understanding and compassion is perfectly fine if that's your thing. If you feel you've reason not to, that's equally fine. It's a choice to wear one. I might only be speaking for myself here, but in any work place I've been, there's the option to buy a poppy. they aren't thrust upon you under the guise that if you don't wear one you're collecting your cards the next morning. I'm pretty sure that's intimidation and bordering on bullying. McClean shouldn't be hounded out for his decision.

Martin O'Neill didn't wear one either from the photo's I've seen. John O'Shea didn't wear one for the second half either after doing so int he first half, and presenting a wreath to the the armed forces alongside Phil Neville pre-match yesterday.

There doesn't seem to be quite the hubbub there. Would it not be more 'offensive' doing what O'Shea did in showing support initially as it's the done thing, but absolving himself of the situation as soon as the next opportunity presented itself to show his real thoughts on the situation?

If you want to wear a poppy, that's absolutely fine. You should be proud to. It's great that you show such respect. However, you should only wear one if indeed you do fully support the campaign. You shouldn't have to wear one out of guilt, or workplace enforcement. There's a right to choose and this is an equally acceptable option. Wearing one for any other reason renders the entire campaign pointless.

McClean is well within his rights not to wear one as much as you are to actually do so.

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