By Daniel J. McLaughlin
The James McClean poppy furore is becoming an annual tradition, akin to Halloween and Bonfire Night. Once again, the Republic of Ireland international has set off fireworks by choosing not to wear a poppy on his football jersey - something the Derry-born footballer has done since his Premier League breakthrough in 2012. He has refused to wear a poppy at his previous clubs: West Bromwich Albion, Wigan Athletic and Sunderland.
As the Stoke City winger puts it: "I am more bored of this every year than anyone. I have explained more times than I would have liked to or should have to." He has asked people to respect his decision, just as he is respectful for those who wear the poppy - a symbol of remembrance from the Royal British Legion, a UK charity for the British Armed Forces.
When previously asked about his decision, McClean explained: "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 the First World War and Second World War. It would be seen as an act of disrespect to those people; to my people." The 29-year-old grew up on the Creggan estate, where six of the people killed on Bloody Sunday in 1972 also came from.
He's not the only footballer to refuse to wear the poppy. Nemanja Matic was the only Manchester United player not wearing one on his jersey during their 2-1 win against Bournemouth at the weekend. He said that he will not wear one during the Manchester derby this weekend, which will take place on Remembrance Sunday. The Serbian midfielder said it reminds him of when his village was bombed when he was 12.
Matic explained his choice in a statement on Instagram: "I recognise fully why people wear poppies, I totally respect everyone's right to do so and I have total sympathy for anyone who has lost loved ones due to conflict.
"However, for me it is only a reminder of an attack that I felt personally as a young, frightened 12-year old boy living in Vrelo, as my country was devastated by the bombing of Serbia in 1999.
"Whilst I have done so previously, on reflection I now don't feel it is right for me to wear the poppy on my shirt.
The 30-year-old added: "I do not want to undermine the poppy as a symbol of pride within Britain or offend anyone, however, we are all a product of our own upbringing and this is a personal choice for the reasons outlined.
"I hope everyone understands my reasons now that I have explained them and I can concentrate on helping the team in the games that lie ahead."
Wearing a poppy on a football jersey is a relatively new tradition. According to the Guardian, 2010 was the first time all Premier League clubs printed poppies on their teams’ shirts to mark Remembrance Sunday.
The Royal British Legion sell the remembrance poppies each year. Responding to a story in 2017, on why a third of young Brits will not wear a poppy, a spokesperson said: “We take the view that the poppy represents the sacrifices and contributions our Armed Forces community have made in the defence of freedom and so the decision to wear it must be a matter of personal choice.
“If the poppy became compulsory it would lose its meaning and significance. The Legion will always defend the rights of individuals who choose not to wear a poppy, and we oppose those who attempt to coerce or criticise people who make this personal choice.
“We are thankful for every poppy worn, every shop that allows poppy collections, and every employer that permits the poppy to be displayed, and we ask that those who wear a poppy have that choice respected.”