THE ROYAL British legion has stood behind James McClean after he was hit with sectarian abuse for refusing to wear a poppy.
Footballer James McClean, who is from Derry but plays for Stoke City, has been in the headlines in recent days after revealing the hateful abuse he and his family receive for being Irish.
One message, shared by McClean on Instagram, saw a man threaten to set fire to McClean's home and "burn everyone inside"; these threats to his young children, the footballer said, was the final straw.
McClean has been subject to sectarian abuse since he first arrived on the English Premier League scene in 2012 and refused to wear a poppy, a sign of support for British Army veterans which are sewn into all players' match-day shirts when playing games on or around Remembrance Day (11 November).
McClean refuses to wear a poppy each year, citing the British Army's actions in his hometown of Derry during the Troubles-- such as the Bloody Sunday massacre-- as his reasons, but his refusal to wear the flower continues to cause fury among some of the public and British media.
However, the Royal British Legion-- the charity behind the poppy symbol marking Remembrance Day--- has now come out in support of McClean's right not to wear the poppy, with the armed forces charity saying the abuse the footballer has suffered is "inexcusable".
"At the Royal British Legion we believe that discrimination, hatred and abusive behaviour in any form have no place in our society and should not be tolerated,” it said in a statement seen by The Irish Times.
“The poppy is a universal symbol that represents sacrifices made in the defence of freedom, and so the decision to wear it must be a matter of personal choice. To insist that people wear a poppy would be contrary to everything that it stands for. We offer our full support to James for exercising his right to choose not to wear a poppy.”
James McClean and his wife, Erin, have received support from the public, politicians and sports stars since their decision to go public with the threats and abuse they receive for their Irish identity, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin among those offering support.
Writing on Twitter earlier this week, Mr Martin congratulated the footballer "for speaking out about years of horrific abuse they’ve suffered online.
"Social media at its best gives a voice to everyone – at its worst it is toxic and cruel."