Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Will threats against Irish players continue?



WHEN the Ireland squad for Euro 2012 was officially announced and his name was read out by Giovanni Trapattoni, James McClean voiced his pride through his Twitter account. He told his 50-odd-thousand “followers” that he was honoured to be chosen to represent his country at a major international tournament. He was not alone: Leicester defender Sean St. Ledger, Simon Cox and Shay Given also expressed how happy and proud they were to be among the 23 boarding the plane to Poland for the tournament.


That's interesting. Or is it? Let us not forget that McClean is not the first football player from Northern Ireland to have threats issued against his life. There is an odd tendency towards sweeping it under the carpet, but it is undeniable that Neil Lennon, Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt each have been the recipient of grisly death-threats.

In the past, perhaps unfairly, these incidents have brought the collective reputation of Northern Ireland football fans into disrepute – but the reputation of Northern Ireland fans was shrouded in controversy by extremists long before Neil Lennon, Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt and it's those honest, reasonable fans in the middle that suffer for it. Nevertheless the gruesome underbelly simply needs to be exposed and rebuked as robustly as possible.

 It is immaterial whether the messages spewing forth hatred came from a 16 year old or a 60 year old, the sentiment remains the same and it must be treated seriously, otherwise more will follow suit. Likewise, the quantity of threats is irrelevant. I was shocked to hear some recklessly claiming that the public reaction exaggerates the threats, by pointing out that there were “only” a small number directed at the Derry footballer. Only a few, that's right – no; one threat is one too many.

The other outrageous suggestion that was proffered was that the 23-year old athlete brought such threats upon himself by taunting Northern Ireland fans. Comparatively however, McClean's tweets, if ill-advised, are quite tame. Yesterday his message of pride was no different to that of other Ireland squad members, yet McClean was faced with a mountain of negative reactions. It's because he is a Derry man playing for the Republic of Ireland instead of Northern Ireland.

A potent cocktail of ignorant, sectarian cretins with a football-gang ethos believing that it is absolutely fine and acceptable to insult, abuse and intimidate individuals whose otherwise innocuous actions (or even state of being) grate with them, is what is at play here.

McClean was instantly metamorphosed into a hate-figure among extremists in the Northern Ireland support when he opted to declare for the Football Association of Ireland. Branding him a “Judas”, they howled and growled at almost anything McClean said or tweeted. Outrage ensued when McClean corrected BBC sports presenter Colin Murray for describing him as “Northern Irish”, rather than “Irish”.

Yet more followed when he expressed his joy at receiving his first cap for Ireland in February 2012. Aggressively telling McClean what nationality he was and what country was in fact “his”, they scoffed at the notion of the player being proud of his identity – a legitimate identity which simply diverged from their own.

Will this madness continue? More importantly, will it be allowed to?


20 comments:

  1. W. Paul Boyce8 May 2012 at 17:59

    It's interesting how you point out that death threats are trivialised and swept under the carpet.

    It is somewhat surprising the contrast when you consider the hefty penalty faced by a Swansea University student recently for his outrageous and unacceptable Twitter comments on Muamba's sudden collapse on the football pitch: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17515992

    I agree that this sort of thing should be weeded out and there should be consistency in how Twitter threats and inappropriate remarks are dealt with.

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  2. Every club/country in the world has 'fans' who are just idiots!Look at the liverpool fan who racially abused a player, does that make liverpool a racist club?catch a grip mate and stop trying to push your own agendy. yes ni has some idiots who are sectarian!if you think the rep of ireland dont, you are deluded man! also, northern ireland fans have every right to be upset at a player who played at underage level, and even accepted a senior call up, before switching to the fai. he denied others the opportunity to represent their country before switching, and showed no remorse in doing so. then to rub salt in the wound he goads ni fans by making comments on twitter. do you seriously expect ni fans to pat him on the back and say good luck? of course nobody deserves death threats, but my point is, you will find all manner of inappropriate comments anywhere on the internet. society is the problem. blame the individuals and not the group they come from!anyway, far as im concerned the guy has zero class and would not want to see him in an ni jersey anyway!have more respect for the likes of gibson who keeps quiet and doesnt stir trouble.

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  3. Come out from behind that veil of anonymity!

    I know that every team has its extreme, idiot fans. I am not tarring everyone with the same brush here - I refer to extremists - so, if you can read, I will take it that you will have understood that that is not what I am doing.

    Northern Ireland fans can be upset about McClean, but let's be clear - that does not give them, or anyone, the right to abuse and intimidate him, on Twitter or on the street.

    I think that the collective grouping of fans, and society in general, has a duty to ostracize the fools who engage in such abuse and intimidation.

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  4. I enjoyed your article, think it is well written, bottom line for me is that death threats are TOTALLY unacceptable, a form of bullying that EVERYONE should not tolerate.

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  5. Interesting that you try to link McGinn and McCourt getting bullets in the post to NI fans - any evidence for that? Any idea what reception both former Derry lads got last time they turned out for their country?

    Why do you think McClean was annoyed at being described as 'Northern Irish'? This is the label I use to describe myself, does he think that people like me are less Irish than him for using it? Slightly on a tangent, do you believe that I am less Irish than others, because I support the Northern IRELAND team playing in green, under the original IRISH football association? Do you think that it is a good idea to try and undermine the concept of a joint Northern Irish identity across people from both communities in this part of Ireland? Or would we be better off with increasing polarisation along the traditional British/Irish lines?

    Perhaps there would be less bitterness about McClean's defection if he did not come out with comments about 'always wanting to play for my country' etc despite having happily represented NI at various underage levels and accepting a senior call-up.

    Do you believe it is fair and equitable, in the game of football, for one international team's ENTIRE player pool to also be eligible to play for another international team? Can you see how that would put the first team at an unfair disadvantage?

    Making threats to anyone is reprehensible. Making them in a cowardly fashion behind a computer screen, arguably even more so. There is no call for it, in any situation. By the way, you might like to check out some of the similiarly horrible abuse Josh Carson, another young Irish football, was taking on twitter recently.

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  6. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for the comment.

    I'll start by noting that the comment is quite accusatory in tone, is laden with loaded questions and barely touches upon the subject (will the threats be allowed to continue?). This is not surprising.

    The link I actually make between McClean and the others is that they've all received death threats - is that not true? I did not, as you claim, assert that NI fans were to blame for bullets being sent to McCourt & McGinn.

    Odd of you to go off on this tangent, but I am not stating that you or anyone else is more or less Irish than anyone, but it is clear that your sense of Irishness is different to a sense of Irishness that is independent from Britishness.

    As for your suggestion of undermining a united "Northern Irish" identity - such an identity is unfortunately and necessarily British, given the political reality that the term represents. This reality won't be changed by James McClean's preference to play for the FAI, so I don't see how you reach that conclusion.

    Your question about fairness and football is completely irrelevant and fallacious to begin with - sport and international competition is inherently unfair. Would you rather that each association had an equal list of players to choose from? What you're talking about has also been dealt with and emphatically settled by the highest authority. The FAI can only select willing Irish nationals who meet the eligibility requirements.

    I did not know that Josh Carson had been the recipient of horrible abuse; can you elaborate? I'm interested to hear.
    Was he castigated and attacked for months for his choice of national team and did he receive death threats too?

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  7. a pleasure to read Noddy, the resulting debate even more so.

    Football is another quality of life, infected by sectarianism. If James McClean's father was German and he decided to play for Germany, i bet he wouldn't have recieved death threats then . . .

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  8. Dave, I received notification of your comment, but it has not shown up. Perhaps you could post again? Or shall I copy it into the comments for you?

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  9. Hmm odd, I thought it had posted. Yes please, feel free to post it up again thanks.

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  10. When did NI fans threaten Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn as you imply in your blog?

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  11. Anonymous, take off that anonymous mask, show yourself! I didn't imply that, don't be so foolish.

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  12. Here is Dave's comment:
    "Ryan - I'm not sure I understand the question in your first paragraph, when you ask 'will the threats be allowed to continue?' - 'allowed' by who? Are you seriously suggesting that it's possible to censure every single person who supports a football team and prevent them from making offensive comments on the internet or indeed anywhere else? Threating behaviour should be dealth with according to the law - if someone has committed a crime, then throw the book at them!

    Re: McGinn and McCourt, your wording is indeed ambiguous, the following paragraph however - 'In the past, perhaps unfairly, these incidents have brought the collective reputation of Northern Ireland football fans into disrepute – but the reputation of Northern Ireland fans was shrouded in controversy by extremists long before Neil Lennon, Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt' - makes it clear that you would like to create an association in the reader's mind between those events, and NI fans. Intentional or not, I am sure an obviously intelligent person such as yourself can see how that message could be incorrectly inferred by a poorly-informed reader.

    I think you have over-extended yourself slightly with your comments on fairness in football. If you are going to invent a straw man ('Would you rather that each association had an equal list of players to choose from?') at least try and make it a semi-realistic one. I am sure you understand the point I was making - if every citizen of Portugal was also eligible from birth to play for Spain then it would have a massively detrimental effect on the Portuguese side (sadly I can't compare NI to Portugal but they were the first two countries that came to mind...) 'Sport is unfair' - um, yes, in terms of competing on the field. However, we tend to have rules and regulations to ensure a modicum of organisation to the sport, whatever it may be. I don't think I should really have to point that out, but I fear you may have been being deliberately disingenuous. You are indeed correct to point out that the CAS have concluded that the FAI have acted according to FIFA's rules as they stand - however as someone who would like to see NI football progress onwards and upwards and who takes great pride in the boys in green, I would like to see the rules changes to ensure that our footballing talent pool does not suffer from our unique political situation.

    I would ask you how much you know about my sense of Irishness and its links to Britain? Perhaps you believe I hold a British passport? Or maybe I talk with a cockney accent? I am Irish born and bred, a citizen of Belfast and occasionally other less interesting places; I am proud to come from this part of the world and would not swap my heritage for anything! I am curious to know why you think my Irishness is linked to Britishness? Please elaborate. I think your mask slips slightly when you refer to 'the political reality that the team represents' - is it possible that people may be imposing their political wishes on a sporting situation? I do not believe football is the place to try and settle territorial grievances.

    Josh Carson received sectarian abuse on twitter following congratulations to a friend who had made his debut for Rangers. It is a sad fact of life that the internet has made it even easier for idiots to direct abuse at people in the public eye, as in the case of James McClean. Between incidents like these, and the breaching of 'super injunctions' via the same medium, it will be interesting to see how the law develops with regard to online social media.

    By the by, I am disappointed you did not like the tone of my first post. There were indeed a number of questions in it, I am glad you have tried to answer at least some of them. I think it is important to discuss these issues logically otherwise we will end up a nation of angry twitter users rather than people engaging in rational debate!"

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  13. Sorry for the delay, Dave.

    Forgive me for the assumption on your identity, but it is generally the case that those with whom I have engaged in the past that hold the same views as yourself are proud British Irishmen (Northern Irish). If that is not the case with you, then I'm sorry and can you tell me what your identity is? I just wonder then, do you also support the Republic of Ireland as well as the north, being as you are a proud Irishman? And why then do you have a problem with other proud Irishmen expressing their identity?

    RE my question as to whether this will be allowed to continue; obviously I do not think that it is possible to censure each individual, but I do believe that this must be dealt with robustly - a message must be sent out, loud and clear, that the bullshit abuse of players over their choice of national team must cease. It is not acceptable under any banner whatsoever.

    RE McCourt, McGinn and the rep of NI fans; there *is* an association with NI fans and these incidents - they have impacted poorly on the fans' image, perhaps unfairly - Once again, I stress that I did not say that NI fans were responsible. I am not responsible for the ignorance of others. Furthermore, it is true that NI fans have not done their own image any favours in the past - overtly loyalist and British symbolism, coupled with deplorable songs about fenians, fucking the pope and so on. That said, bravo for trying to rectify that.

    You may not believe that football is a place to settle territorial grievances, but *international football* is a political animal. Philipp Lahm said recently in an interview with Der Spiegel that politics and sport (specificially international sport) cannot be separated: his team represent Germany and the values that Germany stands for, he said. Similarly, players from the north that opt to play for Ireland are expressing themselves and their identity. I believe that they should be free to do so. I don't understand why you'd like to shoe-horn people into a national identity that doesn't suit them.

    Finally, with regard to Josh Carson - any abuse is a disgrace. I didn't see it but I'd hope that it would be reported. I would hazard a guess, however, that Carson has not been receiving daily abuse for months culminating in death threats from disgruntled igoramuses over his choice of national team, in the same way that James McClean has (he's not alone either - Duffy, Wilson et al each come in for flak). This is my main concern: is every young player who wants to declare for Ireland to expect this kind of treatment? This is why it must be treated seriously and it must be stamped out and condemned by all parties.

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  14. My identity is Northern Irish. I am from the Ireland of Ireland, I live in the bit that's part of the UK. I watch the BBC for my news. I drink Harp and Guinness and I talk in a sadly impenetrable accent. My fry comes with soda and potato bread. I speak English, and a very small amount of Irish. I support Northern Ireland at anything where they play as their own team, I support Ireland where they don't. I don't support the Republic of Ireland in football - I see them as sporting rivals due to geography - much as I do England, Scotland and Wales. I understand why people from NI support the Republic - you can support whoever you like in the whole wide world after all! - and I know several people who follow both Irish teams. Fair play to them, it's not for me though as I like just having the one team.

    "And why then do you have a problem with other proud Irishmen expressing their identity?" - I did not say this anywhere in what I wrote. Another good example of a straw man. Stop this, it is a poor debating 'technique'.

    "A message must be sent out, loud and clear, that the bullshit abuse of players over their choice of national team must cease. It is not acceptable under any banner whatsoever." - No it certainly isn't - again though I will ask you, a message by whom? I'm not sure who it is you want to see do something. Aside from, obviously, the police if someone is breaking the law.

    Your comments regarding 'loyalist symbolism' - can you elaborate? If you refer to the Ulster banner which we play under, would you support the establishment of a new flag for NI, through the Assembly, which we could all get behind? What about a unique sporting anthem for NI? I am in favour of both these things, by the way. I have a suspicion however that the most vociferous complainers in this regard would be among the last to actually wish for a resolution to the issue. As for 'trying to rectify that' - it has been rectified. I have been attending matches for a long time, and I can tell you it is indeed a thing of the past to hear sectarian songs or see sectarian banners. And I mean the real past. The Neil Lennon incident you refer to happened in 2001 - 11 years ago, when the first iPod was just about to come out. Times have changed. I know, because I have been there for a long time.

    "I don't understand why you'd like to shoe-horn people into a national identity that doesn't suit them." - Once more - where did I say this? Or even imply it in ANY way? The real issue here is that attitude of those who wish to attribute a one-sided 'national identity' to the Northern Ireland team. We have always had a cross community and I would imagine, cross-political team. I don't want that to change. Do you? Answer me this honestly - do you think that Niall McGinn is expressing his Irish identity less by playing for Northern Ireland? Is he more or less Irish than James McClean? Do you understand that for myself and other NI fans, the eligibility issue is NOTHING TO DO WITH IDENTITY? Luckily we can choose in NI how we see ourselves, and even our nationality. We have always been able to do this, long before the GFA. We are a country of potential dual nationals, every one of us. And happy days! But when it comes to the SPORT of football, I think it is unfair to have all of our potential players also eligible for another international team. Your comments about identity puzzle me. They are smoke and mirrors, an attempt to detract from the basic issue that I have with the current situation, as I put it to you. You seem to be obsessed with identity and nationality and Christ knows what else. I am not. I don't care what your political views are, what your religion is (atheist myself, it's all a load of balls) or what you vote for or what passport you carry. I care about equality in football for my team, when it comes to its player base.

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  15. ...cont.

    Furthermore, it is offensive to me to suggest that playing for NI means you have picked a certain 'identity' - certainly, you may wish it were so. But this is not the case. Ask Chris Baird how he felt when he captained his country. And then try and tell him he isn't expressing his Irish identity. By the way, I am glad you have at least admitted that you DO think that football is a place to settle territorial disputes. I on the other hand think that politics should be kept out of sport. I don't see how you can attract youngsters to a sport if you make it politically loaded, for starters. i think you may also have missed the point of FIFA somewhat - it exists to facilitate football matches between countries and within countries; not as far as I am aware, to make political judgements on aspirations and identities.

    "Finally, with regard to Josh Carson - any abuse is a disgrace. I didn't see it but I'd hope that it would be reported. I would hazard a guess, however, that Carson has not been receiving daily abuse for months culminating in death threats from disgruntled igoramuses over his choice of national team, in the same way that James McClean has (he's not alone either - Duffy, Wilson et al each come in for flak). This is my main concern: is every young player who wants to declare for Ireland to expect this kind of treatment? This is why it must be treated seriously and it must be stamped out and condemned by all parties."


    No problem, can I have you draft proposal for policing the internet effectively in full please? I don't think anyone would disagree that this type of abuse is unacceptable to anyone, for whatever reason - I do think you will find that wishing for it to be 'stamped out' makes you sound like a naive child. You may as well suggest that we put a ban on people doing nasty things. People will always do things that are wrong. Nowadays with the joys of the internet, we are ever more exposed to these people. Joy of joys. I don't understand what it is you want really.

    This is the message that comes across in your argument:

    Neil Lennon, flags, loyalism, Irish identity, stereotypes, ignorance, blah blah...

    I think the issue is that you plain don't like the existence of NI as an entity whatsoever. And that's fair enough, that my be your political view and more power to you, we all have them and it's a damn sight more legitimate that most probably. However, that doesn't mean that you can impose your political viewpoint on my sporting team! It would be like me suggesting that Pakistan be allowed to select all of Bangladesh's players because I disagree with the partition of the two.

    Personally I think you are long on rhetoric and outdated examples, and short of substance when it comes to this argument. However it is refreshing to at least be able to discuss the issue without one or other person resorting to shouting 'bigot'. I also enjoyed reading your thoughts on supporting your local team (in your case, Derry) which is something I would otherwise not have read had I not come across this article!

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  16. Dave said: "My identity is Northern Irish"
    -Good for you Dave, more power to you. Would you at all consider yourself British? Are you a unionist? I am Irish, full stop. Not Northern Irish, not British. Irish. I'd like to see the barriers broken down between the people of the island. I like to see the people of the entire island brought together.

    Dave said: "I don't support the Republic of Ireland in football - I see them as sporting rivals due to geography..."
    -I support the Republic because I am an Irish national - this is *international* football, after all. The Northern Ireland team, for me, embodies an identity that I don't feel attached to. That said, I've attended games, I follow their fortunes and I do not see them as "rivals due to geography".

    Dave said: "I did not say this anywhere in what I wrote. Another good example of a straw man. Stop this, it is a poor debating 'technique'."
    - Thanks for the condescension, but your objection to what you feel unfairly undermines a Northern Irish identity implies that you'd like it to stop. If you don't, what's your problem?

    Dave said: "No it certainly isn't - again though I will ask you, a message by whom? I'm not sure who it is you want to see do something. Aside from, obviously, the police if someone is breaking the law."
    -Here's a simple example for you: The AONISC is able to spout ill-advised nonsense about so-called "football apartheid" when it suits. One would think, then, that they can also issue condemnation of this episode, but they haven't done so, yet. People don't always need to be led by governments and elected bodies, unless that's what you really think.

    Dave said: "If you refer to the Ulster banner which we play under, would you support the establishment of a new flag for NI, through the Assembly, which we could all get behind? What about a unique sporting anthem for NI? I am in favour of both these things, by the way."
    - I think that would be progressive. It would be naive to suggest that it wouldn't change anything at all.

    Dave said: "The real issue here is that attitude of those who wish to attribute a one-sided 'national identity' to the Northern Ireland team. We have always had a cross community and I would imagine, cross-political team. I don't want that to change. Do you? Answer me this honestly - do you think that Niall McGinn is expressing his Irish identity less by playing for Northern Ireland? Is he more or less Irish than James McClean? Do you understand that for myself and other NI fans, the eligibility issue is NOTHING TO DO WITH IDENTITY?"
    - I am certain that the Northern Ireland team will continue to be cross-community (although I'm not sure how one would know that it is cross-community without sectarianising the team). Players from the north have been playing for the FAI for over a decade. Do your head count and tell me if it remains cross-community. I can appreciate that one might express their identity by opting to play for Ireland. But what applies to one does not apply to all, so no, I don't believe that it diminishes "Irishness". International football is all about identity though. You're naive in the extreme if you think that there's nothing political about international entities, or that identity doesn't come into it. They represent political entities, after all. I'm not obsessed; I just see it for what it is - not what I want it to be, as you do.

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  17. Dave: "By the way, I am glad you have at least admitted that you DO think that football is a place to settle territorial disputes. I on the other hand think that politics should be kept out of sport. I don't see how you can attract youngsters to a sport if you make it politically loaded, for starters."
    - The point I made is that international football is inherently political. Welcome to the world, international sport does not exist in a vacuum.

    Dave said:"i think you may also have missed the point of FIFA somewhat - it exists to facilitate football matches between countries and within countries; not as far as I am aware, to make political judgements on aspirations and identities."
    -FIFA brass have stated that the core of international football is national identity. Come on, man. You're clutching at straws.

    Dave said: "I do think you will find that wishing for it to be 'stamped out' makes you sound like a naive child. You may as well suggest that we put a ban on people doing nasty things. People will always do things that are wrong."
    - A "naive child"? Confusing accusation. Should I abandon all hope because people are idiotic? Or should I aspire to a better state of affairs. I'll keep my hope and reiterate my believe that widespread condemnation can and will curb such instances.

    Dave said: "Personally I think you are long on rhetoric and outdated examples, and short of substance when it comes to this argument. However it is refreshing to at least be able to discuss the issue without one or other person resorting to shouting 'bigot'. I also enjoyed reading your thoughts on supporting your local team (in your case, Derry) which is something I would otherwise not have read had I not come across this article!"
    - I believe that your sporting team, as with all international teams, has always had a political element - it is inescapable, especially in this part of the world. I'd suggest that it is you that is being naive in this regard.

    Thanks for the discussion, Dave. We might not agree, but I appreciate the integrity of your musings. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

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  18. Fair enough, I don't think we will get any further. But sure, it whiles away the hours eh. Take her easy!

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