Irish soccer international James McClean has welcomed widespread support after speaking out about anti-Irish abuse directed towards him and his family in England.
In a significant media intervention, the Derry-born player and his wife Erin have this week described the years of threats and abuse they have suffered.
Erin revealed that on one occasion, someone threatened to take a gun to one of her husband’s games and on another, bullets were sent to her husband in the post.
She said the online abuse has been part of their “daily lives this last nine years” but that most of the British media “shy away away from speaking up for him”.
She revealed how he had been taunted about the shooting dead of 14 people by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that either one of us don’t receive a message of some sort, whether it be a threat or else telling us to get the f*** out of England,” she wrote.
“And to be honest it’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t affect us... However, we have three very young children who are now at an age where they know and understand these things being said.
“Of course, we have tried as hard as possible to keep them away from it all but there has been times where we are out shopping and there are people making remarks towards James in front of the kids.
“What we cannot accept is threatening our family home and our children’s lives. They don’t deserve this. Why should we have to read messages like that daily for almost a decade.
“We’ve been spat at, shouted at, nights out have been ruined by people making remarks towards him. I even remember once someone threatened him saying they were taking a gun with them to a certain match and I can still remember watching that match in absolute fear on the TV.
“Every single day I’m online, I’m seeing support of those who have been abused online by the big media outlets and rightly so. But for James it always seems the media (except a select few) shy away from speaking up for him and have always bashed him when he’s done anything.”
On Sunday, Mr McClean highlighted the latest threat sent to him on social media just days after he called for an end to anti-Irish abuse.
The Derry man shared on Instagram a direct message sent to his account which read: “Don’t make me set your house on fire and burn everyone inside it.”
It was the fourth in a string of messages from the same account, part of which read “f*** the IRA and f*** Ireland”.
While the player said the earlier messages in the chain were “like water off a duck’s back’, he said the final threat against his family was “crossing the line”.
It followed just two days after Mr McClean had led calls for an increase in condemnation of anti-Irish abuse, saying the ‘silence is deafening’.
He said he had considered retirement in light of abuse he has received. He told Sky Sports News:
“So many people are getting abused for skin colour or their ethnic background. I don’t want to take anything away from those issues but I’ve received this for a long period of time and it doesn’t get highlighted. That’s where my frustration comes from.
“I’ve been guilty myself because I am quite thick skinned, and I do consider myself very resilient. A lot of things go over my head because it’s common, but that’s wrong. This isn’t a cry for sympathy, it’s a call for anti-Irish abuse to stop.
“It’s not just for sportsmen and women but Irish people in general. It’s no longer acceptable to be talked down to or called a paddy, a pi*ey or a leprechaun.
“I have a son who is football mad and says he wants to play for Stoke when he grows up. I don’t want him to have to go through this. I want him to be proud of who he is, and it’s not just him and but any other young Irish person.”
The intimidation has been widely criticised by sports figures and politicians, including many unionists.
“I very much feel for James McClean and his family,” said DUP leader Arlene Foster. “Often, for those of us who are in the spotlight like myself and James McClean, we can be a little bit immune to that but it’s when our families are subjected to abuse as well.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin said authorities “must take immediate action to tackle the scourge of anti-Irish racism”, while SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the anti-Irish and sectarian abuse as “despicable”.
Mr McClean told the BBC: “I welcome the support because it’s not a green or orange thing or a point-scoring thing. It is about anti-Irish abuse and how it’s been over decades.
“It is no longer acceptable and people need to stand up and speak out against it because it’s been going on for far too long.”