Two top Irish Catholic footballers have appealed to footballing authorities to do more to support players who are subjected to abuse.
The call comes from wingers Niall McGinn and James McClean, who both recently opened up about the sectarian abuse they have received throughout their careers.
Northern Ireland and Aberdeen winger McGinn, 32, has suggested that players could benefit from the creation of an organisation aimed specifically at tackling abuse.
Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback, McGinn recalled the sectarian abuse he had been subjected to throughout his career, particularly during his time at Celtic when he, along with other Northern Irish Catholics in the team, received death threats in the mail.
“Looking back to my time at Celtic, myself, Neil Lennon and Paddy McCourt, we had bullets sent to us in the post,” he said.
“It wasn’t only hard for me but it was hard for my family. Neil Lennon came to my room and told me the night before it was published that there was going to be a newspaper article coming out about us being sent bullets. He said, ‘Just make sure you let your family know’.”
While Celtic “were always 100 per cent supportive” in these situations, McGinn said such abuse tends to be “brushed under the carpet like it didn’t happen”.
“There needs to be people you can speak to about it rather than just forgetting about it and moving on,” he added.
Although it seems to be the norm that players are entitled to get abuse, it should not be the case, he said.
“Even now at Aberdeen, it’s not like Celtic and Rangers and that greater rivalry, but when I go to Ibrox or Tynecastle at Hearts, you’re getting called names or getting abuse when you’re on the sidelines warming up.
“It’s just abuse all the time.
“Yes, don’t get me wrong, it always is a small minority, but you’re getting called a fenian such and such or a fenian whatever and it is hard to take at times.
“You have different songs sung at different games regarding the hunger strikers that can be quite hurtful,” he added.
McGinn’s call came after fellow Northern Irish-born player James McClean criticised figures in and around the game for the lack of support he has received for racial and sectarian abuse.
The Republic of Ireland and Stoke winger, 31, has been targeted throughout a career which has also included spells at Sunderland, Wigan and West Brom, over his decision not to wear a poppy.
McClean praised the way the game has moved quickly to support Wilfried Zaha and David McGoldrick in recent weeks after both players were subjected to racial abuse online.
However, he admitted being frustrated that his own issues are not treated in the same fashion.
McClean told talkSPORT: “I’m seeing all this support for McGoldrick, Zaha, (Raheem) Sterling and that and rightly so, I don’t want to take away from the attention and the support they are getting because it is bang on.
“The point I was trying to make was it leaves a sour taste in my mouth because I am seeing all this support (and) I’m thinking, ‘I’ve been abused for the last nine years and where has my support been? Where has been my level of attention?’
“I’m not looking for attention but, in my mind, discrimination is discrimination.
“But it almost seems that one holds a higher precedence over another and that’s what irritates me. I’m not looking for sympathy or attention, I’m just asking for equality.”
McClean said he does not wear a poppy during remembrance commemorations out of affinity for his hometown Derry, the scene of the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972.
As well as being abused at games and online he has also received death threats and bullets in the post.
He admitted he has not always helped himself and regrets an incident in March when he posted a picture of himself on social media homeschooling his children wearing a balaclava, describing it as a ‘history lesson’. He was fined two weeks’ wages by Stoke over the post.
He said: “I have made mistakes, I’m no angel at the end of the day. People say I’ve brought it on myself but all this abuse started well before I did anything.
“Sometimes I get annoyed. I am an emotional guy and sometimes the emotions get the better of me and I will act out, but I am acting based on retaliation for all this abuse I shouldn’t be getting.
“I’ve had messages where people are saying they hope my three young children attract Covid and die. I’m thinking ‘this is my three children. I shouldn’t be receiving this, I shouldn’t have to put up with this’. And people wonder how I react sometimes how I do.
“At the end of the day, if I wasn’t a footballer and I wasn’t in the limelight – are you trying to tell me any other father in any other profession would just accept that and that’s okay?”
Picture: Stoke City’s James McClean during a Sky Bet Championship match against Birmingham City at The Bet365 Stadium, Stoke, on 12th July 2020. (Martin Rickett/PA).