McLean has been warned that he will be shot following his call up to Giovanni Trapattoni’s side.

Sunderland winger James McLean was recently sent death threats after electing to represent the Republic of Ireland at the European Championships, following several Under-21 appearances for Northern Ireland for the Ulsterman, who was born in Londonderry. 23-year-old McLean is a rising star, having netted five times in 22 games for Sunderland this season. He made his debut for the Republic of Ireland in February, coming on as a 78th minute substitute for Aiden McGeady in a friendly against the Czech Republic.

McLean expressed his delight at being called up for Euro 2012 on Twitter: “Absolutely honoured and couldn’t be happier to have been called up to represent my country at the Euros. No better feeling.” In an interview with the Daily Mail he said: “To be called up to represent Ireland has always been a personal dream of mine and to be associated with players who I have watched myself is very special.

“I can’t wait to join up with the squad and start to focus on the Championships”, he added. It would take the harshest of critics to suggest that these revelations will pass without effect on the winger; indeed, he has already chosen to react, and seems to have accepted that attack is the best form of defence. “Love the dogs’ abuse am gettin off shock N.I fans, just worry about watchin ur own country at the euros… oh wait #mybad #awkward haha”, he posted on the aforementioned social networking site, in a move that will surely stoke the fire further.

As it goes, the fire is already raging. BBC Sport this morning broke the news that McLean has closed his Twitter account after receiving further sectarian abuse, and the initial threats against him. With so much having been done in recent years to combat sectarianism in football in Northern Ireland, this whole episode calls into question the safety of footballers who elect to “cross the divide” for whatever reason. A statement issued by the Police Service of Northern Ireland said: “We don’t discuss individual cases, however, if we receive information that a person’s life may be at risk we will inform them accordingly. We never ignore anything which may put an individual at risk.”

Neil Lennon was forced into retiring from Northern Ireland in 2002 when he received a phone call, during which an explicit threat was made, before a game against Cyprus.

Neil Lennon was the most recent high-profile player to fall victim to sectarianism. In 2002 the central midfielder retired from the Northern Ireland national side after receiving a death threat prior to the game against Cyprus. It had been alleged that the current Celtic manager wanted to play for a “United Ireland” team, and that he had even said words to this effect. The threat was also made by phone call, allegedly, heightening its personal nature. It hadn’t been the first time Lennon had been targeted, either. Following this incident, Michael Boyd, head of community relations at the Irish Football Assocation, said: “It was pretty crushing. That was probably the lowest point of our Football for All campaign.”

However, the progress that has been made since and the increased attendances at Northern Irish football games in the mid-2000s, have all been called into question. Should the abuse spiral, McLean’s career could soon go the way of Lennon’s if the threats go unchecked. Sure, the Sunderland star was stupid to attempt to counter the tweets and goad those who made the initial attacks, but in the current political climate, a statement really ought to be issued very rapidly by both Football Associations so that “supporters” aren’t allowed to labour under the delusion that such disgusting behaviour is, or could ever be, acceptable.



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