JAMES McCLEAN claims his controversial balaclava Instagram post was just “a joke”.
The Stoke and Republic of Ireland winger – accused of being an IRA sympathiser for his refusal to wear a poppy – sparked anger during the coronavirus lockdown by posting a picture of himself giving his kids a home-school “history lesson” wearing a terrorist-style balaclava.
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The Potters fined him two weeks wages for “an inappropriate social media post”.
McClean said: “If I sat here and said I don’t regret things I’d be lying but I can take a lot of abuse and can’t have fun back?
“It was supposed to be a light-hearted joke but I can understand why it didn’t go down well. People think I did a history lesson like that but I didn’t actually do it.”
McClean has always insisted he is not “anti-British” and that his refusal to wear a poppy is because he is not a “war-monger”.
The Derry-born star, who has long been a target for abuse from opposition fans at matches, received death threats on social media following the post.
Footballers are a free hit. It’s like it’s viewed as we earn this amount of money so we should just take it. I’ve got a good family around me and group of friends. They are the opinions that I value.
He says the taunts can be upsetting, adding: “Things like ‘I hope your kids get coronavirus and die’ or ‘It would be a laugh if your house burned down with your kids inside’.’
“There was someone online, who looked over 40, abusing my kids. Of course it’s upsetting.
“Footballers are a free hit. It’s like it’s viewed as we earn this amount of money so we should just take it.
“I’ve got a good family around me and group of friends. They are the opinions that I value. Not everyone is going to like me especially if you go with the grain.
“It gets annoying when things like this get all this coverage. When I breathe or look the wrong way there is an article. People get their perception from things like this.”
McClean – reckoned to be one of the nicest guys in the dressing room wherever he has played – showed his nicer side by buying 400 pairs of surgical gloves, 100 face masks, protective visors, 10 hand sanitisers and 100 gowns for a Derry GP.
McClean told Sky Sports: “I was going through Facebook and saw a post asking for help. I just typed into Google to see what I could get and was fortunate to find equipment.
“It’s not going to solve all the problems but hopefully it can tide them over. It begs the question if I’m able to go online why can’t the authorities supply enough equipment?”
But despite his gesture, McClean slammed Health Minister Matt Hancock for telling players to “play their part” in the battle against the coronavirus crunch by taking a pay cut.
The winger said: “It’s ridiculous. You’ve got Matt Hancock saying we should take a pay cut. No one seems to like footballers.
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“We’ve got livelihoods too and people might take this the wrong way but we do work hard for our money.
“Think about what players pay towards government tax. Football is a short career and we’ve got to look after our families once it’s over.
I’ve seen players do great deeds from their own pocket.”