James McClean and 11 other footballers who stuck to their beliefs

James McClean and 11 other footballers who stuck to their beliefs

by Rob McNamara

Last weekend, James McClean, quite clearly and eloquently, explained in an open letter to Wigan Athletic chairman Dave Whelan why he would be not be joining his team-mates in wearing a poppy on his shirt, as is the tradition on Remembrance day.

McClean was the subject of a barrage of abuse from some factions of football support but he also received a great degree of praise for his intelligence, reasoning and strong convictions.

While the stereotypical, overpaid, out-of-touch with reality footballer is not known for their views on political issues, there are plenty who are willing to put their careers on the line for their beliefs.

Here's a selection of the best and worst political footballers.

Johan Cruyff

James McClean and 11 other footballers who stuck to their beliefs

In 1978, Johan Cruyff boycotted the World Cup finals in Argentina in protest at the totalitarian military junta that was ruling the South American country at the time.

A Dutch team featuring the great Johnny Rep, Johan Neeskens and Arie Haan very nearly went all the way but lost to the hosts in the final. They may have won had Cruyff, their talisman, been in the team

Eric Cantona

James McClean and 11 other footballers who stuck to their beliefs

Eric Cantona finally found a club where he was appreciated when he joined Manchester United in 1992 but before that his career was marred by insults and spats.

Just a year before joining the reds, while playing for Nimes in France, he threw a ball at a referee and was the subject of a disciplinary hearing where he walked up to each member of the committee and called them idiots.

In 2010 he encouraged protestors to remove all their assets from bank accounts in mass cash withdrawals to signal an economic revolution.

It didn't take off.

Ah well, “When the seagulls follow the trawler....”

Paolo Di Canio

James McClean and 11 other footballers who stuck to their beliefs

In 2005 Paolo Di Canio made 'Roman' salute to Lazio fans he left the pitch following a derby win over arch rivals Roma. The salute is very similar (exactly the same) to the salute used by Nazis and neo-Nazis.

Di Canio has always denied that he is a fascist or racist but in his autobiography he described Mussolini as "basically a very principled, ethical individual". However when he became manager of Swindon and subsequently Sunderland in England, he faced a lot of questions about his political leanings.

He didn't really like it though.

Carlos Roa

Carlos Roa was Argentina's first choice goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup. However, at the age of just 31, what should have been a long career in front of him was cut short by his membership of the Seventh Day Adventist church. He believed the world was going to end in the near future and he refused to sign a new contract with his club Mallorca.

He quit football but the world went on. He returned to the game a year later but he could not reproduce his previous form and his career went into free fall. He was forced to retire for a second time after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Romario

James McClean and 11 other footballers who stuck to their beliefs

Romário de Souza Faria won the World Cup as a player with Brazil in 1994 but the former striker was a harsh critic of the tournament being held in his home country in 2014, citing the lack of economic and social legacies the tournament would bring to poverty laden nation.

He has also spoken of his concern about the corruption and scandal involving football world governing body Fifa.

This year he was elected to the Brazilian senate and his views continue to attract praise and critique in equal measure.

Lillian Thuram

James McClean and 11 other footballers who stuck to their beliefs

One of the finest full-backs of his generation, Lillian Thuram has been political activist for ant-

racism groups and a supporter of same sex marriage.

Kevin Prince-Boateng

When the German born Ghanian international was the subject of racist abuse while playing for AC Milan against Pro Patria in Italy 2013, he bravely kicked the ball into the crowd and left the pitch making a huge statement that racism would not be tolerated in football.

Paul Breitner

Paul Breitner was the Phillip Lahm of his day on the pitch – a versatile full-back who was a leader and scorer of some great goals. Off it, he was a revolutionary type who seemed to get on the nerves of a German public that just wanted him to concentrate on football.

He was once caught reading Mao Zedong's 'Little Red Book' at training and was never slow to give his opinion on contentious issues.

Charlie Roberts

The former Manchester United captain played for the club between 1904 and 1913 and was instrumental in the setting up the players' union which advocated expanding player entitlements and rights.

The group was outcast by the FA but they stood their ground and after a stand-off where Roberts

and his supporters were barred from playing, the FA formally recognised the union paving the

way for the modernisation of football.

Zvonimir Boban

The patriotic Croation Zvonomir Boban got the opportunity to play for his country after initially making his international debut for Yugoslavia. Before independence though, Boban, who was playing for Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb in an away game against Red Star Belgrade, kicked a policeman who had attacked one if his club's fans.

The incident has gone down Croatian folklore as a defining incident in the push for independence and was named as one of the 'five football games that changed the world' by CNN.

Frank Lampard

James McClean and 11 other footballers who stuck to their beliefs

Yes, Frank Lampard. Who'd have thought the midfielder would have preferred the right-wing? In 2007, Lampard declared he was a Tory after he'd had a conversation with David Cameron.

"I had a really good chat with David. As a footballer I don't want to get involved with the campaigning thing but I am a Tory and I really like David Cameron,” said Lampard.

Stick to the football, Frank.

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