James McClean has thanked West Brom fans for their support after his controversial start to life at the Hawthorns.
The Republic of Ireland star sparked fury when he refused to acknowledge the English anthem during the club’s summer trip to the USA.
The 26-year-old from Derry refused to wear a poppy on his kit in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday while playing for Sunderland and Wigan Athletic, saying it would have been disrespectful to the “innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles”.
McClean accepts he will always be a divisive figure in English football because of his personal views but defended his position in the match programme for today’s Premier League clash with former side Sunderland (kick-off 3pm).
“My attitude is live and let live, honestly, and I don’t think we should have ideas forced on us just as I don’t want to force my ideas on anybody else,” McClean said.
“The Albion fans have been great to me and I just want to put it out in black and white why I do what I do and give my side of the story.
“I have the greatest respect for their culture and it’s been nice that they seem to have the same for mine. I hope that by saying this, people will realise that I mean no offence, no disrespect to anyone. But I have to stand by my principles.”
Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce has admitted it could take three successive wins for Sunderland to start feeling like they can drag themselves out of relegation trouble.
The 60-year-old will send the team he inherited from Dick Advocaat out for the first time today, when even a victory would only be the start for a team five points adrift of safety, without a win in their opening eight league games.
Allardyce said: “Every game is enormous for us. We will have to be consistent, we will have to be resilient, we will have to be mentally tough in terms of believing in ourselves to try to get ourselves out of this position because in all honesty, winning three games on the trot is going to be very difficult for us.
“But it would be three games winning on the trot before we would even consider ourselves being able to start to feel a little bit safe.
“Even if we win the game at West Brom, it’s a nice start, it’s a good start, but we are still in that position.”
Asked how he would feel when he heads for the dug-out, Allardyce replied: “Very proud. For whatever has happened here, there have been 40,000 fans turning up at home – I think it’s the seventh- highest attendance in the league and in all fairness, they haven’t had too much to cheer about.”
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