A Northern Ireland-born footballer has received both an outpouring of praise and criticism after he turned his back while the British national anthem was played out before a friendly match in the US.

Northern Ireland march enflames sectarian past

Winger James McClean's actions prior to the game on Sunday earned strong rebuke from fans in England, where he plays for Premier League club West Bromwich Albion, but support from many others, particularly in Ireland.

McClean from Derry in Northern Ireland last year faced rebuke from sections of the British media for refusing to wear a poppy prior to a game. The flower is used in the UK to symbolise soldiers who fell during the two world wars, and other conflicts. 

The 26-year-old, who played for Wigan Athletic at the time, wrote in a statement on the club's website that he respected those who fought in the wars, but the poppy's association with the conflict in Northern Ireland put him off wearing one. 

Bloody Sunday

"For people from the North of Ireland such as myself, and specifically those in Derry, scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, the poppy has come to mean something very different," McClean wrote in the letter, referring to the killing of 14 Catholic civilians by British soldiers.

"It would be seen as an act of disrespect to those people; to my people," he wrote further.

On his Twitter page McClean said he had no comment on Sunday's incident but suggested followers read an opinion article by a journalist who referred to McClean's earlier comments on the conflict in Northern Ireland and Bloody Sunday.

The apparent slight against the UK prompted angry responses by some users on Twitter, with several asking why McClean chose to live and play in the country, if he was not prepared to respect its emblems.

The footballer, however found support from many, mostly people of Irish backgrounds, but also from English fans.

Source: Al Jazeera