A former Portadown and Derry City footballer appointed as the new Oldham manager has been berated for calling Martin McGuinness a “legend”.
Darren Kelly’s Twitter comment came to light after it was announced the Londonderry-born Irish Cup winner would take charge of the League One side.
The 35-year-old’s appointment took effect on Tuesday and he was congratulated by the senior Sinn Fein figure.
One of Mr McGuinness’s earlier tweets included a picture of the Mid Ulster MLA with Kelly’s mother – which had been taken earlier this year at a rally to mark the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
Mr Kelly, whose uncle Michael was one of those shot dead by paratroopers on January 30, 1972, thanked the MLA, adding the hashtag ‘legend’.
The Twitter exchange angered many of the club’s fans, leading Oldham’s owner Simon Corney to offer a full refund to anyone who has bought a season ticket for the 2015/2016 season and is unhappy at the choice of manager.
One supporter, an ex-serviceman, told the Oldham Chronicle: “I will not support a club whose manager describes a terrorist as ‘a legend’. In a town like Oldham, with so many people who have served in the armed forces, many in Northern Ireland, this is a step too far.
“I know there has been a peace process but this is another kick in the face after the Ched Evans affair. Did the club know these comments on Twitter even existed? They have alienated another section of their ever-dwindling fanbase and frankly, it’s disgusting.”
However, the paper quotes the new manager as saying the affair has been “blown out of proportion”.
He added: “There is nothing in it whatsoever. I have deleted Twitter, though not on the back of that. My account went into meltdown.
In terms of the tweet, there is nothing political in it at allDarren Kelly
“In terms of the tweet, there is nothing political in it at all. I am a family man and the manager of this great football club. That is what my life is about and I have no political views in that. I understand if people are concerned, but there is nothing in that.”
Club owner Mr Corney went on to say: “I’ve heard about it, we’re all aware of it and Darren’s views are Darren’s views. He explained them to us and we were satisfied with what he said.
“Darren is a thorough gentleman, he’s a good guy, but as we’ve seen before, when you’re at a football club you go under the microscope.
“I can see why people may have one or two concerns, but he’ll give the fans the rationale behind everything. He won’t shy away from anything, and that’s a good quality to have.”
Some disgruntled fans have set up a group page on Facebook titled ‘Sack IRA supporting Darren Kelly as Oldham Athletic manager’.
• In a statement posted on the Oldham Athletic website on Tuesday, Mr Corney said:
“The appointment of Darren Kelly has no doubt surprised many people but he is a young passionate manager with the necessary desire, drive and will to succeed.
“It is his first role and therefore can be viewed as a risk, but having interviewed and spoken with him on several occasions, one that I believe is worth taking.
“We do understand however that some fans have concerns over the appointment, and to those who have already made the financial commitment for next season, we are offering to give them a full refund should they wish to take it.
“Supporters show great loyalty to this club through their purchase of season tickets and by offering this refund we hope to show how much the club values this.
“I would however like to take the opportunity to urge all supporters to get behind Darren and with the opening of the new North Stand, look forward to exciting times both on and off the pitch next season.”