James McClean believes he was “hung out to dry” by Sunderland over his decision not to wear a Remembrance Day poppy on his shirt.
The 25-year-old Republic of Ireland and Wigan winger hit the headlines in 2012 when he opted not to wear the specially embroidered shirt.
That caused a furore for which some Black Cats fans and others from further afield never forgave him during a period of his life in which he repeatedly courted controversy on social media and even received death threats.
McClean, a native of Derry, finally explained his reasons in an open letter to then Wigan chairman Dave Whelan in November last year, but claims he was not allowed to do so when the storm first broke.
He told the Irish Independent: “Speaking honestly, I think I was hung out to dry by the press people at Sunderland.
“That day, we were playing Everton, the manager [Martin O’Neill] was brilliant about it. He understood. He said: ‘If that’s your decision, I fully support you’. None of the players had an issue with it.
“But pre-game, the press officer went out and issued a statement saying that I wouldn’t be wearing a poppy, that it was my own decision and that, as a club, they fully supported the poppy appeal.
“That just drew attention onto it straight away. I don’t think it would have been anywhere near as bad as it got if that hadn’t happened.
“Then, when I asked to be allowed to speak about it, I was told that that was a bad idea, not to say anything and let it blow over, so it was kind of brushed under the table, and I felt that was more for the club’s benefit than mine.
“I think it could have saved so much hassle. When you think, two years later, I finally get to speak about it - for me, that’s two years too late. It could have been nipped in the bud from day one. Was there any need to make that statement prior to the game? No, there wasn’t.
“To this day, I still have a kind of annoyance that that was the case. It irritates me because with people not knowing my reasons, even my own fans turned on me. They didn’t understand. To them, I was disrespecting their country, disrespecting their fallen heroes, disrespecting their culture, this and that.
“Because I was pushed into a corner and not allowed to say anything, people didn’t know, and they turned on me.”