James McClean received death threats over his decision to play international football for Republic of Ireland rather than his homeland of Northern Ireland.
West Brom winger McClean grew up in Derry and featured for Northern Ireland’s Under-21s before switching to play for the Republic at senior level.
The 28-year-old has previously faced criticism for refusing to wear a remembrance poppy on his shirt, as well as turning his back on the British national anthem, and he revealed he never planned to play for Northern Ireland.
“Back in Derry I was just being me. Nobody cared,” McClean told BBC Sport. “All of a sudden things I say are in the papers.
“I’m still the same person I am – I wouldn’t want to change. If you like it, you like it, and if you don’t, you don’t. It’s in the papers that I’m pro-IRA and the way it goes, if you see something in the paper you believe it whether it’s true or not. I’ve been very lucky with my managers, they’ve believed my side of the story.
“I’ve had death threats and I’ve had a lot of people see me as anti-British. I want to go on record here and say I’ve never been anti-British. There’s certain things that I don’t agree with, my beliefs, but I take people at face value.
“I’ve had a lot of death threats which started when I declared myself for the Republic. I played for Northern Ireland for the youth system – I never hid from the fact that I took advantage of that system to better myself but I never had aspirations to play for Northern Ireland. I was getting death threats for declaring for my country.”
McClean also offered an insight into a pair of unsavoury incidents that prompted his decision to leave Sunderland in 2013.
“There’s a funny story about one of the last home games of season for Sunderland,” McClean added.
“I always bring my jersey home with me after a match because you never know who might need it. But on this occasion, I gave it to a kid at the stadium. His father took it off him and threw it back at me.
“Then, on the way home, my car was stopped at the traffic lights. Another car pulled up alongside us, rolled down their window, spat at my car and just drove off.
“My missus, who was in the car, was pregnant at the time and I thought ‘we’re about to bring a baby into the world and I don’t need all this hassle’. So the next day I went to see the manager Paolo Di Canio. I explained the situation and told him it was best if I moved on.”