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If it's only a game, why do death threats seem to be on the increase?

For James McClean, Tuesday must have been joyous, gaining his first call up to Giovanni Trapattoni’s provisional 23-man Republic of Ireland squad for the Euro 2012 championships next month.

For McClean (pictured), it has been a season of contrasts, moving from Derry City in August 2011 to Premier League side Sunderland.

It was a big step for a young player who had only plied his trade in Northern Ireland before his big move to the north east.

Although signed under Steve Bruce, McClean failed to feature for Sunderland’s first team until Martin O’Neil took over the helm on Wearside; seemingly forgotten during Bruce’s reign, he was wasting away in the reserve team.

Under O’Neil, however, McClean was a revelation, becoming a pivotal player in the Black Cats side and swiftly becoming a fan favourite at the Stadium of Light.

Hard work

With his direct and fearless approach going forward, hard work and consistent final product the plaudits came from every direction, made even more evident by his inclusion in Trapattoni’s Irish squad.

His day, nonetheless, is likely to end without the shine he had imagined, due to the moronic behaviour of the some of the disgusting thugs that feel it is big and clever to attack an innocent man at the top of his professional on a social media site.

Throughout the day McClean has received death threats from sectors of our community, due to his decision to pass up the chance to play for Northern Ireland and instead choose their southern neighbours.

McClean, born in Northern Ireland has previous played for Northern Ireland’s youth and under-21s squads, but like many with family connections in the Republic, he decided to represent the Republic of Ireland, with the lure of a major European tournament being an exciting prospect.

In response to this news, a minority on the twitter community felt it justifiable to send the young professional a string of death threats for turning down the Northern Irish set up.

A worrying phenomenon

Of course, this would disgust anyone with any sense of intelligence, morals or care for other human beings but it is becoming a worrying phenomenon for idiots to hide behind the façade of the internet or the postal service to abuse our footballers.

Thankfully the Police Force of Northern Ireland have decided to investigate these threats further and McClean’s response on twitter seemed to show he respectfully took such hateful messages with a pinch of salt. However, the McClean example is only one of many that seem to be cropping up across internet sites.

In January this year, Anton Ferdinand received a spent gun cartridge in a letter addressed to him through the post at Queens Park Rangers after the controversy regarding alleged racial abuse he received from John Terry during a match earlier in the season.

Similarly, Celtic manager Neil Lennon has been the target of persistent threatening mail. In January 2011 the Royal Mail intercepted several packages containing bullets addressed to the ex-Leicester player, while parcel bombs were also intercepted later in March 2011.

Death threat distress

This is by no means a new phenomenon either. In 2010, Nigeria midfielder Sani Kaita received over one thousand death threats to his e-mail address after he was sent off in a 2 – 1 loss to Greece in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Death threats to our game’s players stretch the globe, with Colombian side, Deportivo Periera’s Panamanian defender Luis Moreno receiving a string of threats to his life via telephone in March 2011.

Even officials are the target of this disgusting abuse with Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo stating he still receives death threats today via mail and online, after he failed to award Chelsea a number of penalties during their semi-final against Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League.

Chelsea were subsequently knocked out of the tournament, but Ovrebo has said that his life has been made hell after getting three years of intimidations.

To a more bizarre extent, even the families of footballers are not safe from abuse, with Wayne Rooney’s wife Coleen becoming the target of hate-mail after congratulating Liverpool FC on their March Carling Cup victory on twitter.

Abuse

The list goes on and on with Howard Web, Darren Bent, Ally McCoist and Joe Hart all becoming the recipients of hate in a variety of forms, the level of abuse that is seen so regularly in our game to hard working professionals is worrying and disgusting.

Further away from home players have even lost their lives due to madness of bitter or crazed fans. In recent times, Salvador Cabanas, a Paraguayan international of Club America in Mexico was shot in the head at a night club in the central American country.

While searching further back Andreas Escobar, a Colombian international was shot dead after scoring an own goal in the 1994 World Cup against the USA; it was widely believed that this own goal created substantial losses through gambling for Colombian drug lords.

For a game loved by so many, the level of abuse players have been getting in recent years has got to a worrying level.

The ferocity and level of hate is unmeasured and in any other profession or circumstance in life the punishments for such hate would be substantial, so it is only right that we are starting to see online hate-mailers coming to justice and long may it continue.

I speak for the majority of football fans when I say kick these cretins out of our game.

By David Harrison

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