Wrexham will sorely miss James McClean as ‘most abused player’ hit with suspension

Harrogate being one of the more genteel towns to boast an EFL club, Wrexham’s James McClean had a rare quiet night.

Not on the pitch, you understand, where the 34-year-old former Republic of Ireland international, again sporting the captain’s armband, was his industrious self as Phil Parkinson’s side came up against a wall of blue as Harrogate Town ground out a hard-fought goalless draw.

Off it, however, was a different story with the small band of 260 followers who made the trip from the Yorkshire spa town seemingly devoid of the type who tend to believe the price of a ticket equates to an entitlement to shout all manner of abuse at a footballer.

McClean has come up against plenty of these in Wrexham colours already this season, his every touch jeered at some away grounds to underline why, in the past, he has claimed to be the subject of “more abuse than any other player in England”.

A refusal to wear a poppy during matches near Remembrance Sunday — a day in November to commemorate British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts — explains the terrace vitriol.

He’s explained himself numerous times, reasoning that to do so would offend people from his community in home city Derry, the scene of the Bloody Sunday massacre in January 1972, when 14 men, all Catholics, were shot dead by British soldiers during a protest march. But, his words make little difference.

Nevertheless, the abuse is clearly like the proverbial water off a duck’s back to McClean, whose versatility and quality honed across a career that boasts 103 international caps has made him a leading contender among a strong field to be crowned Wrexham’s Player of the Year.

On Tuesday evening, that class was again in evidence even allowing for how the visitors did a number on their hosts to maintain the second best away record in League Two.

With Harrogate effectively blocking the route to goal, McClean, deployed in midfield, was continually trying to stretch the play via raking passes to either flank. He also didn’t shirk a challenge despite walking a disciplinary tightrope due to being just one yellow card away from a two-game ban.

That competitive edge eventually brought a deserved tenth booking of the campaign 17 minutes from time, when he hauled down Levi Sutton as the substitute looked to break on halfway. The audible sharp intake of breath among the 12,018 crowd as referee Matt Corlett jotted down McClean’s name in the 37th game of the season (after which ten bookings no longer incur a suspension) spoke volumes for how much the Irishman will be missed against Tranmere Rovers and Grimsby Town.

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McClean has played 103 times for the Republic of Ireland (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

An ability to play anywhere across the pitch and still be among the most consistent performers explains why his absence is likely to be so keenly felt, especially neither George Evans nor James Jones yet ready to return to midfield.

Take the Boxing Day trip to Swindon Town, amid a festive season that saw the Wrexham camp dogged by illness. With the bug meaning Paul Mullin was only able to take his place on the bench, Phil Parkinson turned to McClean as his makeshift striker.

The result? A finish that was as calm and composed as you could wish to see as Wrexham secured a precious 1-0 victory. He’s found the net twice more since then on the road at Milton Keynes Dons and Morecambe, both times when operating from midfield.

Even then, though, his roles were slightly tweaked, playing just behind the front two in last month’s 1-1 draw at stadium:mk but on the right of a midfield trio in last Saturday’s 3-1 triumph by the seaside.

Other positions where McClean has filled in this season include right wing-back and as one-half of a two-pronged attacking midfield duo with Elliot Lee at AFC Wimbledon behind lone frontman Ollie Palmer. Plus, of course, the left wing-back role he was primarily signed to play in August.

No wonder Parkinson is full of praise for someone who has led the team out recently in the absence of club captain Luke Young and stand-in Ben Tozer.

“James has been outstanding this season,” he says. “His energy is phenomenal, while his mentality is the same. Drive and determination are the words that best describe James. You can tell he’s played at the top level.

“For us, he’s played in a few positions. But that’s the player he is — he can basically play anywhere on the field. You’ve seen that since he came to the club. His physical data is always among the highest at the club, if not the highest.

“You only have to watch how he trains every day. He’s had some really good contracts in the game but that’s an irrelevance to James. He wants to play football and wants to win.”

McClean’s will-to-win often translates to playing on the edge. There’s been countless verbal volleys at both referees and opponents this season over perceived injustices, while he’s also taken to staring down his tormentors in the stands after Wrexham have scored in victories at Morecambe, Swindon and Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup.

That edge will now be missing on the next two weekends thanks to that tenth booking of the season. Nevertheless, the August signing from Wigan Athletic will still have a big role to play by driving standards on the training pitch over the next ten days.

“James sets the tone in training,” adds Parkinson about someone whose career highlights include two promotions and more than 170 Premier League appearances for Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion.

“He’s infectious and a great lad to have around. He wants to win and that spreads to the rest of the team. Having senior players who are good models in terms of how they train is always important. James falls into that category.

“How he prepares is a great example to our younger players. It is great when someone who has had the career James has still has that desire to play football and, more importantly, to be successful.”



James McClean, Wrexham’s new signing who suffers ‘more abuse than any other in England’

(Top image: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

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