Mikey Johnson’s concerns on anti-Irish racial abuse suffered by Aiden McGeady

Celtic winger Mikey Johnston last season opted to commit his international future to Republic of Ireland rather than Scotland and made an immediate impact in his debut in March for Stephen Kenny’s side against Latvia.

However Johnston earlier this week admitted that the racial abuse suffered by Aiden McGeady in Scotland as a result of his own decision to play for Ireland made the winger stop and think about his own decision to play for Ireland.

And it was actually a case of third time lucky as far as Ireland managers are concerned in convincing Mikey Johnston to play for the Republic. Regarded as one of the most talented youngsters to emerge in recent years at Celtic, Johnston’s fitness and frankly hardiness have frustrated his managers and the player himself, although interestingly enough it was probably Brendan Rodgers who got the most out of him at club level.

So while Kenny sat down with Johnston to ‘sell’ playing for Ireland to the Scottish born winger, he was actually the third Irish boss to try the very same thing with both Martin O’Neill and Mick McCarthy – both with huge Celtic stories themselves – but for one reason or another it never quite came together, as Mickey Johnston explained in his interview with The Irish Times this week.

“Yeah, we’d been in contact in the past, a few years back, but it just never seemed to happen, just because I was at home in Glasgow and nothing ever came of it,” said the 24-year-old Celtic winger said.

“But in the last couple of years it sort of heated up a bit because I was playing well and the manager wanted to include me in the squad and I was happy to do it.”

Contact was made via the player’s agent and that resulted in Stephen Kenny sitting down with Mikey Johnston to discuss his international future. “Yeah, it was through my agent and I was always open to it but it only really properly came about when this manager was really keen to get it done.”

And both Neil Lennon and Damien Duff during their time at Celtic working with Johnston both did all they could to convince him to embrace his Donegal and Derry roots. “I remember that but it was a stage when I wasn’t ready. I was struggling with my body, having had a few surgeries, so it definitely wasn’t the time to decide,” Mikey recalled.

Johnston’s progress in a Celtic shirt has been frustrated through a succession of medial collateral ligament tears coupled with the pressure of being Celtic academy star coming into the first team with a big reputation.

22nd March 2023 Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland: International Football Friendly, Republic of Ireland versus Latvia Mikey Johnston of Ireland thanking the fans after the full time whistle. Photo  Peter Fitzpatrick

All that has conspired to temporarily derail his career and last season Ange Postecoglou decided to kick the can down the road and send Johnston Portuguese club Vitória Guimarães for a season in order to get first team game-time at a decent level.

The Australian was relying on strong testimonials from the likes of John Kennedy but had seen little with his own eyes to think that Mikey would get into his Celtic side ahead of the likes of Liel Abada or Jota among others. Johnston will be back at Celtic at the end of the month but rather that Postecoglou making the call on his future it’s very likely to be his favourite former boss Brendan Rodgers.

“Maybe I felt a little hard done by at times, but my body was in a bad way,” Johnston recalled. “At one stage it was really bad, it was going to take time. That’s why getting out of the UK was good, getting out of the media and stuff.”

22nd March 2023 Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland: International Football Friendly, Republic of Ireland versus Latvia Mikey Johnston of Ireland brings down a high ball. Photo Peter Fitzpatrick

Three of four years ago Johnston seemed to be on the verge of a Scotland call-up. “I think I got a (Scotland) call-up a couple of years ago or I was going to get one but I had a couple of injuries or whatever and it never came about. Look, I’m Scottish-born but I’ve always been open to play for either.

“International football was big, representing Ireland was massive and trying to get to a big tournament is what every player dreams to do, isn’t it? And the opportunity was here and I was just delighted to take it.”

Two other Celtic minded, Scots born wingers have already made similar decisions and provide inspiration for Johnston. And he is well aware that for Aiden McGeady more than Ray Houghton he had to pay a high price back in Scotland as he was subjected to sickening anti-Irish racism at away ground across the country most notably at places like Ibrox and Tynecastle.

Aiden McGeady of Celtic celebrates after scoring. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

And that disgraceful anti-Irish racial abuse actually made Johnston stop and think very hard indeed if he wanted to put himself through the same level of abuse. “McGeady was sort of a hero. He was obviously a Celtic legend when I was younger so I know all about it.

“It was definitely a factor to consider but I feel like times have changed a little bit and I think people are a bit more open. There were obviously different reasons to why he got a bit of stick and stuff but I don’t think that’s the case any more.

“The only people that really matters are your family and friends. If you’re sort of reading comments on Twitter and stuff you’re going to be in for a disaster but the only people that matters are your family,” Johnston said.

Mikey Johnson came off the bench for Ireland yesterday in the Euro Qualifier defeat (2-1) away to Greece and will be looking for a start against Gibraltar in Dublin in Monday night.

On 23 May 2022 Niall J writing on The Celtic Star covered this ‘stick’ that McGeady got in Scottish football because he played for Ireland…

Aiden McGeady calls out Scotland’s Shame in BBC Sportsound interview

Aiden McGeady’s decision to represent Ireland, over Scotland, as a 14-year-old kid didn’t make the news, but when the time came for McGeady to make the step up to the full international set-up, the former Celt became public enemy number one.

At grounds up and down the country McGeady was abused from the stands, and the argument has always had two sides. Was McGeady boo-ed because he was a top talent who was viewed as declining the opportunity to choose to play for Scotland? Or was it that McGeady was a Celtic player choosing to play for Ireland over Scotland, and the abuse he received mired in sectarianism and anti-Irish racism.

Aiden Mcgeady celebrates after scoring the second Celtic goal during the CIS Insurance Cup Final between Rangers and Celtic at Hampden Park on March 15, 2009. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

I’m sure everyone will still have their own thoughts on either side of that argument. However, McGeady, interviewed by Kenny McIntyre for BBC Sport Scotland, has touched on that very subject, prompted of course by McIntyre.

And while the host seems willing to encourage McGeady to enter into a discussion, and McGeady happy to answer the questions, when the course of the interview sees McGeady ask for McIntyre’s view on the matter, the host appears somewhat uncomfortable and reticent to delve deeper when McGeady asks some questions of his own?

Aiden McGeady (R) of Celtic celebrates scoring a penalty with Scott McDonald against Rangers during the Co-operative Insurance Cup Final football match at Hampden Park, Glasgow on March 15, 2009. Photo GRAHAM STUART/AFP via Getty Images)

McIntyre: Your decision to represent the Republic of Ireland over Scotland – Again that was a difficult decision, did you receive a lot of flack for that?’

Aiden:  Did I receive a lot of flack for that? Come on man.

McIntyre: How tough. Give us an idea how tough it was?

Aiden: What, going to every away ground and getting boo-ed every time you touched the ball? Did that not happen? It did, didn’t it?

McIntyre: How did it affect you?

Aiden:  It didn’t affect me. Because I think there are plenty of players who have played for other teams, plenty of Scottish players that have played for other teams. Did Scott Arfield not play for Canada? Brian McLean, he chose Northern Ireland. Did they get the same abuse as me? Why did I get that abuse?

Pedro Mendes brings down Celtic player Aiden Mcgeady during the CIS Insurance Cup Final between Rangers and Celtic at Hampden Park on March 15, 2009 . (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

McIntyre:  Did you have any idea what was about to hit you when you made that decision?

Aiden:  No I made the decision when I was 14, it’s not like I made the decision when I was 18. Scotland had those rules where you couldn’t play for your school team. If you didn’t play for your school team you couldn’t play for the (Scottish)schoolboys. Which was fine, but Ireland didn’t have that, and Packie Bonner knew my dad and my Grandparents. He asked if wanted to play for Ireland Under 14’s, 15’s and I was like ‘Well yeah’ so then I just played with Ireland and then that was it. I just knew all the boys, I liked the set-up, and then when I got into the first team, it was like ‘Oh my God how’s this guy not playing for Scotland?’ That’s why. It’s not like I’ve just chosen Ireland now so that was why.

Thierry Henry of Barcelona chases Aiden McGeady of Celtic during the UEFA Champions League 2nd leg of the First knockout round match between FC Barcelona and Celtic at the Camp Nou stadium on March 4, 2007 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

McIntyre: Does it still hurt? The abuse you got the way you were treated?

Aiden:  No it’s small-minded individuals, isn’t it? That’s all it is. Like I said the other players I mentioned, why didn’t they get the same abuse that I got? Any idea?

McIntyre:  mumbles

Aiden: Because I played for Celtic, because I played for Ireland? Hearts Hibs, Motherwell, Falkirk, everywhere. Boo-ed everywhere I went, wanting me to fail, didn’t happen to anybody else, did it? James McCarthy got the same didn’t he as well? He got the same, plenty of other players have switched allegiance to countries, loads of them, but they’ve not all go that, but no in a way it’s a compliment, because if they didn’t think you were a good player they wouldn’t be bothering.’

Nacho Novo of Rangers holds back Aiden McGeady of Celtic during the CIS Insurance Cup fourth round between Celtic and Rangers at Ibrox on November 10, 2004 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

McIntyre:  ‘What was life like off the park with that background then, as an Old Firm (sic) with that in the background?’

Aiden: ‘Yeah just the same really, Used to just get it everywhere I went really – Traitor, turncoat, Judas – not from everybody but from proper Scotland fans, which there aren’t many of in Glasgow, it’s mainly Ireland or England isn’t it?

Of course, McIntyre isn’t obliged to offer an opinion, after all the fall-back will be McIntyre is the interviewer and McGeady the interviewee, and let’s be honest, the issue of Anti – Irish racism still appears a subject not given the same level of importance as other forms of racism, homophobia or misogyny, yet interviewers are often willing, even happy, to give their opinions on such discrimination when interviewing.

Celtic’s Paul Telfer (L) congatulates the second goal scorer Aiden McGeady (C) with John Hartson (R) during the Scottish Premier League match between Falkirk Football Club and Celtic Football Club at the Falkirk Stadium on November 6, 2005. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Yet even despite taking McGeady down that path, and no doubt knowing full well the answers he was likely to receive, there wasn’t even a willingness on the part of the interviewer to open up the debate and delve deeper into a problem Scottish society pretends it doesn’t have.

McIntyre it appears was quite deliberate in taking Aiden McGeady down that path, and Aiden happy enough to talk about it, but when the subject required a response, McIntyre missed the opportunity to open it up and instead shifted the direction to an ‘old firm’ issue.

Aiden McGaedy of Celtic trains at the club training ground ahead of their Champions league match against Shakhtar Donetsk November 27, 2007 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

As McGeady points out, other players chose to represent other countries and none received the levels of abuse he did – with perhaps the exception of James McCarthy who also chose the same route as McGeady. Now is that because players like Brian McLean and Scott Arfield weren’t viewed as being as talented as McGeady and McCarthy, or was it their down to their background and choosing that particular country to represent?

The chance to have that very debate was there, McGeady may even have been willing to go deeper still, but we’ll never know. Because, despite being willing to touch on the subject, Kenny McIntyre pulled back. I wonder how many other broadcasters, outside of Scotland, would have missed such an opportunity.

Niall J

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4 Comments

  1. Scotlabd had there chance but they have there bigots neil lennon scotland let him down so badly sent bullets and bombs attack in street on side of pitch and one punter says on live radio he asks for it and still kept his job for years bbc you dont see any cektic old bhoys in there sportscene programme like retirement home for ex rangers players yes all about racist but at ipox and away ground there fans sing anti catholic and anti irish songs every july orange order have there anti catholic walk where R.C.churches people been spat on and abused coming out police stand and allow it and make arrest kater when caught on camera this country there lawlords and some gov go easy on these marches drunkness distrubation to anybody going about there lives Its the KKK and Nazis in one and europe look on why walk through the city centre plenty of spare land about clyde would be nice

  2. Rabbie Burns on

    McGeady got his unwarranted abuse cos he was good & 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 fans wanted him tae play for us. Unjust and undeserved, but that was why. McGeady could’ve helped 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 with how poor we were out wide at the time.
    MJ needn’t worry, naebody cares!

    • Rabbie Burns on

      .. & McGeady actually chose 🇮🇪 cos he had a choice.
      MJ didn’t have a choice! 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 never wanted him.
      Talks nearly as gid a game as Jack Hendry!