A former Portadown Football Club captain, appointed manager at Oldham, has spoken out to reject fans’ claims he is “an IRA supporter”.
Darren Kelly, who took the reins of the League One side this week, was berated on social media for a Twitter comment referring to Martin McGuinness as a “legend”.
Some angry fans, including ex-servicemen, vented their anger, leading the club’s owner to offer a full refund to any season ticket-holders unhappy with the appointment.
The controversy began when Mr Kelly used Twitter to thank the deputy first minister for sending him a photograph of his mum, Peggy Kelly, taken at a Bloody Sunday commemoration. In the online exchange that followed, the manager used the “legend” term that caused the outrage.
The former Irish Cup winner has told the News Letter - part of Johnston Press along with the Portadown Times - he wants to put the record straight, saying he respects the former IRA commander for his leading role in the peace process – not for his actions during the Troubles.
“I’m not political. The only thing I want in Northern Ireland is peace. Martin McGuinness is about bringing peace to Northern Ireland. My admiration for Martin McGuinness is for his work in the peace process,” he said.
One fan, an ex-serviceman, told the Oldham Chronicle: “I will not support a club whose manager describes a terrorist as ‘a legend’.”
The fan also said: “In a town like Oldham, with so many people who have served in the Armed Forces, many in Northern Ireland, this is a step too far.
“I know there has been a peace process but this is another kick in the face after the Ched Evans affair. Did the club know these comments on Twitter even existed? They have alienated another section of their ever-dwindling fanbase and, frankly, it’s disgusting.”
Some disgruntled fans have set up a group page on Facebook titled ‘Sack IRA supporting Darren Kelly as Oldham Athletic manager’.
However, Mr Kelly, who has since deleted his Twitter account, said the affair has been “blown out of proportion”.
He said: “There is nothing in it whatsoever. In terms of the tweet, there is nothing political in it at all. I am a family man...that is what my life is about and I have no political views.
“I understand if people are concerned, but there is nothing in that [comment].”
Mr Kelly, whose uncle Michael Kelly was one of those shot dead by paratroopers on January 30, 1972, added: “People who know what I’m about know that there is absolutely nothing sinister or violent or whatever in my body.
“I just want to be judged on results. I left Northern Ireland a long time ago...for this to come out the way it did is absolute nonsense.”
Club owner Mr Corney went on to say: “I’ve heard about it, we’re all aware of it and Darren’s views are Darren’s views. He explained them to us and we were satisfied with what he said.
“Darren is a thorough gentleman, he’s a good guy, but as we’ve seen before, when you’re at a football club you go under the microscope.
“I can see why people may have one or two concerns, but he’ll give the fans the rationale behind everything. He won’t shy away from anything, and that’s a good quality to have.”