IF YOU grew up in Britain in the 60s, 70s and long before, Poppy Day represented a calendar event that was part of the establishment. Along with The Lord’s Prayer, the National Anthem, Christmas Carols and Easter Eggs, they were points in the year when you demonstrated respect and due reverence to time honoured traditions. There was nothing especially political in any of this – you became accustomed to these things almost parrot fashion, rarely questioning any of the validity or preference.
Many of these touch points have become outdated or neutralised by political correctness and fear of offending minority groups or they have been corrupted by commercial opportunism. But some have lived on and have assumed a different type of importance.
Remembrance Day has certainly become a commercial venture for and in some cases, perhaps more disconcerting, right-wing politics have crept into the simple act of wearing a paper flower that represents the fallen soldiers in two world wars and beyond.
At the core of poppy day is the deep respect to the people that have died in conflict, and the majority of people in Britain will still nod their head at such a gesture. It is neither political, nationalistic or tarnished by hidden agendas. It is a collective laying of flowers on the grave of the unknown, and sometimes known, soldier.
FIFA’s outrageous decree that England and Scotland’s football teams should not enter into this annual commemoration is a severe underestimation of the importance of poppies in the United Kingdom. No other nation across Europe endorses charity like the British, although I do question whether the spirit of “remembrance” exists as strongly as social media would suggest. I have witnessed, first hand, total ignorance among people in public places to the minute’s silence in London, and contrary to the view of certain segments of the media, these have been [seemingly] British.
But football has always had a close link with the armed forces – witness recruitment drives in WW1 – and when it comes to recognising the military, crowds are generally far more receptive than they are for other calls on their participation. FIFA’ s bullying will not go down well with football fans from England and Scotland. It is ill-timed, inappropriate, disrespectful and just downright poor form. For an organisation that is clearly in such disarray, with its moral compass so badly broken, it is just another example of a body that just does not understand its members.
There remains one question that could explain FIFA’s reaction. Is it in any way linked to the growing concerns about the rise of right-wing sentiment across the continent? All over Europe, protectionism is in the ascendancy and politics are swinging away from the centre. France and Austria are both seeing a rise in xenophobia
and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland is making the wrong kind of noises. Poppies are certainly not right-wing symbols, but neither is the cross of St. George, but both have been used to emphasise a kind of nationalism that suggests “you’re either with me, or against me.” Has FIFA seen this and tried to distance itself from it by banning the poppy? I am not sure they have such an insight.
Wembley will be packed with poppy wearers and rightly so. We should not be afraid to maintain a tradition that dates back decades. But we should also be clear – remembrance is not about politics, but about showing respect for past generations whose passing ensured we do not easily tip-toe into global conflict again. We should all be grateful for that – including the misguided suits at FIFA, who incidentally are headquartered in a country that was neutral in the last war.