The current row between FIFA and England and Scotland (both countries, it seems and not the respective FAs) over whether players can wear poppies when the two teams meet on Armistice Day seems to me to be an insoluble one and a wholly unnecessary one too, a huge and, frankly, unforgivable distraction to a day on which we remember the war dead. I just wish it hadn’t happened.
Let’s be clear about one thing: FIFA bans “political and religious statements” on team strips. I cannot for the life of me see what is political about the poppy. Some people, I know, in Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular do see something political about the poppy. I don’t agree with them. We do not celebrate any political party or individual war at Remembrance parades and services. It is all about those who have lost their lives in conflict.
Some argue that if British teams can wear the poppy, then other nations might wish to follow suit over very different matters. How about the Argentines, perhaps, honouring those who died in the Falklands War, or the Malvinas as they would call it, wearing Malvinas symbols on their shirts? They might say that they were not politicising the war: just honouring the dead. I don’t buy that, either, because our commemoration is not about individual wars and conflicts: it is about those who perished in all wars and conflicts. There are no wild or even mild celebrations. Young men died, for goodness sake. It’s more serious than that.
The FA has been knocked back in its efforts to get the FIFA top brass to change their minds and now all hell has been let loose. Led by the Sun, the paper that supports our boys when it isn’t telling filthy black lies to the rest of us, and now backed by the populist prime minister Theresa May, never one to pass up the chance of a favourable headline, the ante has been well and truly upped. There is a palpable feeling of anger, especially on social networks.
There will now be calls for players to ignore the FIFA ruling and wear poppies anyway. There will be calls for supporters to wear poppies to the game and, I suspect, for Wembley to carry out a mass poppy drop before, during or after the game. There will be calls for England and Scotland to leave FIFA forthwith. I hope clear heads and wise counsel will soon come to the fore.
Above everything else, especially a football match between two of the more mediocre teams in world football, can we not – please – remember what Remembrance Day is for? Because of the heroic effort of those who fought for this country, I have the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a poppy. I choose to buy and, when I remember, wear one because I believe in everything the British Legion stands for and, more than that, I mourn those who made my freedom possible.
The escalating row about FIFA’s ill thought out decision should not overshadow the real meaning of Remembrance. I do not want a rag like the Sun stoking up the people’s anger or a politician scoring cheap political points.
If FIFA’s decision is wrong – and I believe it is – then let us use all our positive energy to attend services, wear poppies and support the British Legion in all the work they do.
Football is, in no way, a matter of life and death. Wars always are. The numpties of FIFA have got it wrong yet again, but my message for Theresa May and the rest of the politicians is simple. It is because of people like her that the British Legion exists, a magnificent charity carrying out vital work which politicians of all colours do not deem worthy of support through our taxes.
That, Mrs May, is “utterly outrageous”.