There’s been a bit of furor over the past couple of days about FIFA’s decision to uphold a law which prohibits football teams from wearing political symbols which may affect football’s neutrality. Ergo: The England team can’t wear the poppy symbol on their shirts during their friendly match with Spain on Saturday.
What a kerfuffle.
The question shouldn’t be about whether the England team should be allowed to wear a poppy, but: Why are we playing a friendly game of football at a time of national mourning?
I wear a poppy. In fact, I’m on my fourth one this week as three have already fallen off. (Can someone please invent one that doesn’t disintegrate after three minutes?)
I wear it to remember all the people who have died during wars. On all sides.
I’m not condoning some of the wars that have, and still are, being fought.
Moreover, I feel sorry for the men and women who have died needlessly at the whims of politicians and monarchies in conflicts that are not about defence or freedom but about oil and greed.
Unfortunately, my reason for wearing it, isn’t necessarily the ‘official’ reason people wear it.
A lot of people in Britain and Commonwealth countries wear it to remember their war dead. Not everyone.
In some countries the Poppy is seen as a symbol British Imperialism.
Would the Poppy’s symbolism differ if the match was against Germany rather than Spain? How would the people of Germany feel? Would it incite national pride on both sides? Is it conducive to bonhomie? I rather doubt it.
Would it open the door for other countries to follow suit?
Argentina wearing a symbol to commemorate their war dead in the Falklands conflict.
Israel wearing a symbol which commemorates the holocaust victims.
The French wearing one for Waterloo. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
America wearing one for Independence Day.
It would go on and on.
But it’s an act of remembrance, not a celebration of victory.
So let’s go way back to find out why we wear one in the first place.
In Greek and Roman times the poppy symbolized… okay, not that far back.
American, Moira Michael is accredited with first wearing the poppy ‘In memory of our war dead’ in 1918.
It wasn’t until 11th November 1921 that the first Legion Poppy Appeal was launched to raise money for the victims and families of war. (Something which I feel the government should be doing.)
It’s not just an act of remembrance, but a fund raiser.
By wearing the poppy symbol, are the England football team raising money for the British Legion? I don’t know. Are they donating a huge some of money to the British Legion for the privilege of wearing it?
FIFA have said they can wear it on their tracky tops and on billboards around the stadium. (I’m not really sure what the difference is if you can wear it on your trackies but not your shirt.) You either can, or can’t, wear it.
Ultimately, it is about choice.
Some people choose to buy and wear one. Some people choose just to donate some money. Others do neither.
I used to wear one when I lived in Ireland. Some people took offence while others asked where they could buy one. I certainly didn’t wear it to offend.
A lot of Irish people died during the First World War. (Which is why I think they were offended. i.e. Conscription.) It was also at a very politically sensitive time as the 1916 Uprising took place in Dublin and the instigators subsequently executed by the British army.
When I went to the Somme, (not in 1916 you understand), I was sick to my stomach to see field after field of tens of thousands of white stone gravestones.
There is one monument in Arras that has around 70,000 names inscribed upon it. And they are just the names of the men they couldn’t find body parts of.
They had been disintegrated by shells.
For me, the poppy is an act of remembrance, not to rub someone’s nose in it.
I think the football team should wear the poppy on Saturday, and as directed by FIFA, the officials will abandon the game. Which is only proper as it is a time of remembrance and national mourning, not for playing a stupid friendly game of football.
Near Albert, in Northern France, there is a crater about 100 feet across and 30 feet deep where allies tunneled under the German lines, planted explosives and blew up part of their front line trenches.
I climbed down into the crater and down at the bottom were several poppies. I picked one up and it read: Gott Mit Uns.
Which, in German, means: God with us.
Perhaps it is time for an International Symbol to commemorate all the victims of war.
On that note, let’s have a look at the poem by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872 – 1918).
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.