Martin Smith column: Not wearing a poppy on the football field is democracy in action

Republic of Ireland's Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Republic of Ireland's Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Football and war have a long and often difficult history, especially at this time of year and the issue of wearing the poppy.

No-one has to wear a poppy to respect and remember our war dead but on the other hand wearing one doesn’t imply support for the worst excesses of British military aggression.

The presence or absence of the poppy on a footballer’s or anyone else’s chest means what the individual wants it to mean.

That’s a bit difficult for some people to grasp.

Recently this conundrum has centred on Stoke City’s Irish international James McClean, who was drawn into an altercation with fans after the Stoke v Middlesbrough game.

He refuses to wear the poppy because to him it symbolises the British Army’s part in the troubles in Northern Ireland where he was born and grew up. 

Other Irish players choose to wear the poppy, perhaps to go with the flow or perhaps because they want to commemorate the 210,000 Irishmen who served in British forces during WW1. 

There was no conscription. 35,000 Irish died. 

Are we commemorating the sacrifice of pro-war patriots or those of all nationalities who joined up because it paid twice what they could earn as labourers?

For many joining the army meant enough to eat for the first time in their lives but their sacrifice is worth the same as the ‘officer class’ who actually died in greater proportion than the rank and file.

History is complicated and so is the present.

We all have a right and the hard-won freedom to decide how and what we commemorate and what that means to us.

It’s no-one else’s business.

*Inflamed opinion beating logic, anger shouting-down sense.

Surely not?

It has to be expected that fans will react in the heat of the moment to a 4-0 home defeat.

But does the haranguing of a young goalkeeper by certain sections and the chanting the name of another, injured goalkeeper help anyone?

Then there are the few who tackled the Owls chairman Dejphon Chansiri after the game. 

To his credit he tried to engage with them and, looking at the online video clip, got a little agitated in trying to argue his corner. 

The dozen or so fans responded as fans often do.

They increased the volume and swore a lot. 

After a 4-0 home defeat the chairman has to expect loud and unhappy fans.

What matters now is HIS reaction.