Opinion: Time for football to take a step back with regards to poppies?

We've arrived at that time of year... a time when not wearing a simple flower, or not being given the opportunity to wear one, or feeling that you have to wear one, takes up more prominence than the act of remembrance that the poppy is supposed to symbolise.

Wednesday, 2nd November 2016, 6:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 3:51 pm
A poppy emblazoned armband adorns the England kit for their friendly with Spain in 2001

And sport, football in particular as the nation’s game and therefore a mirror to society, has again been sucked into what has become a now annual row that does no favours to the Royal British Legion and their hard work and dedication which often appears to be forgotten about.

This week FIFA turned down requests by the Football Association and the Scottish FA for their respective players to wear a poppy in the upcoming World Cup qualifier between England and Scotland at Wembley.

If either association had any sense they’d have just gone ahead and done it without permission and then suffered what would have been a financial rap on the knuckles from world football’s governing body.

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Surely they wouldn’t have docked both national teams qualification points, even if that had been mooted.

The chances are the FA and the Scottish FA would have been dealt some sort of financial punishment which would likely have been more than some countries’ associations or clubs have received for their fans hurling racist abuse at football games and the shame would have then fallen on FIFA themselves.

That’s a cynical view of course but the argument against FIFA’s notion that the poppy is a political symbol is not being helped by the fact that dozens of politicians, including the Prime Minister herself, are indeed seemingly attempting to score political points by banging on about it.

In essence the poppy isn’t political, stripped down it’s there for us to remember those who gave their lives in conflict for their country and for us. However, it appears of late to have been hijacked as a symbol of British nationalism, which again doesn’t help the great cause.

It’s not about being patriotic, it’s about paying respect and that is a word that is disappearing with regards to the subject, certainly if you look at some of the vitriolic abuse that flies around aimed at those who, for one reason or another, don’t wish to wear one.

‘Poppy fascism’ and shaming seems to get worse year on year with the slight rise of the right in Britain part of the reason for that.

The Royal British Legion may welcome the fact that their charitable appeal is getting more and more publicity, a lot of it very positive, and their means of fund-raising is now, thankfully, far beyond the old image of dutiful members standing in the cold selling poppies outside supermarkets.

However, the notion of quiet, personal remembrance has been taken away.

It doesn’t seem to be enough for us to buy a poppy or make a donation and reflect on those close to us, or otherwise. According to some, if you don’t wear one you are anti-British, or some sort of lefty traitor who should ‘**** off somewhere else, if you don’t like it.’

This attitude goes completely against what the poppy stands for; for the right to freedom, the right to choose.

Forcing people to get involved is counter-productive.

There will always be a major villain in the piece and West Brom winger James McClean remains that, with the Irishman the only player to ask not to have a poppy on his shirt. He has explained in the past his reasons why - born and raised in Londonderry, McClean’s home-city was the scene of Bloody Sunday where many residents died at the hands of the Army - and whether you agree with them or not, those people we are remembering fought for his right.

It is surprising that McClean is still the only one to take this stand, but he won’t be the only one - not just from an Irish background - uncomfortable with wearing a poppy and surely as time goes on, others will also stand up. Perhaps it is time for football to take a step back and simply make a donation through clubs or associations, have a minute’s silence and leave it at that.

Otherwise the game is in danger of fuelling potential division.