BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
The current “Poppy Furore” surrounding the England-Scotland game at Wembley on Armistice Day 2016, (on the 11th of November, the day when Britain traditionally remembers its war dead) is farcical.
FIFA – the world governing body of football – deems political logos or messages on national football shirts to be against the spirit of the game, so the well-meaning gesture of putting a remembrance poppy image on a shirt for the upcoming match has been ruled out by them.
In the past this FIFA ruling has been bypassed – with FIFA permission – by the players wearing black armbands which sport a poppy image on them but this year even that is being prohibited by FIFA in spite of polite requests from the Home Nations to wear their poppies with pride. Separately, the Football Association of Wales says it is seeking approval for its players to wear the poppy symbol on their shirts when they play Serbia at the Cardiff City Stadium on the 12th of November.
The Chief Executive of the Scottish FA is clear on where Scotland and England stand on this issue. Stewart Regan claimed on Tuesday that, “English FA chief executive Martin Glenn and I will be meeting FIFA officials on Thursday to discuss the poppy issue. We will be asking for their support to try to give the people of England and Scotland what they want, that is to use this match of a way of remembering people who lost their lives in the war. I can understand why they (FIFA) are doing this, but (wearing a remembrance poppy) it is nothing more than a mark of respect. It is a personal choice. This is not about making some political point.”
The two FA Chief Execs have history on their side: the compromise of wearing a printed poppy on an armband was most recently negotiated for England’s 1-0 friendly win over Spain at Wembley on the 12th November, 2011.
Nonetheless, penalties suggested by FIFA – the dropping of qualifying points and the fining of the respective football associations should their players wear poppies – are a genuine threat.
So, why is this situation farcical and what should the respective Home Football Associations do about it?
The situation is farcical for three reasons:
First, FIFA has been possibly the most politically corrupt organisation on earth over the last thirty years and its tales of embezzlement, kickbacks and skulduggery have politicised the game globally like it has never been politicised in the past. How can FIFA complain about politicisation by poppies?
Second, FIFA is a mere pipsqueak organisation comprising of a bunch of ex footballers and cronies who are not fit to lick the boots of Britain’s fallen heroes. Our Great British ancestors, friends and relatives who laid their lives down in the name of our freedoms, trump the significance of FIFA apparatchiks and their dumb commands every day of the week.
Finally, who the hell are FIFA to tell us – a sovereign nation who happened to invent football – what to do anyway? Have they not learnt from the roar of the British Lion over Brexit, the growing international distrust of global and multinational enforcing entities? Look at the low crowd numbers attending many of FIFA’s World Cup Qualifiers, which are crammed together for maximum profit – people are sick and tired of greedy, self-serving, ineffective, parasitical, international bodies telling their sovereign nations what to wear, say and do.
The Home Nations should talk to FIFA on Thursday, yes. The conversation should be one-way. They should tell FIFA that their teams will be wearing poppies – as many damn poppies as they like. They will have their faces painted with poppies, boots emblazoned with poppies and their kit will be a sea of poppies whether FIFA likes it or not.
If FIFA object, then the Football Associations should meet the wishes of the overwhelming majority of fans; of the British people. They should let their players wear poppies for their upcoming matches and then take FIFA to court if a points or financial fine is imposed 1) to argue that poppies are not primarily a political but a familial gesture and 2) to argue that FIFA have absolutely no jurisdiction over how the British remember their war dead.
Look at the number of international players who wore black armbands to remember the dead of the Paris and Nice attacks, the Italian earthquake and other catastrophes. Just because these catastrophes were recent does not mean they qualify somehow more than Jutland, the Battle of Britain or the Somme. All events are to some degree political but, again, remembering the dead – one of the most compassionate human gestures of all – always trumps politics and only a fool would be so short-sighted as not to see this crystal-clear point.
FIFA – you are already a laughing stock. You do not need to prove you’re even more unfit for purpose than the world already knows you are.
Keep your dirty hands off our British poppies.
The Poppy Appeal is the Royal British Legion’s biggest fundraising campaign held every year in November, the period of Remembrance. To donate to the Royal British Legion appeal please click here.