Back in 2009, Liverpool and Manchester United, among several other teams, refused to make their players wear the poppy on their shirts for remembrance weekend fixtures. British nationalist, conspiracy theorists and the likes of the Daily Mail promptly lost their s**t.
Quite right too, the sheer gumption of those idiot northerners not pinning poppies to their bare chests and painting Union Jacks on their faces. Who the bloody hell do they think they are?! As for that James McLean fellow, they should lock him up in The Tower of London, he’s probably conspiring with Martin McGuinness and this suspiciously lefty Pope to kidnap Prince George and brainwash him into a Gaelic rebel.
Seven years later and we’re back here again. Now it’s the pesky bureaucrats at FIFA trying to stop us wearing our poppies. Probably in conjunction with the corrupt eurocrats in Brussels who we magnificently freed ourselves from this summer. Not to worry though, our brave boys are going to defy FIFA’s poppy ban and wear them proudly for the fixture against Scotland. Then James Milner and Wayne Rooney will dig trenches for Marcus Rashford and Kyle Walker to fly spitfires overhead and drop bombs on the hallowed turf.
Seriously though? All the problems going on in the world right now and we’ve spent the last several years whining about wearing imitation flowers on their shirts. Since Britain’s economy started grinding to a grim halt in the recession its almost as if all the insecurities about British identity resurfaced. It’s a very thin façade.
Paul Scholes and Gary Neville weren’t big on singing the national anthem when turning out for England and their patriotism was questioned. Indeed, Wayne Rooney was the same until he was hysterically criticised for staying silent, then he vowed to go away and learn the words to one of the world’s dreariest and most ludicrous song because Paul Stretford told him to.
It wasn’t always like this. England didn’t wear poppies or armbands for a friendly against Sweden back in 2001, at Old Trafford. Nobody cared. Presumably because people were more sensible back in the days of economic growth and a government that was at least halfway competent. The remembrance on Armistice Day is supposed to be about quiet reflection. A time to sit and think on how and why we need to avoid ever ending up back in those horrible wars of the early twentieth century again and peacefully maintain our freedom and liberty.
Lessons though, have not been learned. Just as back in those times from 1919-1939, economic hardship pierces the bubble of security and lapses into jingoistic tubthumping, then worse.
Everything Britain roots its identity in; Empire and victory has gone, and so people retreat to xenophobic hysteria and football is inevitably dragged in, specifically in Britain’s biggest country. Those England players haven’t chosen to wear the poppies and armbands as a symbol of heroic defiance; they have been brainwashed and browbeaten into it without understanding anything about the matter. So, concerned about limiting the PR damage of tournament failures and safeguarding against accusations of being overpaid and the public paying their wages – a nonsensical argument for many reasons – they have discarded common sense and been roped into this poppy fascism.
No doubt a certain Mister Rooney will be leading the line, like a man going over the top of the trenches, beating his chest and kissing his poppy adorned black armband. For at least thirty minutes we’ll all forget what a terrible footballer he is these days and how he repeatedly cheated on his wife. A job well done for his agent.
Even Prime Minister Theresa May has gotten involved. Decrying FIFA’s unilateral stance on political and religious symbols as a disgrace. Funnily enough that was said within the same week as it was announced the country’s prison system is coming apart at the seams and the High Court ruling against the government about Brexit. Giving Parliament a say on invoking Article 50. She’s hasn’t been in the job long but she is determined to prove she can be every bit as horribly xenophobic as many in her party are.
It’s almost as if this ‘Poppygate’ nonsense is all a distraction. If you’re the Senegalese FIFA General Secretary, Samba Diouf Samoura, its an insulting distraction to essentially be told somebody else’s suffering counts for more when your country is still dealing with violent civil strife.
Whether football likes being roped into politics or not it has been. Unfortunately, the British establishment, attempting to stave off our attentions of Britain’s ever-diminishing status in the world, has turned wearing a poppy into some obligatory symbol of patriotism. So, our footballers need to demonstrate they understand something other than how much they like the material of Roy Chubby Brown. Players should make the choice individually and quietly whether to wear the poppy or not, otherwise it defeats the point of the symbol in the first place.