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The Poppy World Cup Qualifier: England v Scotland

England faces Scotland at Wembley in a World Cup football qualifier on Armistice Day November 11th 2016. Both teams wish to wear the poppy symbol as an act of remembrance, but face the wrath of FIFA sanctions if they do. The World governing body of football stipulates that no international team may wear any sign of political, religious or commercial affiliation, which they deem inappropriate. Alas, FIFA have once again in my opinion, shown how totally out of touch they really are with the game at ground level. Perhaps if they got out of their ivory towers, seen things as they really are in the sport and learned a little history they would get on a lot better.

I am totally in favour of both teams wearing the poppy symbol, especially with the game falling on the actual date when the guns of WW1 fell silent. It is particularly poignant when you consider the hostility between England and Scotland goes back centuries, when men fought on battlefields in the name of an English King, a Clan leader or a Young Pretender to the throne. Two nations shaped by their shared history through war, intertwined by a strange mix of inherent animosity and togetherness. What better way to honour the fallen of battle from both nations than by wearing the communal symbol of remembrance.

I’m aware that some people are of the opinion the poppy has become a political symbol which advocates support for interventions around the world. I don’t share that view, because if you think about it, war in general has been perpetuated throughout the ages by political manoeuvrings. Therefore you could say that ANY war or conflict is politically motivated and unjustified, not just the battles you disagree with. To me wearing a poppy shows a small sign of solidarity with all those who gave their lives in conflict situations, believing “ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die”.

The poppy became a symbol of remembrance in the UK shortly after the end of World War One, representing the poppy fields of Europe and the bloodshed spilt by the flowers of a whole generation. On the first Christmas Day of the war in 1914, a number of football matches broke out in several places along No Man’s Land in France. Warily laying down their weapons, soldiers from both warring factions came together to share small gifts and play improvised games of football. Peace on that 1914 Christmas morning was briefly restored, as the British and Germans celebrated a shared Christian faith and spoke the universal language of sport, and football was the most fluently spoken language between the two sides. Football gave the men a shared understanding, a reminder of their humanity and a brief sense of peace and camaraderie.    Hostilities resumed the day after and continued for four long hard years, orchestrated by military chiefs far away from the front lines. But on December 25th 1914 the foot soldiers took matters into their own hands and shed a light on what can be so good in sport. Thinking of those historical and unprecedented football matches makes it seem even more relevant that England and Scotland should wear their poppies with pride.

FIFA have not always been consistent in their edicts on the laws of football. In March 2016 a friendly match took place between the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland, where the home team displayed an overtly obvious “political” reference to the Easter Uprising of 1916. And FIFA did allow England to wear a black armband with a poppy logo on it for a November friendly match in 2011. But the match next week is a World Cup Qualifier which puts a different slant on the situation, and I guess they are trying to ensure every team conforms in the same way! But giving out mixed messages over the years does not help FIFA’s argument. Neither does the rather pompous comment made by the FIFA general secretary Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura “they are not the only countries affected by war”. That is not what the FA or SFA are saying at all, just that they would like to show a mutual mark of respect for a shared national remembrance day. If either England or Scotland had been playing Germany, I may have at least understood FIFA’s discomfort with the situation a little more.

FIFA should lead by example before riding rough shod over member nations with their interpretation of what political, religious and commercial neutrality actually means. Let FIFA be seen to conduct itself in a transparent and neutral manner, and show it has its own house in order first. But FIFA has shown itself to be a seeker of massive commercial advantages by awarding a World Cup to Qatar, a nation awash with cash but with no real football heritage. The decision can be interpreted as being religious and politically motivated as well. The successful Russia World Cup bid isn’t much better, though the nation is not as financially viable as the Middle East option. The rumblings of an “extended World Cup” that would allow more nations to take part in a qualifying round of the tournament, smacks of fleecing the average football fan out of their hard earned cash.  To me that idea is a purely commercial initiative to fill the FIFA coffers even more than they already are. And I haven’t even touched on the corruption charges meted out to several high ranking FIFA officials.

It seems that the Football Association and Scottish Football Association are agreed that they will defy the FIFA ruling, and wear a poppy symbol for the match. In a world where political correctness has gone mad, thank goodness some common sense prevails between my two home nations.

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