The FA’s Remembrance crusade was pure poppycock

Even Blatter's most ardent detractors concede that this FA crusade was churlish, writes Richard Buxton

Richard Buxton
By Richard Buxton
remembrance poppy
England players will wear black armbands displaying poppies on Saturday Photo: comedy_nose, via Flickr

remembrance poppy

Normally, the Football Association forcing Fifa to compromise would be hailed as a success.

Prompting the game’s leglislators to climb down from their trademark, hypocritical preaching against “jeopardising the neutrality of football” should be a cause for global celebration.

But even Sepp Blatter’s most ardent detractors concede that this FA crusade was churlish.

Allowing England to sport poppies on their shirts for Saturday’s friendly with Spain, albeit on black armbands, has posed several questions, the most resounding of which is ‘why now?’

Little over two years ago, the game allowed itself to become privy to a new breed of national hysteria, which painted any club not wearing a poppy as being disrespectful to the cause.

Most clubs agreed but Manchester United and Liverpool were vilified for refusing to conform with their domestic peers, despite planning their own marks of respect at games.

All clubs now wear a poppy on their shirts in games closest to the anniversary, while those who stray, even in innocent circumstances, are widely castigated.

Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers was grilled after some of his players emerged for the second half of their game with Liverpool in shirts without the now mandatory poppies.

Some argue, validly, that the poppy should not be worn due to one of its founders, General Douglas Haig, recklessly sending to countless men their deaths at the Battle of the Somme.

At least five professional footballers lost their lives in Northern France, which has further blurred the lines in the debate on whether or not to sport the emblem in the game.

Yet England have regularly played close to Rembrance Day, notably twice in games either side of the anniversary itself, and the event has rarely, if at all, been commemorated.

Indeed, on home soil there was no embroided poppy, nor a black armband to which to be affixed, when England took on Sweden at Old Trafford precisely a decade ago today.

But far be it for the FA to follow their Zurich counterparts in the hypocrisy stakes, with some sections England fans regularly chanting ‘Ten German Bombers’ in their own, inimitable brand of jingoism.

Their true motives on this matter have been questioned, with theories of retribution for England’s failed 2018 World Cup bid to a smokescreen for the John Terry racism row mooted.

Britain’s war dead will never be forgotten but the continual urgency for the cause to be devalued is a bid to appease perennially morally outraged Little Englanders.

As questionable as some of their motives are, Fifa make and enforce rules within the game for a purpose and that is to ensure, as their statement said, the neutrality of football.

The desk thumping and letter writing undertaken by those within the FA’s Wembley headquarters and across the country’s corridors of power has undermined their authority.

Had Blatter et al maintained their unceremonious yet correct stance, the door would not now, to borrow from said statement, be open to similar initiatives from all over the world.

They crumbled to lobbying from Parliament’s front benches, Clarence House and, in the case of two members from English Defence League, the roof of their own headquarters.

In comprimising, Fifa have fallen victim to what can only be described as poppy fascism.

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