When asked by a good friend last week in the pub on Bonfire Night [a celebration of the execution of those involved in a Papist plot to assassinate the King of England some 400 years ago], about my views on
FIFA’s decision to ban the Poppy from the England football team’s shirts at this weekend’s friendly, at Wembley against Spain, I said I felt it was probably the right decision. I based this on the simple logic that national kits should be free from any advertising commercial or otherwise, and free from all political symbols. That is not to say that I regard the Poppy as a political symbol or indeed advertising. It is a tradition in Britain and one which I am personally very proud of.
However, I have thought further on this issue and have come up with two ideas – one radical and one not so radical.
The national football team have, I believe, become toxic. The attitude of some players on and off the pitch has often not been a good example of sporting endeavour and gentlemanly behaviour. The Football Association have
become increasingly marginalised as a result of self induced incompetence and a vicious and sustained attack on the part of the Premier League in order to further increase the power of the latter within the game. Both team and Association have lost the respect of the fans and the nation in general, I would argue.
This island union made up of its component nations fought the evil of fascism in order to preserve its independence and freedom. That was the Second World War. Ironically the Poppy was introduced after the Great War (latterly known as the First World War) which was far from a struggle against the evil of fascism and far more about the nations of Europe fighting over territory as they had done for a thousand years previously. Colloquially, it was a fuck up of enormous proportions by the ruling elite of Europe, but let’s not go there! The tradition of wearing a red Poppy to commemorate Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday is established and it is the democratic right of anyone to have the choice as top whether they wear one or not.
Back to football. If the FA had any gumption, it would offer each member of the England football team the choice as to whether they wanted to wear a Poppy or not, no matter what FIFA say. Indeed, in 1936 to the eternal shame of the FA the England football team were ordered to salute Mr Hitler with the now infamous right arm raised at 45 degrees towards the Nazi leader when England played a friendly against Germany in Berlin. At the time, this was considered polite but with 20/20 hindsight it was perhaps not
exactly right and proper. If the match had been played at Wembley, would the German FA have ordered the German team to wave politely at Mr Hitler issued ‘three cheers for a jolly good fellow’? I think not.
If the referee at Wembley refused to referee the match, then provided the Spanish agreed to play the game, it could go ahead without match officials. This would be a significant and seismic gesture and would directly challenge the authority of FIFA, an organisation that has consistently made its own rules up and pursued rampant commercial ideals ‘for the good of the game’. FIFA are self appointed and self regulated. They answer to no one and thus behave as a Totalitarian organisation. They are also headquartered in Switzerland, a nation that stayed neutral in all wars whilst acting as bankers to all regimes, including the Nazis. If the players and FA defied this rule, and if Spain stood shoulder to shoulder alongside them would send a message into the heart of FIFA that even Sepp Blatter could not ignore. All the paying fans in the stadium plus all those watching on TV and via the Internet would react in a positive way and it would be history in the making. We already know that the German FA have sent messages of support to the English FA such is their despair at the power of FIFA.
Alternatively and perhaps realistically, the FA have to ‘play the game’ and tread a diplomatic course. So they should continue to negotiate and lobby for the right to wear the Poppy. They should also diplomatically defy FIFA, perhaps insist
FIFA officials wear poppies, and should appeal to the players to donate theirmatch fee to the Poppy Appeal and all the match ticket proceeds also. This would be a step in the process of repairing the faith and the connection between the
exponents and custodians of our national game with those who support it. New Wembley needs a hand in the tradition stakes, how better than to be the site of 21st century peaceful defiance in the face of a totalitarian regime, indeed it could be the corner of some [foreign] field that will forever be England.
Either way, we all need to stand up to FIFA. After all when Mr Blatter eventually slips his mortal coil, I am sure FIFA will order the wearing of black armbands as a mark of respect to him at every international match on or around that day.