Simon Kelner: It's Remembrance Day, not Mandatory Poppy Day
Thursday 10 November 2011
L ast Saturday I attended a Premiership football match, before which the crowd was asked to observe a minute's silence in remembrance of British soldiers who died in wars. The silence was impeccably observed and of course it is right and proper to direct large groups of people into a moment's reflection about life, loss and sacrifice. But I couldn't help feeling that this ritual, held eight days before Remembrance Sunday, was just a little premature. Also, I can't remember football clubs – even in the relatively recent past – having a minute's silence unless they were actually playing on Remembrance Sunday. The problem is that no one wants to be caught out these days: any suggestion that an organisation or individual is not showing the requisite amount of support for our fallen soldiers is turned into a national scandal. Better to do too much too early, than too little too late.
The same is true of wearing a poppy. People in public life – newsreaders, for instance – have, it seems, no choice in the matter for fear of provoking outrage. Remember last year's commotion when Channel 4's Jon Snow refused to wear one. And now we have Fifa, football's governing body, cast as the villains in the FA's successful battle for the English team to be able to wear a poppy during Saturday's game against Spain.
It is easy to feel outraged at Fifa's reluctance to sanction this: after all, who is it hurting? And you can't blame some of England's footballers for playing the populist tune. Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal midfielder, tweeted: "England team should wear poppies on Saturday. Its the nations [sic] tradition and it would be disrespectful not to."
Where young Mr Wilshere is wrong is that it has never been tradition for footballers to wear poppies on their shirts: it is a very recent development.
And one of the freedoms our soldiers fought for all those years ago is the freedom to do as we choose and not be dictated to by a superior power.
Clearly, Fifa has been characteristically heavy-handed and insensitive in their handling of the situation.
But surely, if it came down to it, it should be left up to individual players whether they want to wear a shirt with a poppy or not. And would it be too much to hope that anyone who didn't wear one would find their wishes respected? Of course it would, in a modern world that tends towards hysteria.
I don't usually wear a poppy, but does it mean that I, to borrow Jack Wilshere's word, am disrespectful?
I hope not, because I contribute to the Royal British Legion when I see a collection and I believe I have just as high a regard for our armed forces as a poppy-wearer. After all, a time for reflection should be just that: a private, very personal moment in which we retreat into our own thoughts.
Best to remember that.
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