James Lawton: Fifa should not have caved in. The U-turn is complete poppycock

This is a rough kind of social vigilantism. This is to be told how to think and how to act

Just when it seemed they were right, they got it wrong. But then we are talking about Fifa, buckling last night under a populist yelp from Downing Street.

When David Cameron weighed in, the world game's governing body found itself unable to resist a shrill campaign to have every man, woman and child – including the footballers of England who meet Spain at Wembley on Saturday – wearing poppies this Remembrance weekend.

It was not, of course, the wearing of the poppies that was anyone's problem.

This, after all, is a time-honoured mark of respect for the fallen of two world wars and if a young star footballer like Jack Wilshere, who reminds us of the combination of his thrilling talent and extreme youth by pointing out that his great-grandfather fought in the Second World War, thinks it is a good idea, so much the better, However, this is not quite the same as being told that we must wear a poppy – and that our national football team should have poppies woven into their shirts. No, this is a rough kind of social vigilantism. This is to be told how to think, how to act, and the need was for it to be tossed into the nearest rubbish bin.

The inherent hysteria of the campaign to have Fifa scrap its prohibition on any kind of invasion of the "neutrality of football" was exposed utterly in the statement of the Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson.

Robertson said: "We fully understand and respect Fifa's rules on its member nations not adorning their shirts with commercial, political or religious symbols or messages. However, the British public feels very strongly about this issue which is seen as an act of natural remembrance. It is not religious or political in any way. Wearing a poppy is a display of national pride, just like wearing your country's football shirt."

Fine, but then what happens when another nation, with its own idea of what constitutes righteous national pride, decides it feels strongly about a certain issue, and the thing it wants to commemorate is for a jaundiced neighbour the recalling of some shameful political or military horror? We don't have the time to go through all the potential examples of what can happen when an unflawed policy such as Fifa's is compromised by one overwrought load of special pleading.

As Fifa at first pointed out, those who wanted to recognise the war dead, who had a need for some of Remembrance Sunday to be enacted on the football Saturday night, had that chance in a minute's silence before the start of the Wembley game.

But according to the campaign which we are told has "caught the mood of the nation" – and presumably this provoked the Prime Minister's intervention – this was not nearly good enough. The poppy must be worn if the nation was not to fail its heroes and heroines.

"Let us Honour our Heroes," says the campaign which also picks out prominently the tweet of Wilshere: "England team should wear poppies on Saturday. It's the national tradition and it would be disrespectful not to. My Great Grandad fought for this country in WW2 and I'm sure a lot of people's grandparents did so. ENGLISHANDPROUD - WearThePoppy."

Yes, of course, Jack is right but here's a remarkable thing. When the fighting was over and the survivors came home and the football grounds were filled to the rafters by men in demob suits there wasn't a whole lot of talk about remembering the war – or wearing poppies.

Maybe it was assumed that they had fought for a society which would always recognise sacrifice, always remember the values that made the nation's life – and that their greatest victory was over anyone who might want to tell us how to feel and how to think.

No poppy, no fuss: England in November

England have played nine matches in November since 2000 without wearing poppies, and with no fuss...

17 November 2010 v France, home, lost 2-1

14 November 2009 v Brazil, (in Doha, Qatar), lost 1-0

19 November 2008 v Germany, away, won 2-1

16 November 2007 v Austria, away, won 1-0

15 November 2006 v Netherlands, away, 1-1

12 November 2005 v Argentina, (in Geneva, Switzerland), won 3-2

17 November 2004 v Spain, away, lost 1-0

16 November 2003 v Denmark, home, lost 3-2

10 November 2001 v Sweden, home, 1-1

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee