The risk attached to arguing for the right to wear a poppy is being lumped in with those who consider the so-called refuseniks a subhuman species.
Fifa has told the Football Association that England’s players are not entitled to do so when they play Scotland next Friday, which is a red rag to those who consider it an act of treachery not to wear one. Certain newspapers are at the vanguard, of course, and their world is a loud world full of capital letters. ‘West Brom’s James McClean REFUSES to wear poppy on his shirt’, the Daily Express told us a year ago. ‘West Brom’s James McClean AGAIN refuses to wear Remembrance Day poppy’ the Daily Mirror told us three days ago, the new capitalised word being an attempt to shift on what is becoming an annual form of torture.
The poppy police are, of course, noxious and self-righteous, with their demands that every newsreader wears one. So, too, are the newspapers which ram the poppy at us. But their mindless coercion is so all-pervasive that the right to wear one struggles to be heard. Let it speak its name, though, because the apparent ban is ludicrous - the more so from an organisation that has the least entitlement on earth to preach about appropriate conduct.
Fifa’s objection to the poppy is that to wear one constitutes ‘a political statement.’ So who, among the 90,000 or so who will gather at Wembley to see the two British nations play would agree with that. A handful, at a guess.
And even if more than that were offended, then, frankly, so what? It might sound illiberal to say such a thing but, to draw on the words of libertarian writer Claire Fox, the term ‘I find that offensive’ is corroding every conceivable aspect of public life. Any gesture seems enough to cause offence in a land where we seem to go looking for it. Fox, formidable head of the Institute of Ideas, has written a book on this subject. ‘Generation Snowflake’ is the term by which the sensitive types have come to be known.
For me, the right to wear the poppy has nothing to do with a sense of national pride; nor even with principles of freedom which those who went before us have fought for. It is a token with which to remember two individuals who left a vivid impression when I met them, amidst the darkest days of their grieving for husbands lost in conflict.
Alison Masters’ husband, Captain Ken Masters, took his own life in Iraq on Saturday 15 October, 2005, when his monumental workload as the officer commanding the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police overwhelmed him. Samantha Roberts’ husband, Sgt Steven Roberts, died just after dawn on 24 March 2003 because of the army’s inexcusable failure to equip him with body armour.
Alison and Samantha were not doing Tony Blair’s bidding. Both fought to highlight iniquities faced by serving officers and their dependents. What divine right does anyone have to declare that a quiet act of solidarity with them, and others like them, constitutes a ‘political statement’?
The FA is seeking clarification from Fifa, having been given an indication that breaching a rule forbidding the wearing of “political, religious or personal slogans” may mean Gareth Southgate’s team being docked World Cup qualification points. In a sense, the governing body only has itself to blame, having proposed this very rule two years ago. The likely solution will be the use of armbands with the poppy motif.
Football is in fact a simple game, messed up by bureaucrats, so those who seek to impose where they are not needed should perhaps listen to what West Brom’s McClean has to say on the subject. "I have no issue with people that do wear the poppy – I absolutely respect their right to do that,” he said last year. "But I would hope that people respect my right to have a different opinion on it too."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies