Published on October 30, 2012 | by Abdi Moalim1
Football and the Poppy appeal
We’re a few days short of the time when Britain respects and honours the nation’s war dead.
The red poppy – symbol of the annual British Legion poppy appeal – will be visible everywhere in the run up to Remembrance Day on November 11.
Sport is no exception – in particular football, where stitched poppies adorn club shirts and are pinned on managers’ coats.
For the home nation teams wearing the poppy has been a delicate subject.
FIFA’s initial decision to uphold a ban on England wearing shirts embroidered with poppies received much press attention and criticism in the UK.
Their reasoning behind this was because “players’ equipment should not carry any political, religious or commercial messages.”
However, for the naysayers and critics of FIFA this underlined the perception of the organisation as anti-English, or even anti-England. The unsuccessful bid for the 2018 World Cup was still fresh in the memory.
Although the Football Association made it perfectly clear they did not want to be embroiled in a clash with their superiors, “Poppygate” – as it was known – needed intervention from Prince William, the FA President and Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron labelled the ban as “outrageous” and “absurd”, before FIFA reached a compromise at the third time of asking.
It was decided that poppies would be embroidered on the England team’s black armbands, for their friendly against Spain.
While clubs are free to choose whether or not they want to endorse the charity, being in the public spotlight means there is greater pressure to display a poppy than ever before. Increasing media interest is a direct consequence of that.
In 2009 the Daily Mail began a campaign to ensure every Premier League club did their bit for Remembrance Sunday and have a poppy emblem on their match-day shirts.
Within a fortnight, the paper hounded Manchester United and Liverpool – the two most decorated and storied clubs in English football, for failing to conform.
United defended their stance, believing it was not necessary: “We sell poppies around the ground and all our officials wear them and we work with armed forces charities in a lot of other ways throughout the year.”
But by choosing to name and shame, the Mail’s tactics succeeded.
The crusade over poppies in sport highlights the firm power of the press and its submissive readership, despite the growth of other forms of communication.
What is the motive for naming and shaming? Are these ethics really acceptable?
Wearing the poppy has always been a personal choice.
It should not be used to appease public relations, nor does not wearing one suggest that you do not, or cannot subscribe to the good cause.
The newsreader Jon Snow declines to wear the poppy when presenting the evening bulletins on Channel 4 and famously coined the phrase “poppy fascism” to describe the authoritarian nature of those in the public, being expected to have the emblem visible. He however chooses to wear one during Remembrance Day services.
Britain’s participation in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last decade, has seen a rise in people wearing poppies. Many insist the British Legion poppy symbolises the support of “our heroes” today, when in actual fact it stands for remembrance.
When England faced Sweden on November 10, 2001 it was only Jeff Powell of the Daily Mail who commented about the lack of poppies: “The poppy count was shamefully low at Old Trafford – all the more damning since this was a patriot game being played on Remembrance weekend while Her Majesty’s armed forces are risking life and limb to save the world from terrorism.”
The author never made a suggestion or questioned about the poppyless shirts however, perhaps because it was an uncommon feature of the English game. He instead turned his attention to the crowd of 64,413 watching the game.
This year it is expected that each participating team in the Premier League will again don shirts with poppies, given no club can afford the hysterical press baggage following them around.
Football, and sports clubs in general are extensively involved in the appeals. Since the 2010-11 season, all 20 Premier League clubs have worn poppies, with “quite a number” auctioning matchday shirts; proceeds of which given to the Royal British Legion.