England poppy row: lest we forget remembrance is only the half of it

Granted it’s a macabre request but imagine for a moment being present at a funeral, sitting there respectfully, maybe hoping the guy next to you spends his spare evenings singing in choirs so he can drown out your tuneless warbling through the next hymn.

From nowhere fighting breaks out all around you: disruptive loud disagreements where insults are hurled and violence threatened.

Bemused and offended in equal measure you collar one of the main agitators and ask what on earth he thinks he’s playing at.

“There are some here not wearing a black tie. It’s outrageous! Others have turned up in black sports jackets for f***s sake. Like they couldn’t borrow a suit for the occasion? It’s disrespectful I tell you and they should f*** off back to their lentils and rice.”

His face is puce with rage.

Not that the anger is solely emanating from those donning dark neckwear and purchased suits; the opposing group – for the church has surreally now become divided into two warring factions – are just as belligerent, shouting across the aisles containing the deceased’s horrified family, about their rights and ‘democracy’.

Utterly perplexed you seek the sanctuary of fresh air and wonder how it came to this when everyone shared the same objective: to honour the dead. Instead the very opposite was achieved.

This week the Prime Minister described FIFA’s refusal to allow England and Scotland players to wear armbands featuring poppies as ‘utterly outrageous’. With one eye on strengthening her Brexit credentials, she then railed against a foreign body ‘telling us what to do’.

The Daily Mail waded into the row as only they can with a front page that screamed ‘Poppy war!’ which remained their most offensive and mind-bogglingly stupid headline for the sum total of 24 hours.

Many figures within the game meanwhile – including Arsenal legend Ian Wright – gave prominence to a rather classy meme featuring a middle finger being brandished among a field of poppies beneath the words ‘F*** FIFA’.

Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City - Premier League

Yet again the beleaguered poppy – a symbol for peace and quiet grateful remembrance – had been hijacked by a political agenda, a manipulative media, and those easily given to bellicose hysteria. Yet again the very reason for its existence was trampled upon amidst the fury.

At least this latest annual row gave us a respite from James McClean receiving hateful rhetoric for supposedly not commemorating peace. At least it slightly diminished the amount of Facebook posts demanding that fascist ideals be inflicted on anyone who chooses not to publicly acknowledge appreciation to those who defeated fascism.

At this juncture it would usually be beholden on me to state my own opinion on the matter, but I categorically won’t. Because that would completely undermine my central point: that there has been enough stances taken, enough opinions aired, enough hate and arguments, enough division surrounding a date designated to promote unity.

Last Wednesday the FA confirmed they planned to defy FIFA’s wishes and have their players wear armbands at Wembley on November 11th. Whether you view that as a victory or otherwise it has become an issue that has overshadowed its solemn, commendable intention. The very fact that it will be viewed as a victory or otherwise at all speaks volumes at a time intended for quiet introspection.

Isn’t it time we stopped this now, the yearly outrage and the moral piety, manufactured or genuine. Isn’t it time we showed a little dignity? Because wherever you choose to commemorate the millions of men and women who have given their lives for our freedom and democracy – whether it be at a cenotaph, Wembley stadium or in your own front room – it is surely about far more than the two minutes put aside for silence; it’s about how we act the rest of the time too.

 


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