The annual debate over the right not to wear a poppy during Remembrance was sparked into life when FIFA said England and Scotland football teams could not wear shirts with embroidered poppies on. Former soldier Andrew Riley looks at the poppy and free choice.

You’d think as a veteran I’d be up in arms over people not wanting to wear a poppy. After all, my family have served in the Armed Forces for over four generations, serving in both World Wars, and myself in Iraq and Northern Ireland.

But no.

A poppy is a symbol of peace and the free speech that armed forces from the Commonwealth died protecting. To castigate someone whose conscience tells them not to wear one goes against everything those people fought for.

I myself have a poppy pin on pretty much every coat and jacket I own all year round but if a footballer, newsreader or man in the street wants to not wear one on his shirt, then so be it.

Would you stop someone in the street and ask them why they don’t have one on?

Of course not.

The row with FIFA over their claim that the poppy is a “political” symbol holds about as much water as a leaky colander.

The poppy did not began life as a political symbol but over the last 20 years it has certainly been hijacked by certain political elements for their own ends to promote patriotism and selling knock off poppies to profit from them.

By the same token, it has also been burnt in protest by other elements of society.


Germany has a very different approach to Armistice Day.

There the National Day of Mourning was established in 1922 and was initially dedicated to the victims of World War I. It too was hijacked for political purposes by the Nazi regime who turned it into a national holiday and redefined it as an occasion to celebrate their heroes and glorify war.

Since then the Volkstrauertag was moved to the second Sunday of the church year after World War II. Today it is an occasion not only to mourn the dead but also to illustrate the tragedy of war and speak out for peace.

Although they look upon it in a different way, for obvious reasons, perhaps we need to take a leaf out of their book.

Perhaps we should retire the poppy and use the day as a way of reflecting on conflicts, both past, present and future, without symbols.

I’m not suggesting for one minute that we should forget the sacrifices that are still being made today, but perhaps the poppy has become so divisive within our culture that perhaps we need to rethink the way we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

This can be the only reason why FIFA now see wearing one on November 11th by England and Scotland as less of an act of remembrance and more a political statement.


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