There’s nothing dignified about poppy spat

LP Columnist Barry Freeman
LP Columnist Barry Freeman
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One year, when you were very young, a poppy appeared on your parka.

You looked around, saw everyone wearing one, few questions asked, answered, that was that.

We largely learned about the world wars without being taught. The people who came through both were all around.

They were your family, and you bought a poppy to help their friends, your grandad or uncle or great-grandad’s friends, who got hurt, or the families of friends who never came home. The idea of it being respected or disrespected never entered our vocabulary. It was beyond such pettiness, a fact of life occupying a neutral space in the public mind.

This all changed, in my recollection at least, in 1981, with the party political media attack on then Labour leader Michael Foot over the donkey jacket that never was.

Or duffle coat. Take your pick, both garments seem to have lodged in the public mind in near equal measure, which is odd. Chiefly because when you look back on the photographs of the ceremony at the Cenotaph that year you actually see Foot wearing what looks a suspiciously luxurious coat for any politician of the left. Nice bit of cloth.

But donkey or duffle it had to be, because this suited the newspaper narrative, of disrespect, of tumbling out the house in any old scrag because the dead of two wars don’t matter. This past week’s horrifying public poppy spat with FIFA flows directly from that cynical abuse of the Remembrance.

In the end, a pyrrhic victory was recorded. England players will wear a black armband with a poppy motif on it. Whoop-di-doo.

And all we had to do to secure this compromise was watch squalid tabloid rags weaponise a once quiet and dignified annual public tribute then drag it through the mud, stirring up division and rancour on all sides. The FIFA rule is simple and sensible. The pitch is neutral. Why is that hard to accept? The fans can do as they wish by way of poppies. There is no ban. Just a rule, globally applied.

So a hissy fit was thrown. One which likely gives precedent to every tinpot fascist government around the world to wangle this or that symbol commemorating some atrocity or other on their national team shirt as and when deemed desirable. Well done Brexit Britain, you brattish child.