Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Putting poppies on football tops is cheap publicity

Before yesterday’s Premier League clash between Chelsea and Manchester United, representatives of the armed services along with war veterans from the Chelsea Pensioners took to the field to commemorate Remembrance Sunday.

The Chelsea team wore a poppy on their shirts. In all there were 12 different nationalities on the two teams — some of those, such as Michael Ballack and Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti from countries, Germany and Italy respectively, which Britain fought in two world wars.

Just what relevance did the ceremony have for millionaire footballers, many of them from foreign fields?

There is a tendency to bring a bit of showbiz to Remembrance Sunday and the days leading up to it.

While it is right and proper that those who gave their lives for their country should be remembered, I sometimes feel that it is not always done appropriately.

It seems that no one can appear on television without wearing a poppy, and poppies decorate practically every surface.

Newspapers carry poppy images on their front pages while at the same time questioning the validity of the war in Afghanistan, for example.

The poppy is the symbol of remembrance of those who died in the service of their country. It is a valuable fund-raising tool for the British Legion which provides many old servicemen and women with home comforts in their declining years.

But it should be treated with reverence. The proper place for putting the poppy is in wreaths at the cenotaphs throughout the country where the names of the fallen are recorded. It is them that we should be remembering.

Putting poppies on football tops, to my mind, is not a symbol of reverence. It is just a cheap publicity shot.

It would be different if former members of the team had died defending freedom, but that is hardly likely to be the case with the modern soccer teams.

Maybe my views are coloured by the fact that the poppy was never treated with proper reverence in Northern Ireland. It was like every other symbol in this divided province — it was used to provoke the other side.

Unionists virtually shook it in the face of nationalists as if they were the only people who had fought in the wars.

Nationalists meanwhile largely refused to even buy the poppy, regarding it as a pro-Army symbol. They wouldn’t even recognise the sacrifice made by their forebears, who were just as large in number as those from the unionist tradition.

For generations the memory of our war dead has been sullied by the refusal of all the people of Northern Ireland to remember them together, although there is now, at last, some recognition that the sacrifice was on a cross-community basis as well as a cross-border basis.

For those seeking a way forward to a more shared remembrance of lives lost, they should read the words of republican John McGurk who wrote in a blog: “I wear the poppy because the battle against Nazism was a battle fought on behalf of humanity and not just on behalf of Britain.

“I wear it because I’m glad men of all colours and creeds gave their lives to liberate Belsen and because I’m happy that Europe is free and democratic for the most part. It could have been so different if those men and women had just decided to sit at home.”

That indeed is what the poppy is about — the sacrifice of brave men and women, not the often phoney reasons why they were sent to war.

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