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Poppy crisis averted

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Gordon Farquhar | 14:56 UK time, Thursday, 10 November 2011

Papaver rhoeas. Who would have thought something so elegantly simple could cause so much trouble? The corn poppy, perhaps better known as the Flanders poppy, has bloomed everywhere this week.

Front and back pages, television and radio bulletins, Twitter, blogs and websites. It was even a topic at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons - while a future King of England wrote a letter about it and some protesters took to the roof of Fifa House in Zurich.

We all love the poppy - according to David Cameron - except, perhaps, those gardeners conversant with its latin name and who treat it as a weed.

Nonetheless, there was a palpable sense of righteous indignation when the Football Association's desire to have the emblem embroidered or printed on the team's shirts for Saturday's friendly against Spain was thwarted by Fifa president Sepp Blatter and the rest of the Fifa crew.

Phil Jones

England defender Phil Jones will now be able to wear a poppy on his kit as well as his tracksuit. Photo: Getty

The game's laws state that "...basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements". The rules add: "The team of a player whose basic compulsory equipment has political, religious or personal slogans or statements will be sanctioned by the competition organiser or by Fifa."

Fifa's calculation, therefore, was that the poppy represented a political statement and would not be allowed.

A statement read: "We regret to inform you (the FA) that accepting such initiatives would open the door to similar initiatives from all over the world, jeopardising the neutrality of football."

Message received but not understood.

"How could the poppy be construed to be a political symbol?" came the riposte, led by Sports Minister and ex-Life Guards officer Hugh Robertson. His letter in support of the FA's request got straight to the nub of the argument.

He wrote: "It is not religious or political in any way. Wearing a poppy is a display of national pride, just like wearing your country's football shirt. I hope very much that you will approve this request."

At that point, there was no sign of Fifa budging.

The FA, clearly irritated, circulated a long list of the other arrangements it had in place for Saturday to mark Remembrance Day.

Its relationship with the armed forces has grown much closer over recent months, with Tickets for Troops, support for Help for Heroes, the laying of a wreath, the minute's silence, the poppy emblem on the training tops... In fact, pretty much everything conceivable, short of the emblem on the shirts, was now in place.

The heat in the debate was growing and soon the voices of dissent became a clamour.

Then it was time for the Prime Minister to weigh in. "Outrageous," he said.

Was there just a hint of revenge for perceived injustices over England's failed bid to land the 2018 World Cup, I wonder?

No sooner had Cameron published his letter to Fifa, decrying the stance of football's world governing body, than the Duke of Cambridge, future heir and FA president, let it be known that he, too, had sought to straighten out the matter with Blatter.

As those letters were making their way, presumably by fax, to Fifa headquarters, the guardians of the game had a more immediate problem to deal with.

Two protestors had joined the crows on the roof of Fifa House, attempting to make their point with a banner featuring the fateful flower. To use the popular sporting parlance, this was becoming squeaky bum time in the pressure cooker. And nobody wants that.

What Fifa needed now was an elegant solution - and, with the intervention of an active and qualified referee, they got one. Chris Heaton-Harris, MP for Daventry and regular man in the middle in the Northamptonshire Combination League, spotted the possibility.

The letter of the law, drawn up, somewhat ironically in this case, by the Home Nations and Fifa, specifies there should be no unwanted message on the essential kit. However, it does not refer to any extra bits of "outerwear".

Heaton-Harris contacted Fifa with the suggestion that the poppy be included on the black armbands the players were to pull on. Hey presto... faces saved all round. Laws of the game upheld, royalty's anger contained and the public pacified.

Well, all except, perhaps, the pacifists...


  • Comment number 1.

    Yet another case of Blatter and his cronies being out of touch with the real world. The sooner they were all replaced the better. All the rules need updating to work in the 21st century.

  • Comment number 2.

    I read in the paper today that certain of those more into the poppy than those that have weighed into the argument, don't care for how this argument has come about.

    From FIFA's point of view, I can see why they were resistant. It could be the thin end of the wedge.

    From the FA's, and the countries, point of view, I can see why they want it worn.

    Overall, I think the tone of the argument has been the English establishment against FIFA and it's got quite unpleasant.

    Even any silence on Saturday will probably prompt thoughts of this skirmish than the thoughts of sacrifice that are meant to be considered at this time of year.

    No one looks particularly good, but, the popp still stands as a dignified symbol.

  • Comment number 3.

    What a load of nonsense.

    This is a convenient bandwagon for the FA desperate for no one to talk about John Terry, for David Cameron desperate for no one to talk about Theresa May and for the media desperate to use any stick to beat Fifa with after the 2018 fiasco.

    People seem to forget that no one has ever made a fuss about this before during international matches in November, and there have been quite a few.

    If the players really care about national pride perhaps they can learn and sing the words of the national anthem rather than worry about whether they are wearing a red flower or not.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm not sure anyone else the same view as me but why has this been made into such a big deal and why has everyone and thier uncle jumped on the outrage cart!?

    I am in no way disrespecting what the poppy stands or against the money it helps to raise for ex-service men / women but why "must" it be worn by the home nations. Yes rememberence day should be on everyones mind at this time of year but do the national teams have to show their respect while they are "working"?

    I'm sure all of the players / staff etc will show thier respect at the appropriate moment. It is not as though the players are going to be thinking about the war during the game?

    I just think people are being forced to remember rather than them having their own moments of consideration? Too much of a crazy view??

  • Comment number 5.

    The poppy represents Flanders and the stupidity of war.. "Lest we forget" is the phrase that we use on rememberance day, sourced from a Rudyard Kipling poem I believe.. But it's funny how we forget all the time unless, of course, it enrages all of us armchair philosophers... I would have a lot more respect for the argument if the same people wore poppies when we fight unnecessary wars... People think it's terrible that we can't have it on our team shirt. I think it's terrible that we only remember the futility of war when we wanna have a few pints and watch some football. Whether the poppy is on or off we have still forgotten the point of why we wear it in the first place "LEST WE FORGET, LEST WE FORGET".

    Wear it everyday till the troops come home...

  • Comment number 6.

    How this ever became a story, never mind an issue, is beyond me.

    Pretty disgusting all the same.

    Bandwagon-jumping on the backs of the dead. How proud you must all feel.

  • Comment number 7.

    Spots and politics don`t mix. Even less so in todays world who is creating more problems then solving any.

    While we shouldn`t not forget the horrors of two world wars, it´s dififcult to understand while the whole thing got dragged into a friendly football match to be played this Saturday.

    Others might want to follow with varius other "reasons" and point to FIFA for giving in to England.

  • Comment number 8.

    This whole pile of rubbish is nothing more than England sticking it to FIFA. For decades games in November have went without a Poppy on the shirt so why now? Finally why does it need to be on their shirt it's meaningless, they could do so much more with the millions they earn each year. The Millions they earn from British pockets, could just accept a normal wage so people don't have to get a mortgage to see a game every weekend.

    Why don't you do more remembrance, less kicking and screaming then get on with your job.

  • Comment number 9.

    England played France this time last year and Brazil the year before , nobody mentioned the poppy . Why now?
    I have to say I understand why FIFA said no , as MrBlueBurns said the thin end of the wedge .
    The rememberence of the war dead and the understanding of sacrifice is what this should be about , not about FIFA v the FA .
    As the football shirts that were made are not going to worn , could they get given to , to auction and raise funds ?

  • Comment number 10.


    Why are you taking a dig at FIFA and Sepp Blatter? they may deserve it for other things but not for this.
    As you mention ever so briefly in your blog the home nations and FIFA together decide the rules and since the home nations have half the votes they could have applied to change the rules at anytime in the past few years to allow this.

    In my opinion FIFA took the right stance on this rule (ie to uphold it) as while I doubt many (if any) people will object to the poppy it does open the door to other forms of tribute that in some countries mean something good and in others something bad.

    Well done to the MP who came up with the suggestion (one of them had to do something right at somepoint) however I am suprised that no-one in the FA thought of it earlier - I thought about having them wear wristbands with poppies on them or maybe on the boots (though looking at the rules the boots may be out as they are surely essential kit) or even on T-shirts under the kit and show them at a goal (and pick up a yellow - but worth it).
    I am sure several other fans thought of this idea or something similar so surely you should be casting blame the FA's way for letting it get to this.

    #4 Calrissian - I agree that this has been blown up by the Britsh media. After all it is not as if the home nations have been wearing the poppy in November matches before and suddenly FIFA is saying they can't do it.
    Note I do support the idea of the players wearing some form of the poppy if possible during the game and applaud the efforts of the Premier/Football League and FA to support this cause

  • Comment number 11.

    Firstly Let me state clearly, I support the Poppy Appeal. I will always support it for to pay respect to those that died in the 1st & 2nd World War, for our freedom. However, I truly believe that this whole issue was blown way way out of proportion. Firstly the FA knew the rules. This is the first year they wanted to wear a poppy, over the last decade anytime the England team were playing near Armistice Day, they didn't wear a poppy. FIFA had said they could hold a minutes silence, lay wreaths, wear them on their track suits and have collections around the stadium. For me FIFA respected the desire through these actions, and were right to say no to wearing it on the shirt. So what was the fuss. The British Legion were happy with all that, they didn't want to make an issue out of it. So Why did the FA make such a fuss. Perhaps to get the headlines in the tabloids away from the inadequacies of the FA and the football team. They say the Poppy is not political, yet by allowing Cameron and Prince William way it, it was made political, and from on who lives in Northern Ireland, I am afraid the ignorance to how political the poppy is here, is staggering. I do not agree with making the Poppy political, but in Northern Ireland, symbols are part and parcel of our divided society, and where the British Army did not cover itself in glory in Northern Ireland, you have to be careful where you were a poppy. It is seen by the Nationalist community as a symbol of being a protestant, as it is mainly worn by Protestants, and it is seen as supporting the British Army. There are many Protestants who were it in NI to show they are British. Now I could go on about how stupid both sides are, point out that we should commemorate all those protestant and catholic Irishmen who volunteered to lay down their lives for us in both wars, but you know thats for another forum. Merely to say the Poppy is political in the eyes of some citizens of the UK, and it is offensive to some in the UK, I do not agree but there you go.

  • Comment number 12.

    1: This has never been an issue any other season, so why now? The FA has always done its share in supporting the Poppy Appeal, and Remembrance Day in general, in the past, and the absence of a poppy from the shirts will not change that.

    2: I can see FIFA's point of view on this. Imagine if Israel turned up for a match against an Arab country with an emblem commemmorating their fallen soldiers (this is just an example - I could think of dozens of others). The controversy would be enormous. FIFA have to draw the line somewhere and ensure that football doesn't become some kind of political... er, football. Whatever the good intentions behind the Poppy Appeal (and trust me, I support it whole-heartedly), FIFA have to have a rule for everyone.

    I'm just glad a compromise has been found, and now everyone can calm down and focus on what the Poppy Appeal is actually about - not an iron-on flower on a shirt, but lives cut short in service of this country.

  • Comment number 13.

    The rightous indignation of the Daily Mail writ large and an act of sheer hubris on the part of the English FA, Cameron and William. I have no problem with the Poppy being seen as a political act and no issue with people commemorating war dead but the notion that FIFA were not accommodating and sympathetic is nonsense.

  • Comment number 14.

    For Christ's sake - can BBC journalists please buy a thesaurus? Everything these days has to be described as a crisis: "Petrol crisis", "Greece crisis", "Poppy crisis"... honestly, I know this is the media but could we occasionally bypass the hyperbole? This was NEVER a crisis, it was merely a disagreement. Had it not been resolved the world would not have ended, war would not have broken out, the economy wouldn't have collapsed; the game would just have continued without poppies.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    This is what i don't get, The fact that a Poppy represents not only those who have fallen in WW1 or WW2, or even those who have fallen since, it represents those who are serving now. I don't see how people of different nations can find this offencive.. it is a symbol for men from all countries. I werar one every year. It shows that i am in full supposrt of our men and i respect those from other countries.

  • Comment number 17.

    A good point was made the other day.

    If these footballers are so proud of their country that they fight tooth and nail to wear a poppy during the match (has anyone seen them wearing one in their day-to-day lives?) why don't they try singing the bloody anthem at the start of the game?

  • Comment number 18.

    Of course FIFA and blatter wouldn't know about sacrifice during conflicts as there country conveniently chickens out during major conflicts by being "neutral". So they have never really lost any loved ones as they all sit around counting the money in the Swiss vaults. Can't wait till he is no longer the president of FIFA.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    MGUK82 - No i didnt say we should stop remembrance services because of the Irish Nationalist, i was merely pointing out that Cameron, the FA and the Media are wrong to say it is not Political - as for the Jihadis, as you so pleasantly put it - well that is quite a few people that are offended which is probably the point of the FIFA ruling. No-one was saying at all that the Remembrance services would be stopped, merely that it was inappropriate for FIFA to let the FA put poppies on their shirts.

    I will always remember those that died in the 1st & 2nd World War, the latter being the last Just war Britain has sent their troops into. The Modern British Soldier who loses their life are sent to conflicts that are the making of our political leaders for purposes that are neither just nor legal, it truly is the futility of war that these servicemen have died for and is a plague on our Political House.

  • Comment number 21.

    Harry Edgerton I think you forget that in the modern era, the British Army have been seen as an occupying force, their involvment in Northern Ireland, is seen with some justification as a black mark on its history, and i am quite sure the Iraq people, the Afghanistan people are none to pleased with our army. This is where the poppy becomes political, if it was just to commemorate those that sacrificed their lives in the 1st and 2nd world war I think most would be fine, but when it is about the modern day service, then it opens the door to those who see it as political.

  • Comment number 22.

    luniemiester - Neutral does not mean chicken! For instance Ireland was neutral during the 2nd world war yet hundreds and thousands of Irishmen, protestant and Catholic, volunteered to fight, they were not conscripted they volunteered, what a government decides is not necessarily the nature of the people, this xenophobic nonsense is what makes me sick!

  • Comment number 23.


    The Swiss benefited enormously from their 'neutrality'.

    Let's not sugar coat that one.

  • Comment number 24.

    Let's not sugar coat that one.
    Nor that the British government solved the problem they created by arming Unionists in Ulster by promptly sending their regiments to the Somme.

    On the last day of WWI before an Armistice which everyone knew was due at 11am, the British Army lost 18,000 men on last hurrah attacks on the German front lines.

    No one comes out well.

  • Comment number 25.


    You're so right.

    Which is why making a media event of what's supposed to be a personal remembrance is so tawdry.

  • Comment number 26.

    @bobbyrouge. Wikipedia states that the Swiss have been neutral since the 1490's. I suppose you would have prefered it if the governments of Britain, the USA, Russia, France,Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and countless others allowed their countries to declare themselves neutral and allow the axis powers to walk all over others and possibly their own when they choose to without a fight

    I respect people from countries who volunteered for a war that wasnt theirs - they could see what would happen if it wasn't stood up to even if their own governments could not..

  • Comment number 27.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 28.

    FIFA are a joke.

    End of.

  • Comment number 29.

    26.At 19:34 10th Nov 2011, luniemiester wrote
    First of FIFA were originally based in France , they moved to a neutral country so they could be neutral from politics (isnt this where we came in?) and to avoid the interference of running a charity in countries where there is conflict . The Home Nations refused to join FIFA after WWI , one of the reasons - they didnt want to play against countries they had been at war with (again politics) . Britain , the Netherlands and France all at the start of both world wars had larger empires/colonies than Germany so who was walking over who ?

  • Comment number 30.

    I see referring to jihadis or militant Islamists as "scum" got my post deleted. Sorry Bobby but while my sense of empathy 'can' be very strong it does have it's limits, I have little sympathy for those that want to kill me or think that killing people like me is a legitimate form of justice for the manslaughter of their compatriots(or whatever other excuse they'd like to use!).

    I know full well that there are those who don't want Brits to have any pride whatsoever in the only home they have because of the questionable/ugly things our government has been involved with over the years/decades/centuries but being whacked over the head with this stuff gets old after a while.

  • Comment number 31.

    Totally agree with FIFA - the poppy is a political symbol and has nothing to do with football, nor should it.

    The poppy symbol is used for fund raising for a specific charitable organisation - what would shirts be like if all countries/clubs chose to add charity fundraising symbols to their shirts? An absolute mess. Where would it end?

    This is professional sport not charity fund-raising. There are loads of worthy charities that need funds why should the FA choose to market/advertise one particular charity?

    There have been 96 England Internationals before within two weeks of Armistice day and England have never requested to wear poppies before, so why now?

    For once FIFA have got it completely right.

  • Comment number 32.

    Which is why making a media event of what's supposed to be a personal remembrance is so tawdry.
    Couldn't agree more which is why the hard questions have to be asked about why the FA pursued this line as never before?

  • Comment number 33.

    Don't understand why the FA didn't just say "We are going to do this whether you like it or not". FIFA do not own any football team and are inherently weak anyway. Any sanctions would have possibly started a real movement against them and countries may well have decided that FIFA should go!

  • Comment number 34.

    The best of football on twitter,
    with tweets from players, teams,journalists and fans all on one website.

  • Comment number 35.

    I think wearing a poppy IS a political statement and FIFA should have stuck to their guns. The poppy is no longer about the first and second world wars. It symbolises the dead of current wars - Iraq and Afghanistan - and so wearing a poppy now is very much a political statement, whatever the rights and wrongs of those wars. What is the difference between England wearing a poppy and a Palestinian team wearing a symbol on their shirts in tribute to the dead in their struggle for self recognition - suicide bombers and all. Come on England... look at the bigger picture for a change.

  • Comment number 36.

    Well plainly you're an idiot.

  • Comment number 37.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 38.


  • Comment number 39.

    Heartily sick of poppy fascism. Why is everyone who appears on TV forced to wear one? I thought millions died to defend freedom of choice? What an appalling insult to the war dead.
    I used to buy a poppy but certain people are trying to politicise it, that is absolutely not on.

  • Comment number 40.

    The dinosaur that is Sepp Blatter is out of touch with reality, there was a lot of politics involved in his appointment as fifa president! why does he spout the politics angle regarding the poppy? when it comes down to it, it's a representation of the dead who gave their lives defending their land from attemted invasion by a ruthless & evil dictator. it is a mark of respect to them, not the politicians & in opposing it blatter displayed huge disrespect. i see he allows the brand logo embroidered on the shirt, presumably his organisation benefits financially from sponsors or surely he would oppose this too.
    as for comment 35: Guidomann you are an idiot! how can you possibly compare conscripted soldiers to suicide bombers who are misguided & brainwashed individuals. under bin laden many blew themselves up and killed & maimed innocent & uninvolved people to uphold the 'values' of a leader who was living in a luxurious fortified mansion watching pornography.

  • Comment number 41.

    Admittedly a slight tangent from this "bandwagon jumping", "political football" farce, but I assume that the FA and England's millionaire footballers are contributing for the privilege of wearing the poppy, like the rest of us?

    I’m not interested in how much. But aside from remembrance I’ve personally always seen the other purpose of the appeal being to donate to the Royal British Legion and support those who have given for our country. I truly hope that this is not also being forgotten.

  • Comment number 42.

    Amidst all the rights and wrongs of the situation, does anyone know how much of a charitable contribution the FA were planning to pay the Royal British Legion for the poppies they were going to print on the shirts? Apart from remembrance, the aim of poppy sales is to raise money for those servicemen and families directly affected by the consequences of military action.

  • Comment number 43.

    "Was there just a hint of revenge for perceived injustices over England's failed bid to land the 2018 World Cup, I wonder?"


  • Comment number 44.

    @40.At 00:42 11th Nov 2011, scobiedog-SOSOS wrote:

    Wow, there are so many things wrong with that post, if I were to list them it would take me the whole day. The contradictions and narrow minded views you express in such a short post just amazes me.

  • Comment number 45.

    This week in the media we traded our collective rememberance for a bit of FIFA bashing.

    You just don't see the picture do you.

  • Comment number 46.

    No. 40. I'm not sure where in my comment I said that I agree with suicide bombers or Bin Laden but what you fail to grasp is the fact that not everyone views the world from a 'British' standpoint. To Palestinians, suicide bombers are revered in the same way that we revere our dead from the world wars. They believe they are fighting a just cause whether you personally like it or not. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Just look at the IRA or the Stern Gang in Israel. Can you imagine the uproar if the Republic of Ireland national team decided to commemorate the dead of the IRA on their football shirts. You would be outraged - and justifiably.

    As I said in my comment, the poppy is no longer about just the first and second world wars. The current resurgent interest is all about respecting the soldiers who continue to die in Afghanistan and before that Iraq and you would find it difficult to argue that those two wars are as clear cut in the good versus evil stakes as the two world wars. There are countless millions of muslims and non muslims who are not on 'our' side in this war and who disagree with it. I seem to remember half a million protesting on the streets of London against the Iraq war...

    FIFA was absolutely right to ban the poppy on the shirt and I just hope the compromise doesn't give the nasty dictators of the world the green light to use their national team shirts as a billboard for their beliefs and prejudices.

  • Comment number 47.

    Guidomann! The only reason I support the Afghanistan war(and not the Iraq war) is because I still remember the fear I and friends on both sides of the Atlantic felt post-9/11. The world felt a lot less safer after that day and I lost a lot of faith in humanity in the years after that. The idea that there are people out there that want to kill, not our military, not our politicians but the likes of me in such as dishonest and dishonourable way makes me sick.

    Ultimately, it's about self-preservation.

  • Comment number 48.

    I think nearly all the england players showed respect for those who lost there lives serving our country ..the one exception is ashley cole I watches the match on tv and noticed he was not wearing a armband in the second half im not sure if he had one on at all ? ..this is for me not exceptable at all and I think he should not be allowed to represent our country again to show such disrespect to thiose who lost ther lives is beyond words . for me NO EXCUSES we dont need his type in our team


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