true faith – Remembrance Days

by • November 7, 2017 • tf blogsComments (14)1877

Link to British legion Poppy Appeal





I’ll be wearing a poppy in my lapel. It will be a red one. You probably think that’s no big deal. It isn’t. I almost always wear one every year. Sometimes, I forget or mainly I lose the poppy. I wear the poppy for personal reasons and not because I think everyone who has ever been in Her Majesty’s Forces has always brilliant and heroic or any of that. Is anyone that naive?

I wear the poppy for my maternal Grandfather who fought in WW1, saw his brother blown apart and who was almost starved as a PoW. I wear the poppy for him and the stories of shrapnel being pulled out of his body 50 years after the conflict.

I wear the poppy for his three sons and my uncles, the beloved brothers of my mother. One of those Gateshead lads waskilled in a submarine in the fjords in what I can only guess was a terrifying end for him and everyone on board. I wear the poppy for another Gateshead lad, my uncle who was staggered to survive and remain (physically) unscathed in the invasion at Normandy and the fight through France, Belgium and into Germany. I wear the poppy for him and what he witnessed and his quiet dignity and reluctance to accept being described as a hero. I wear the poppy for a third uncle who manned a searchlight over an airfield in the south of England. I wear the poppy for the many thousands of other men and women like my Grandfather and uncles. I wear it for the men I came across in the early years of my working life who were nearing the end of theirs but who had served in the forces in WW2 and who were straightforwardly good blokes who helped me grow up. I wear it for the old fellas who sat in the club with their pints in retirement playing dominoes who had seen things I’m glad to say I never have.

My poppy is for my family, my community and my class.

I’m not sure when football found it had to weigh so much into Remembrance Sunday and the marks of respect around it. But I know I don’t like it. A few years ago when James McLean refused to wear the poppy I thought of the men of my family and felt affronted. I shouldn’t have. McLean isn’t disrespecting my relatives or those like them. He is respecting his own and he’s been forced to do it publicly because of this mawkish, look-at-me desire to compete to remember. I’m bewildered at the perceived need for Remembrance Day tifo-style displays in club colours as I saw on MoTD at West Ham or murals at Leicester City. I just can’t work out why Remembrance Sunday has spilled out across football in what looks like to me in-your-face gawdy attention seeking and one upmanship.

I don’t much care for Tony Blair, David Cameron or the royals who stand at the Cenotaph with their wreaths held in their hands and their money in the Cayman Islands. Those people say nothing to me of the respect I have for my own family and the pain war inflicted on a generation fading from our lives. I feel no desire to compete with others about how much respect I want to demonstrate to people I knew and whose experiences could only imagine.

I grew up in a family with a strong Irish-Catholic lineage. Our family table intermittently crackled with tales of discrimination and poverty our forebears had faced in less enlightened times. I’ve never been discriminated against because of my religious or Irish heritage but previous generations of my family have done.

McLean will have an altogether different perception of the British Army in particular given the recognised atrocities of Bloody Sunday and other wrongs committed by those in uniform. I’m not interested in balancing that out by mitigating those crimes with the murderous, callous atrocities committed by Irish Republican terrorists. That will get us nowhere. McLean has a different view of the British Army because he is from a different place to us and has a different experience.

There are those who see this as an opportunity to practice a peculiar form of poppy fascism and for some it has become politicised by the right-wing who misrepresent any different perspective to the respect of those who have fallen as disrespectful or insulting. I’ll leave you to assess the irony of some of these right-wing patriotic groups wandering around in marches giving it Sieg Heil and Nazi salutes and then on another day raging about the wearing of poppies.  It’s an excuse for them to be on a hair trigger of outrage at some sleight they relish as it allows them to be able to let rip with their own peculiar suite of prejudices.

I heard McLean barracked on his home ground on Saturday gone as he had been previously as a Sunderland player and by their fans. He’s an easy target of those who have been led by the nose into believing he is disrespecting the war dead.

There will be players wearing a football shirt with the poppy upon it but they aren’t respecting anything. They are doing what they are told to do so by their football clubs and most likely not giving it a second thought. It’s an empty gesture. They will neither understand nor appreciate it. But somehow they are complying with this desire to show respect even when they have no idea about it. Not all of them obviously but I’m not convinced in our global game with managers and players from every corner of the planet that Remembrance Sunday possesses the same poignancy in that industry as it does in wider British society.

Wear your poppy if you choose and how you choose. Or not as you choose.

I’ll wear mine but the royals and the politicians with rehearsed solemnity mean nothing to me. And James McLean can do what he chooses.

Michael Martin. Follow Michael on @tfMichael1892


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14 Responses to true faith – Remembrance Days

  1. Tony Higgins says:

    Brilliant …. I could have written that almost word for word 🙂

  2. Kev M says:

    Good column but sloppy. Would be helpful while defending James McClean if you spelled his name correctly, rather than get it wrong 6 times in succession.

  3. Barry Higgins says:

    Great piece, well done. Tons and tons of sense.

  4. Ian Wilkins says:

    That is a wonderful piece of writing, perfectly encapsulates the whole thing. Thank you.

  5. Steve says:

    Well said. Sums my feelings up on the whole thing perfectly.

  6. Dempsey says:

    Excellent Michael. If I’m honest, with each year that passes I wonder that little bit more as I put my poppy on, whether some might misinterpret my intentions for wearing it; and I find that very sad. Lets hope the honest act of remembrance is wrestled away from those who use it for something it was never intended, and personally I think that goes for football. Quite frankly the game that happily goes to bed with gambling firms actively destroying lives, has a bloody nerve to jump aboard the remembrance train in order to peddle it’s attempts to prove it’s part of the fabric of life and reflective of society. Just my personal opinion.
    I’d also love to see what those who rage against James McLean would do if one year he turns around and says “go on then, I don’t mean to offend anyone so I’ll wear it”? The haters would equally froth at the perceived affront of someone they deem unworthy wearing it, so right now the kid can’t win. The fact that they’d probably hate him either way tells you that the ‘poppygate’ element is merely a handy veneer for the simple fact that one human likes to hate another because he or she is different in some way.

  7. richard hands says:

    RICHIE Mmm well written as usual .Think as far as McLean goes thou ,i see a footballer making millions in England just show a bit respect to your adopted country. Funny thing thou two of my mates from Irish catholic backgrounds are way more vocal at his stand than anyone else i no.

    • Robert says:

      Showing “a bit respect to your adopted country” (sic)—and I’m not sure working as an expat = an “adopted country”—does NOT necessarily include poppy wearing or giving any Fs about its military. Obeying the traffic laws and being gracious to local fans in the market, maybe—but not tacky plastic flowers on your shirt.

  8. Phil Bell says:

    Perfectly put, Michael, and sums up all the feelings I’ve been having for a few years more eloquently than I could have.  I always wear a poppy, but Christ I’m sick of the way it’s been peddled by groups I despise.

  9. mag says:

    Far as im concerned that mcClean is a fukin hypocrite if he’s that upset with wearing the poppy why dont he piss of back across the water and play for derry city or shamrock rovers! Tell you why cos he’d be on £2k a week not £20k

    • Dempsey says:

      You’re entitled to your view (give it a whirl some time) but I’d argue that someone abandoning their beliefs just because they are getting handsomely remunerated would actually be hypocritical. Oh and by the way, how much money he makes is totally irrelevant. Go down that route and you can justify anything. His wages don’t give his employer or the public the right to force him to do things that have nothing to do with football.

  10. BigColl says:

    Interesting that Germany are joining in the commemoration. Such a progressive country since WW2. I can understand McClean not wanting to wear a poppy shirt, things maybe are still too raw, he grew up in Nationalist Derry so his family would have experienced Bloody Sunday first hand. What I don’t get is Celtic’s green Brigade having this huge campaign against the poppy, we’re talking fourth or Fifth generation Irish here, still hating the British., or is that starting to hate the British. Many Celtic fans have served in the Great war, players too.