England will be allowed to wear poppies on their shirts against Spain on Saturday after all, albeit as an armband.
An extraordinary row had been stirred up after the Football Association announced the England team would sport the Remembrance Day flower for their friendly against the World Champions. Scotland and Wales plan to do the same for their games against Cyprus and Norway.
FIFA reacted monolithically by refusing to countenance it, citing their regulations against "political, religious or commercial" symbols on national team shirts.
Political leaders and royalty reacted with rage, the London media went into frenzy and two members of the English Defence League, a protest group which draws a number of soccer thugs, scaled the roof of FIFA House in Zurich to protest.
Ignoring the fact that several nations' shirts have Christian crosses or Islamic crescents on them, or that Adidas, FIFA's favourite manufacturer, Nike, Umbro and other brands already have their logos emblazoned on shirts, the accusation that the poppy was a political symbol was well wide of the mark.
Poppies are ubiquitous in England in the week leading up to the 11th of September commemoration of those who served and/or died in conflicts. Military veterans man the entrances and exits to every major railway station, adults and children alike wear them and no TV presenter would be seen dead without the little red flower in their lapel.
Indeed, the pressure to be seen honouring the fallen has led to some complaining of 'poppy fascism'.
But it is definitely not "political". All parties unite to lay wreaths at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, Britain's national war memorial. The poppy, which comes from Canadian John McCrae's 'In Flanders Fields' poem and American campaigner Moina Michael, succeeds in uniting the nation in quiet reflection, pacifists and non-pacifists alike.
On that basis, FIFA should never have interfered with something so close to a nation's heart which was a one-off because it just so happened England had a friendly at home a day after Armistice Day. The interventions of UK Prime Minister David Cameron and future king Prince William were probably due to their unpleasant experiences at the World Cup vote a year ago, where both left fuming at having been lied to by FIFA Ex.Co. members.
At the same time, did England need to wear a poppy? Their alternative plans of having a giant red flower on the pitch and having poppies on England training shirts and tracksuits and a minute's silence before kick-off surely would have made the point that football remembers too.
1,000 servicemen and women are due to attend to as part of the FA's 'Tickets for Troops' giveaway. Indeed, there has been a creeping military feel to England home games in the last few years. Now it is customary for uniformed soldiers to carry the flags around the field, to sometimes line up to be honoured and for the P.A. system to encourage the crowd to applaud, as 'Help for Heroes' collectors raise money for the families of those serving in Afghanistan.
The connection between the national team and the national army is becoming a little blurred in England, and FIFA were right to assume all national shirts should be left alone, but equally the strength of feeling in Britain on the issue was something they should have been aware of before clumsily putting their foot down.
In terms of football politics, England and FIFA look as far apart as ever, with the motherland of the game having given up the dream of ever hosting the World Cup again. Until regime change happens in Zurich, the FA can content themselves with mini-victories like this one.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile
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