There is a nagging feeling that the contrast between the manufactured controversy and the act of remembrance threatens to undermine the entire point of Armistice Day.


So the ridiculous Poppygate saga has come to a conclusion. Of sorts. The English and Scottish football associations have bravely defied Fifa and the players wore black armbands with poppies printed on them when they met on Armistice Day. As they should, if they wish.

But has the gulf between the silliness of the debate and the seriousness of the cause ever been quite so wide?

If the whole point of Remembrance Day is one of quiet individual contemplation, the act of choosing to pay tribute to unimaginable horror and sacrifice in an understatedly personal way, then this unseemly episode seemed the opposite. Lurid tabloid outrage? Check. Cynical political point scoring? That too.

A nagging feeling that the contrast between the manufactured controversy and the act of remembrance threatens to undermine the entire point? Yes.

When England drew with Sweden in a forgettable 1-1 draw in a friendly at Old Trafford in 2001, on the day before Armistice Day, there were no armbands and no poppies. Nor was there any outrage.

Similarly the last time England played on 11 November itself – a tremendous 4-1 victory against Yugoslavia in Belgrade in 1987 with goals from Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Bryan Robson and Tony Adams – none of the players sported armbands or poppies.

This is a very modern phenomenon. On the one hand a morally bankrupt, scandal-hit Fifa lecturing its members over a non-issue. On the other an FA that has portentously taken to the barricades amid an outpouring of social-media outrage and tabloid pressure.

It had basically assumed the precedent set in 2011 – the last time we had this row – would hold and that England’s players would be allowed to wear armbands with printed poppies, only to find that Fifa’s new hierarchy had apparently decided on another interpretation.

World football’s discredited governing body adopted its usual haughty tone, right down to the warning over political interference that is uses as a big stick when appropriate but tends to be hastily dropped when it comes to Russia.

And yet the intervention of the prime minister, Theresa May, earlier in the week also left a sour taste. Spying a PR open goal, she told parliament that Fifa’s stance was “utterly outrageous” and ordered it to get its own house in order before lecturing others.

That stance would have more credence if her predecessor had not bowed and scraped to Fifa, calling the BBC “unpatriotic” in the process for broadcasting a critical documentary, in an effort to secure the 2018 World Cup.

As usual common sense has been the first casualty of this tedious row. If both teams agree and two home nations happen to be playing on Armistice Day then it is hard to see who would be offended by them wearing armbands with poppies on.

For all that there is justifiable concern about the increasing militarisation of the trappings that often surround international sport, if England happen to be playing Scotland on Armistice Day there seems little wrong with marking it.

Surely the bar should be that both teams agree. The FA does not believe that the poppy is a political symbol, nor that it is worn to mark a specific single historical event, nor even to commemorate the dead of a particular country. Yet it would also be equally appropriate to mark the occasion with a minute’s silence.

To be fair to the FA it reasonably assumed it would be able to follow the 2011 precedent and quietly wrote to Fifa several weeks ago to inform it of those intentions, long before the current tabloid storm and Fifa’s obstinate resistance.

The subsequent waste of energy and frothing fulmination does not reflect particularly well on any of those involved and it is hard not to conclude that silent contemplation should have remained the default state.