FIFA are correct about Poppies

At this time of year, anyone who comes over to the UK or watches the Premier League will notice that a lot of people wear red poppies ahead of the anniversary Armistice Day on Friday and for Remembrance Sunday, a day where the nation remembers those men and women who have died; particularly those who died in WW1 and WW2, whilst serving in the British Armed Forces.

The poppy appeal was set up by the Royal British Legion, an organisation which provides financial, social and emotional support to veterans and their families. This charity was set up in 1921 as the Earl Haig Fund and the poppy was chosen as the symbol because of its deep association with the battlefields of World War One.  

The poppy appeal has absolutely nothing to do with football. Yet, it’s the poppy which is going to cause a problem for England and Scotland with FIFA.

On Friday night, England play Scotland in a World Cup Qualifier at Wembley. Both teams have said that they will have their players wear poppy armbands for the game, which was a compromise FIFA agreed to back in 2011 when they backed down from banning England from wearing the poppy for a game against Spain.

This is in direct contravention of FIFA rule 57.1 which basically states that any political, religious, commercial or personal statements are prohibited from being on any item of playing equipment brought onto the pitch, which includes any kit the players wear.

England and Scotland asked FIFA for permission to wear the poppy and were told ‘no’, but England and Scotland, as well as Wales who play Serbia on Saturday, look likely to go ahead and wear the poppy regardless of the rules, and seem prepared to accept whatever sanctions will follow, which will likely be a fine but could be a points deduction.

Anyone looking at this with a shred of rationality sees that this is a perfectly sensible stance taken by FIFA (that’s a rare sentence to write). One country’s symbol of national pride or commemoration can easily be another’s reminder of some terrible event or misfortune of the past. Rather than having to make rulings on a case-by-case basis, FIFA have decided on a blanket ban, so everyone knows where they stand. FIFA were wrong to back down five years ago, and are right to insist on a ban now.

Rationality however, is not the strong suit of the UK in 2016. Many of the most UK’s popular newspapers have howled with indignation about FIFA not allowing the poppy. The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, described FIFA’s stance as “utterly outrageous” and, without a hint of irony considering the UK supreme court would rule the next day that she wasn’t allowed to bypass parliament and formally start the process for the UK to leave the EU as she wanted to do, followed that up by saying “I should say to FIFA before they start telling us what to do they jolly well ought to sort their own house out”

Once again, I’ll state that the poppy appeal has nothing to do with football. Yet, England, Scotland and Wales are willing to risk a fine, or even a points deduction that could jeopardise their chances of making it to Russia in 2018 over the poppy.

So, why are they willing to do so?

The argument by the FA and SFA (Scottish Football Association) is that the poppy is not a political symbol but a charitable one, so doesn’t fall foul of the rules.

Once upon a time that was correct. Wearing the poppy used to be a nice gesture. People would choose to wear it as a sign they had donated to the charity.

But, in the past 15 years or so, something changed. The poppy became associated with the support of the armed forces in general, and as such, poppy wearing went from being an optional gesture to one that is more or less compulsory, for fear of being seen as disrespectful to those who serve in the military. It seems as though the charitable purpose behind wearing has been forgotten.

Anyone appearing on TV has to wear a poppy or face the faux-outrage of the nation. Politicians must wear one. In fact, the bigger the poppy, the more they care, apparently. Not wearing one is seen as the equivalent to desecrating war graves. People are now, to the horror of the Royal British Legion, purposefully not buying poppies because they don’t like being made to feel like they’re compulsory.

On Monday night, on one of the most-watched shows on the BBC, this happened.

 

England’s interim head coach, Gareth Southgate said “I think the fact is, as the head coach, I was keen for us to wear the poppies; I think that’s very important. It’s part of the history and tradition of what we are as a nation, the remembrance”

Nonsense. Wearing the poppy may be traditional, but football teams wearing it is not. In 2001, England played Sweden on November 10. None of the England team wore poppies that day, and it wasn’t a big deal.

 

A few clubs did so earlier, but it was only in 2009 that the practice became widespread. In that year only Liverpool and Manchester United chose not to wear a poppy. Both clubs stated that they didn’t see the need considering they work with and raise money for armed forces charities all year round and allow poppy sellers around their stadiums. But, that apparently wasn’t good enough, and following widespread criticism, both bowed to public pressure the following year and ever since, they and all other teams have worn poppies.

One argument for having football teams wear poppies is that the players themselves want to wear the poppy while playing. Maybe they do. But, it takes a brave player to stand up and refuse to wear one in the current climate; and most players, mindful of the fact that taking any sort of stance may threaten current and future endorsements, choose to stay quiet and wear their poppy, even they don’t understand why.

One of the few who doesn’t wear one is West Brom winger James McClean. McClean has stated the legitimate and cogent reasons behind his decision not to wear one in the past, but every year gets vilified by the media for his stance.

This is such a pointless stance it’s almost untrue. The idea that, should the England, Scotland or Wales player not wear a poppy for the 90 minutes, it will in some way disrespect those who died for the UK in WW1 and WW2 is ridiculous.

A point the FA, the politicians and the media seem to miss is while the poppy wasn’t a political symbol originally; they’ve turned it into one with their shrill, manufactured outrage against FIFA or anyone else who doesn’t wear the poppy. They’ve turned what was once a personal, significant gesture by an individual into a trite, meaningless one.

Every time someone is made to feel like they have to wear a poppy or be a pariah, the poppy is politicised. Every time someone makes the decision that anyone, including Cookie Monster, on TV has to wear a poppy or it will be too offensive for people to handle, it means it’s a political symbol. The fact that the Prime Minister has waded in to the argument, means it’s political.

And as such, FIFA are correct to ban England, Scotland and Wales from wearing it, and will be correct in punishing them when they do.

  

Allardyce's dream job ends quickly

Yesterday, Sam Allardyce had his contract as England manager terminated after 67 days and just one game in charge.

Videos have emerged which appear to show Allardyce explaining to undercover reporters from British newspaper the Daily Telegraph posing as businessmen representing a consortium from Asia how to get around the FA’s rules on Third-party ownership of players.

Allardyce also appears to negotiate a fee for going to speak to some fictitious investors in Hong Kong and Singapore, he mocks Roy Hodgson’s performance in his job, and his rhotacism, and criticises the FA over the cost of Wembley.

The Telegraph’s sting was part of a wider investigation they are running into financial impropriety in football, and they have promised to release more stories over the next few days, so things could possibly get even worse for the FA.

Whether or not you believe what Allardyce said merited losing his job, and amidst all of the nonsense, there were some truths said; in my opinion, it immediately seemed clear that the FA could not keep him as manager.

The FA have come under increased scrutiny over how they mete out discipline. As a result, the FA have to hold themselves to as high a standard as they hold others. So, it is not acceptable for the FA’s highest-profile employee to act as though he believes that the rules are optional and offer to help a bunch of strangers flout them.

I think that Allardyce has fallen into a trap that several others have fallen into in the past, and others will almost certainly fall into in the future.

The Premier League is watched by hundreds of millions all around the world. That level of exposure, plus the huge financial rewards that come with it, can give people a false sense of their status within the game. Just because people will know who you are, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a superstar.

Allardyce has been a Premier League manager for a long time, and to be fair to him, he did a great job at Bolton, didn’t get the credit he deserved for a solid job at West Ham and was doing well at both Blackburn and Sunderland before his spells there prematurely came to an end.

So, Allardyce will be someone who fans from all over the world who follow the Premier League will know. That, plus Allardyce’s own ego, which certainly isn’t small, and arrogance will have allowed him to give himself the impression that he really is a big deal in the world of football.

The England job wasn’t just Allardyce’s dream job; it was the validation he has been seeking for his entire managerial career. He’s believed for years that his natural place is at the elite level of football management, and he believed the England post would give him the chance to prove to everyone that he belongs at the top.

After all, this is a man who once said “I'm not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid. It wouldn't be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time.”

Allardyce has created and then played up to the ‘Big Sam’ persona. He presents himself as a larger-than-life figure; someone who is quick with a joke and provides great quotes for the media. He believes himself to be what we would call in the UK ‘a real character’, someone who is beloved by fans of the game, and someone who the game would be all the poorer for if he wasn’t part of it. He seems to be oblivious to the fact that many see him as a pompous, big-headed buffoon.

In some ways, I think Allardyce has trapped himself in that Big Sam persona. Allardyce is much more of a cerebral coach than he presents himself to be. He was one of the first Premier League managers to embrace sports science and the use of stats as a coaching aide. But instead, he dumbs himself down in a bid to gain popularity.

That’s what I think Allardyce was doing in those videos. He was making himself look big in front of a bunch of strangers, bragging about how well-connected he was and what he could do for them, for the right price. He was playing up to the crowd.

That probably explains the cheap shot Allardyce took about Roy Hodgson in the video. Criticising Hodgson‘s time as England manager is okay; saying that he was indecisive and had probably picked the wrong coaching staff was also okay.

But, mocking Hodgson’s character and, even worse, his speech impediment, is not okay; and that will have counted heavily against Allardyce when the FA were decided what to do when the allegations first emerged. This is after the FA had previously called a newspaper headline mocking Hodgson’s rhotacism ‘unacceptable’.  

For all of Allardyce’s bluff and bluster throughout his career, and his unswerving self-belief, the only really big clubs he’s ever managed are Newcastle and West Ham, in the former he failed badly, and in both cases the fans couldn’t wait to see the back of him. The last trophy he won as a manager was the title of what is now League Two with Notts County in 1997.

Even the appointment of Allardyce by the FA, which was supposed to be the crowning glory of Allardyce’s career, always seemed as though it came about more because there wasn’t really anyone else rather than because Allardyce was the outstanding candidate.

The FA now face having to look for yet another England manager. If they want an English one, the field seems thinner than ever. There are only 4 English managers in the Premier League, and that includes Mike Phelan at Hull, who isn’t their permanent manager. Of those, only Alan Pardew would seriously be considered. Outside of that, there’s Steve Bruce who left Hull in the summer. Hardly inspiring choices are they?

As for Allardyce, he spent less time in the England job than the Chilean miners spent trapped underground. He only managed them for one game; scraping a 1-0 win against Slovakia. Despite all of this he walks away with a large payoff and with the knowledge that he will probably be back in football before too long.

Allardyce is already making noises about media entrapment and it won’t take him long to spin everything in his own mind so that he can once again go back to being Big Sam and when the next Premier League team in trouble calls upon him- and they will- he can allow himself the delusion that he is once again on his way to the peak of the game.