Football and poppies… AGAIN
One of my favourite moments of being a Manchester United supporter occurred when I wasn’t even at a match. I gave United’s FA Cup tie with Arsenal in February 2003 a swerve to go on the anti-war demonstration in London. More than a million people gathered in the capital to protest against the mindless charge towards war in Iraq.
“Not in my name” screamed many of the placards. As the march snaked slowly towards Hyde Park, I snuck into a pub on several occasions to check the score and warm up on a bitterly cold grey day. United lost 2-0, of course, and Giggsy missed a sitter. But it was only later in the day that I learnt about, what was for me, the most significant aspect of the match.
A group of United fans unfurled a banner at the Stretford End proclaiming them to be “24 Hour Peterloo Peace People”. Using only a number and four words the homemade banner beautifully encapsulated two centuries of Mancunian social, political and cultural history (the Peterloo massacre, Factory Records and the city’s peace movement) and, at the same time, aligned this particular corner of M16 with anti-war demonstrators across the globe.
Hearing about the banner made me feel immensely proud to be a Red. There were many football supporters on the march but this was the only incidence of anti-war protest inside a football ground that day. Of course, there was no mention of this on television or radio. Football fans aren’t really meant to concern themselves with events in the wider world are they? Well, not unless anyone directs them to.
It’s that time of year again when football clubs across the country emblazon the red poppy on shirts, websites and merchandise, keen to be seen standing “shoulder to shoulder with those who serve”. But meanwhile turning a blind eye, with a few honourable exceptions, to local communities being hammered by cuts to spending on health, education and welfare. It’s “too political” apparently.
Perish the thought that FC United should ever get involved in this poppy on shirts nonsense. But if we did, I’d prefer the poppy to be white. The Peace Pledge Union’s white poppy commemorates all the lives lost in war and in the preparations for war not simply those of the military or, more particularly, the British military. The white poppy acknowledges that a life is a life and that all victims of war, regardless of which side of an artificial national border they were born on, are worth remembering.
Yes, of course, we should remember those who sacrificed their lives in serving their country. But we should remember too soldiers from the likes of France, Germany and Russia who lost their lives in world wars. And the lives of the many thousands of civilians who are killed in wars; in modern wars over ninety percent of those killed are innocent civilians. What about the hundred and fifty thousand Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives as a result of the conflict since 2003? Shouldn’t we also spare a thought for these people in our acts of remembrance?
Far from being some new age hippy thing, the white poppy has a longer history than many realise having first been worn in the 1930s following a disagreement between the British Legion and the No More War Movement over the message that should be conveyed by the controversial red poppy. The First World War was supposed to be “the war to end all wars” and the No More War Movement believed that the poppy should express an anti-war message. The Legion disagreed and so the white poppy as an alternative symbol of peace and remembrance for all the victims of war was born.
I reckon the white poppy would be far more in keeping with the proud, rebellious, peace loving Mancunian heart that beats inside this football club. The resistance to conscription in the First World War was especially strong in Manchester where a group of anti-war activists, Quakers and socialists established the Manchester No Conscription Fellowship Maintenance Committee in 1916 to provide financial and logistical support to the many brave conscientious objectors and their families. A symbolic act of defiance typical of the city’s proud peace movement.
The white poppy, for me, symbolises peace, inclusivity, defiance and non-conformism; all values that fit neatly with those of FC United. And, perhaps just as importantly, it symbolises the courage of those who stick to their principles. After all, we’re the conscientious objectors to the Glazers, Sky, jester hats and the whole bloated Premiership circus.