Today (November 11), as people around the world remember and honour the service men and women who’ve lost their lives since the beginning of World War 1, 100 years ago, the Premier League clash between Manchester United and Manchester City will see things done a little differently.
As with tradition, the world of football always commemorates Armistice Day – working alongside the Royal British Legion (RBL) – which is commonly observed with a minute’s silence, players wearing black armbands, and teams/players who wish to do so, displaying the poppy symbol on their shirts.
Yet during today’s Manchester derby – the Armistice Centenary – on the 19 minute and 18 second mark of the game, fans will be encouraged to take part in a minute’s applause – exactly 100 years on from when the guns stopped, back in 1918.
It’s a way of saying thank you to all who served, sacrificed and changed our world during World War 1 and in further conflicts – as well as an opportunity to remember the players and fans who went to war and never came home.
On an occasion which can summon large volumes of hostility, hatred and abuse, it’s an opportunity for fans’ passion to transfer to something wholesome, and for every individual to use their adrenaline and energy to unite and remember those who’ve given their lives for us.
The initiative for today’s game has no agenda. It’s not for any charity, or part of an FA scheme. It was started by a Man City fan, Colin Birk, who feels the idea is inclusive.
Regardless of political affiliations, or individual beliefs, it’s a time for football to come together and show them: ‘Lest we forget’.
Colin’s emotive message, which has kicked off the fan-led initiative – for both sets of supporters – reads:
Honour the memory of the fans and players who never came home from war when you attend the Manchester Derby on Sunday 11 November 2018.
Join together to commemorate the century of World War One in a way that’s unique to the beautiful game. When the match has been played for 19 minutes 18 seconds mark the occasion.
Take part in a one minute round of applause to show your support. Clap from 19:18 to 20:18
Let the sound of your applause ring out from the ground to honour the memory of fans and players of all teams who never returned to the game they loved.
Let them know Manchester cares. At 19 minutes and 18 seconds we will remember them.
Speaking to UNILAD about his idea Colin explained:
Football fans like to be active when it comes to commemorations, especially Remembrance – they like to show their appreciation whether it’s a minute’s applause, or a minute’s silence.
The usual gestures will take place, the laying of wreaths and observing a minute’s silence, but today will be a chance for supporters to remember the fans and players who went to war.
It’s an opportunity to remember them as human beings and as football fans.
Many may have died as soldiers, but they lived as football fans.
November 11 serves as a reminder for us to unite, yet over recent years, it’s caused large quantities of social division.
Debates have raged on as to what the poppy is said to now symbolise, and when it’s appropriate to display it – which has been evident within the world of football – particularly in the case of James McLean and Nemanja Matic.
However, while millions will proudly display their poppy with pride as a show of remembrance – this weekend in particular – for those who don’t, we should refrain from directing abuse and hatred towards them.
Manchester United midfielder Matic recently stated he’d not be wearing a Remembrance Day poppy on his shirt during the game, and refrained from wearing one during his side’s 2-1 win over Bournemouth last week.
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As the world prepares to mark the 100 year anniversary of the ending of World War One (WW1) this coming Sunday, 11th November, 2018 acclaimed British/South African photographer Chris Kirby has released a series of three poignant photographic images to highlight African's involvement in that conflict. The images are of an African in WW1 infantry uniform holding a symbolic red poppy in the pose of an unknown African soldier. The photograph series, available for licensed media publication individually or as a whole, is intended to draw attention to the poorly recognised contribution and sacrifice made by over one million Africans who were seconded to fight and die as soldiers, porters and labourers on behalf of their imperial rulers in battles and skirmishes across Africa. Kirby's South African grandfather fought in that war, and Kirby himself feels it highly important to recognise the significant contribution made by Africans in a tragic conflict which was not of their own making. Editorial licensing via: PICFAIR (UK) goto: https://www.picfair.com/users/chriskirbyphoto #worldwarone#WW1#war#wartoendallwars#conflict#armistice#armisticeday#Africa#African#Africansoldier#rememberance#rememberanceday#poppy#poppyday#unknownsoldier#africanliving#oceanafricaafricanimage#africanphotography#picfair#chriskirbyphoto
Posting on Instagram with a rather lengthy explanation, Matic explained how the symbol reminded him of the NATO-led bombing offensive of Serbia, back in 1999 when he was just 12 years old, while asking for supporters to respect his choice:
I recognise fully why people wear poppies, I totally respect everyone’s right to do so and I have total sympathy for anyone who has lost loved ones due to conflict.
However, for me it is only a reminder of an attack that I felt personally as a young, frightened 12-year old boy living in Vrelo, as my country was devastated by the bombing of Serbia in 1999.
Whilst I have done so previously, on reflection I now don’t feel it is right for me to wear the poppy on my shirt.
I do not want to undermine the poppy as a symbol of pride within Britain or offend anyone, however, we are all a product of our own upbringing and this is a personal choice for the reasons outlined.
I hope everyone understands my reasons now that I have explained them and I can concentrate on helping the team in the games that lie ahead.
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I recognise fully why people wear poppies, I totally respect everyone’s right to do so and I have total sympathy for anyone who has lost loved ones due to conflict. However, for me it is only a reminder of an attack that I felt personally as a young, frightened 12-year old boy living in Vrelo, as my country was devastated by the bombing of Serbia in 1999. Whilst I have done so previously, on reflection I now don't feel it is right for me to wear the poppy on my shirt. I do not want to undermine the poppy as a symbol of pride within Britain or offend anyone, however, we are all a product of our own upbringing and this is a personal choice for the reasons outlined. I hope everyone understands my reasons now that I have explained them and I can concentrate on helping the team in the games that lie ahead.
Stoke’s James McClean has opted not to wear the traditional Remembrance Day poppy on his shirt each and every year since first moving to England in 2011 (when he signed for Sunderland), and as a result, has suffered disgusting abuse from spectators and social media alike.
In 2015, while playing for West Bromwich Albion, McClean explained his stance in the club’s matchday programme:
People say I am being disrespectful but don’t ask why I choose not to wear it.
If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I’d wear it without a problem. I would wear it every day of the year if that was the thing, but it doesn’t.
It stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in. Because of the history where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that.
McClean was born and raised in Northern Ireland’s city of Derry and grew up on the Creggan estate. Six of the people killed on Bloody Sunday in 1972 came from the same area.
Bloody Sunday was one of the most significant events of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, when British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest march.
Of course, there are a number of other reasons as to why people choose not wear a poppy – and it doesn’t mean they don’t respect the symbol or, more importantly, don’t remember.
Some choose to display the white poppy, which has been made by the Peace Pledge Union – an anti-war group.
Their website states they feel the red poppy has the effect of ‘reinforcing support and acceptance of the military’, and how others are ‘concerned about the poppy’s association with military power and the justification of war‘.
The RBL says it has ‘no objection’ to the white poppy and sees ‘no conflict’ in wearing it alongside the red poppy, stating on their website:
The poppy is red because of the natural colour of field poppies. It is not red to reflect the colour of blood. The poppy is a humble, neutral and universal symbol of Remembrance and hope.
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We have white Peace Poppies (from the Peace Pledge Union) for sale again this year – at £1 each. 🕊️ White Poppies are worn in the run-up to Remembrance Day every year by thousands of people in the UK and beyond. White Poppies have been worn in this way for over eighty years. They are distributed by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), who explain that: "There are three elements to the meaning of White Poppies: they represent remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace and a challenge to attempts to glamourise or celebrate war. The white poppy represents remembrance for *all* victims of all wars – armed forces and civilians alive, of all nationalities. It is an expression of grief at the massive loss of life caused worldwide by war, both during war and for decades after wars officially end." 🕊️ For more information on White Poppies, see the PPU (@peacepledgeunion) website #peacepoppy #whitepoppy #nfnbooks
A number of television broadcasters have put forward their arguments as to why they feel they shouldn’t be wearing the poppy on air.
Jon Snow shared his opinions back in 2016 as to why he’ll never wear a poppy or ‘any other symbol’ on air.
On the Channel 4 website, he wrote:
I am begged to wear an Aids Ribbon, a breast cancer ribbon, a Marie Curie flower… You name it, from the Red Cross to the RNIB, they send me stuff to wear to raise awareness, and I don’t. And in those terms, and those terms alone, I do not and will not wear a poppy.
Additionally there is a rather unpleasant breed of poppy fascism out there – ‘he damned well must wear a poppy!’. Well I do, in my private life, but I am not going to wear it or any other symbol on air.
I respect our armed forces, the sacrifice and the loss, and like others I remember them on Remembrance Sunday. That’s the way it is.
Harry Leslie Smith, a a 95-year-old World War Two RAF veteran, has not worn a poppy since 2013 because he believes, according to the BBC, ‘the spirit of my generation has been hijacked’ by latter-day politicians to ‘sell dubious wars’ in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Smith acknowledges the good work the Royal British Legion does for ex-service personnel, but argues, if politicians ‘want war they must be prepared to pay for the consequences and not leave it to charity’.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Smith said:
Unfortunately, since we fell into the quagmire of the Iraq war and the ubiquitous war on terror, Armistice Day and the wearing of the poppy have been not only politicised but also commercialised.
It is now almost a month long dirge of patriotism without context and without understanding the true cost of war.
It’s hard not to empathise with some of Smith’s comments, and I cannot help but think it shouldn’t be a charity’s responsibility to collect money to meet the medical and social needs of those who’ve served in the military.
Could it not be the responsibility of the country’s taxpayers? Unfortunately though, until the government act, poppies will have to continue being sold in order to raise money.
Instead of wearing a poppy for #Remembrance2018 we should wear our shame because as a human race we've learned nothing since 1918.
— Harry Leslie Smith (@Harryslaststand) November 6, 2018
— Harry Leslie Smith (@Harryslaststand) October 7, 2017
When we attack those who choose not to display the symbol (as seen with actor Sienna Miller when she appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and cricketer Moeen Ali, whose poppy had simply fallen off when posing for a team photo), our behaviour contradicts everything the poppy represents.
We’re, sadly, seemingly living in an age when the only part of us which matters, is the part others see – a quick browse through Instagram will reaffirm my statement, so certain points Smith makes, can’t help but feel true to an extent.
Remembrance Sunday should be just that. A moment in time for nations to solemnly reflect on, and give gratitude towards those who’ve died.
A spokesperson for the Royal British Legion states:
The poppy honours all those who have sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms we enjoy today, and so the decision to wear it must be a matter of personal choice.
If the poppy became compulsory, it would lose its meaning and significance. We are thankful for every poppy worn, but we never insist upon it.
To do so would be contrary to the spirit of remembrance and all that the poppy stands for.
So today, during the Manchester derby’s minute applause, and all the other marks of respect which will be taking place, let us use the opportunity as a period for each and every one of us to remember.
Remember the casualties of war, remember those who’ve suffered, remember those who would have rather been on the terraces than in the trenches, and remember those who continue to serve for us and will continue to do so long after we’re gone.
If we realign our focus to remembrance, hopefully social division will be a thing of the past, and the red flower of Flanders Field will serve simply as a reminder: Lest We forget.