The Coming Poppycock

BX_4kZGCcAAbf2WLast year, on 9 November, Celtic were playing at Pittodrie in a game that went a long way towards defining our season.

The score line is barely remembered now – we won 2-1 with ten men courtesy of a last minute winner from Virgil Van Dijk – but the match itself lives on in infamy for some.

It was not the nature of the game itself, nor the last minute goal, or that Celtic came back to win after being a goal down or that we played the last ten minutes with a man short after our captain Scott Brown was shown the red card.

No, the match is remembered for the minute’s silence.

Or the lack thereof, depending on who you’re listening to.

This year, at around the same time, we’re playing Ross County. They didn’t bother with the silence last time we played them there at the start of November, and they were flayed for it in the press.

There was never any question that they’d get in line this year.

In addition, the match will take place on Remembrance Sunday itself, at 3:30 no less, when travelling fans will have had ample time to get the lager cans out, which can bring forth the halfwit in even the most mild-mannered individual. One wonders whether this scheduling was deliberate. Regardless, some things are entirely predictable, and this is one of them.

Residual anger over this highly politicised day will boil over. Someone will disrupt the peace, or be accussed of doing so. An ill-timed fart is all it will take. (One year the hacks were alleging a coughing protest; the media really is a disgrace.) Lo and behold, the papers will have their headlines and the haters the fuel for another year of mock outrage and fake empathy.

All of this is depressingly certain, and profoundly disturbing.

I’ve written about this subject before, of course, and it always sparks controversy. Last year, in the aftermath of that game, I wrote a lengthy piece called The Sound Of Silence, in which I examined the whole “tradition” and how it’s become warped.

I am thoroughly sick of the whole thing, especially in the way the baiting of my club’s supporters has become part of the annual event, but this is a bigger issue than Celtic, and, indeed, football.

Observing silence is no longer optional, something done as a mark of respect.

It’s almost mandatory now, something demanded of you.

Instead of being a solemn matter of conscience and reflection it has become a matter of routine, and there is enormous cultural pressure to conform and to do it, as if freedom to make that choice wasn’t one of the things that was being fought for in the two wars this day was originally meant to represent.

As a consequence, all meaning has been stripped from it.

Instead of inspiring thought it now irritates and angers those it’s been forced upon. It’s demeaned, it’s devalued, it’s become something you do automatically, reflexively, without thinking anymore about what it represents.

On top of that, wearing the poppy has become a “must.”

You only have to look at how Jeremy Corbyn is being flayed for not definitively saying he’ll wear the blood red symbol on his jacket instead of doing what he’s traditionally done, which is to wear the white one which signifies a desire for peace.

He’s not alone.

Broadcasters, journalists, celebrities, politicians and other public figures are all subjected to this nonsense, with some actually being instructed to toe the line.

Some have rebelled, and now refuse to wear it, such as Jon Snow.

Even some veterans, like the great social commentator and writer Harry Leslie Smith, have decided to forego public demonstrations of respect because of the current political, jingoistic, nature of them.

I chose the photograph at the top of this piece – which is a football piece, after all – very carefully, and we should all take a minute to look at it and reflect on what it means. This is what Remembrance Day has become; not a memorial for the fallen, but a shrill recruiter’s air-horn and it insults those who died for our freedoms that it should have mutated into this.

The First World War, which is what Remembrance Day was initially set up to commemorate, was called The War to End All Wars, and of all the causes worth fighting for that was surely the most noble.

That war ended up one of the greatest wastes of human life this planet has ever seen, and its ham-fisted, supremacist ending fed directly into the next one.

The Second World War was a campaign to eradicate evil – genuine evil – from the world, evil in the form of Nazism and that is the one war in our history that I would have volunteered to go to, and I would have died in that endevour if need be.

The sacrifices made in those conflicts, even the First, I’d gladly commemorate and have done, for years, in my own little way, my own private moments, as many of us have, and on top of that I also respect, enormously, the men and women who serve in uniform today and it’s for precisely that reason I loathe the way they are routinely used by pretend patriots and people trying to score a quick buck.

In many ways football is permanently mired in disgrace, so it’s little wonder that so many of the clubs and individuals connected to it embrace this event so tightly. It’s a nice wee way of burnishing the reputation of a sport which allows all manner of low-life to inhabit its ranks. As symbolism goes, it’s cheap and easy … and typically, screwed up.

Look at the way the English FA handled it when their team played Spain in 2011. First, they were willing to ignore a FIFA directive telling them wearing the damned thing on the shirts was not on. Then they got the players to wear black armbands instead. They also sold poppies in and outside the ground, and laid a poppy wreath on the pitch – for what reason I do not know; no-one died on the Wembley turf unless all my history books are wrong, and it’s not a memorial to anyone who did die – and they filled the advertising boards for the night with the symbol.

And, of course, it looked tacky, cheap and tasteless.

FIFA had the right idea though.

I am amazed UEFA allows it to go on in the club game.

The sport who’s leaders allegedly want politics left at the door now annually allow a blatantly political, even nationalistic, symbol to define an entire calendar day, and the governing bodies make no allowances for individual tastes.

One player has publicly defied convention in England – the Irishman James McClean.

The rest have buckled, swept away by a cultural tsunami that pays no heed to their own backgrounds or nationalities.

Where is the Players Union in all of this? How can this be right?

Where is the belated call for the wearing of poppies on the jersey to be confined only to those who “opt in”? Yes, it would create pressure for those who choose not to, but that has to be better than forcing everyone to get in line.

Better yet, why isn’t the poppy simply taken out of football altogether?

The poppy does not belong on a football shirt.

It is crass, it is offensive to many and it makes a mockery of the concept of separating politics from sport.

Here in Scotland it is scandalously wielded as a weapon by people who don’t have the remotest interest in those the thing is supposed to honour.

It wasn’t always like this.

Poppy Day has grown over the years, becoming a media event which invariably starts weeks in advance of the actual occasion. And the recriminations last for a long time after it, and the debate draws every rat in the gutter.

There’s a wonderful episode of The Simpsons, called “Girly Edition”, where Bart and Lisa are fronting a news show. Bart is incensed when he hears Lisa talking to the producer, calling him an idiot. He goes to see Springfield’s famous newsreader Kent Brockman for advice about how to become a great anchor. The old pro tells him that the key to being successful is to give people stories that tug on the heart strings.

“Human interest stories – they cloud the issues and fog the mind,” he says.

So Bart’s People is born; it’s schmaltzy and fake, but the public loves it.

The second report he does is about a veteran’s hospital where old people are sewing American flags in bright colours, and when the segment is done Lisa berates him for using cheap sentiment to sell himself as a reporter.

What follows is a conversation, on the air, that I could well imagine being had with some of the shameless folk who try to ram this down our throats every year.

“I just think our veterans deserve a little recognition,” he says, his ignorance on full display.

“That’s what Veterans Day is for, Bart,” she replies.

“But is that really enough to honour our brave soldiers?” he asks.

“They also have Memorial Day!” she tells him.

“Oh, Lisa, maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong,” he says, to her stunned surprise, “The important thing is that veterans deserve a day to honour them!”

“They have two!” she says, holding onto her anger.

“Well, maybe they should have three. I’m Bart Simpson,” he says, as the curtain comes down.

This is what we have to put up with every single year now. Phony patriotism, commercialised and sycophantic. Lauding the troops as if we didn’t have a volunteer army, as if other public servants are less deserving of respect.

We have Remembrance Day itself.

Then they introduced Remembrance Sunday.

But now we also have Armed Forces Day, which means that we do actually have three of these annual displays of naked militarism and the glorification of war, at which politicians pretend to be statesmen and the pubs of Bridgeton Cross fill to the rafters with people trying to convince themselves that Britannia still rules the waves.

They don’t care about the troops any more than Bart cares about them or any of the rest of his “people.”

This military fetish which runs rampant amongst Sevco fans is something like that, something they use to make themselves feel better and I don’t feel any need to pander to it or even pretend that I do.

When I observe the silence I do it for my own reasons, not because society demands it, and I’ve never worn the red poppy, and never will, because it’s a political symbol which commemorates only combatants, and only on the one side.

40,000,000 people died in the Second World War, most of them innocents, most of them civilians.

When, as I have on occasion, worn the white poppy I did that to remember them all, and to remind myself what a tragic waste all war is.

I’ve spoken to those who sell the poppy, and I’ve held one of the boxes in my hand.

Do you know what it says on that box?

Not “Pay Your Respects.”

Not “Honour The Dead.”

Not “Remember Their Sacrifice.”

Those things are laudable notions.

You know what it does say? It says “Support The Troops.”

No thanks. I’d rather not.

With that slogan they’ve made buying one a clear expression of unequivocal, unquestioning support for Western miltary adventurism and the policies that have plunged the Middle East into turmoil.

That’s also tacit approval of everything the British Army has been engaged in throughout the years.

Not in my name, fellas.

I couldn’t care less what certain people think of that, and I find their counterfeit outrage offensive because it’s so obvious.

What these people want is an excuse to point their fat fingers, and I am depressed that some of our fans will probably give them one, and the media a chance to write yet another negative headline, but I’m not impressed and I’m not buying it.

Armed Forces Day at Ibrox is an embarrassment to all those involved, and it’s ridiculous that the army top brass allows its uniformed personnel to so closely associate with one football club.

In case people have missed it, our current political class intends to keep the boys in uniform very busy, and is forever looking for the next big combat zone to push them towards.

They need all the help – and the support – that they can get and a lot of people who might otherwise be disposed towards signing up or lending a hand may well be put off by the notion of one day having to abseil onto the Ibrox turf.

All this is to say nothing of the utter irresponsibility of turning your ground into a recruiting tent at a time when the meat grinder is working as never before.

The example it sets to young kids – “you too can stroll onto the pitch one day and take a bow before the fans” – that the military life is cool, that it’s something to aspire to, stinks to high heaven.

That picture I put at the top of the piece is all the more horrendous when you consider that a lot of the young lads who get the free tickets for lower league matches have already been in harm’s way and are heading back to that.

Would you want your kids to follow them out there?

Of course not.

That club and its hypocritical supporters – and they’re not alone by the way, a lot of other Scottish football fans who similarly couldn’t give a toss about the veterans 364 days of the year, along with the bulk of our hacks, who definitely don’t – get very animated over this issue, and everything that surrounds it, but it’s all about scoring cheap points and sod all else.

I might even respect them a little for it if that motivation wasn’t quite so blatant.

I don’t like the role our modern military plays in the world.

I don’t like the way it’s been subverted for political purposes and as a tool for making certain people enormous sums of money.

This Western desire to “bring democracy to the uncivilised world” is a transparent con job, designed to keep the arms industry busy churning out missiles, smart bombs, rifles, tanks and the shoddiest body armour in the world.

I don’t like that we’re little more than Uncle Sam’s bitch.

But none of that matters when you break it all down.

The role played by our grandparents and their parents in saving the world from Nazi fascism deserves a moment of respect.

The kids who pull on army uniforms today, and go off to do a difficult and dangerous job that I wouldn’t be anywhere near, they too deserve it, because I disagree with what they’re currently up to but I am in awe of them for signing up for it and I can’t imagine what has made so many of them decide to at the current time.

Others will disagree. Some, perhaps, will refuse to stand in silence.

They, out of ignorance maybe or out of their own deeply held beliefs, will choose to make a statement of sorts, and for that an effort will be made to smear an entire support and an entire club.

It appals me.

Not those who will refuse to make the effort – most will be simple halfwits beyond shaming and past the point of hope – but those who’ll seek to capitalise on the actions of what will, at worst, be a fraction of the Celtic support, a minority so tiny you could probably fit them snugly into the nearest telephone box.

These people, who spend their lives looking for confirmation of their own bitter and twisted prejudices, are the real defilers of those who fought and died for our freedom, because they have no respect at all.

If they did they would not so easily, willingly, gleefully look forward to this event for no other reason than to gloat like they do.

If they gave a damn about those who gave their lives for us, they would not so readily appropriate the memory of the dead in this playground game, as some of them have no problem throwing victims of child abuse at our fans every time they’re asked to confront reality.

They don’t belong in the same world as the rest of us.

They are the outcasts of civilisation.

They would clamber up a mountain of corpses just so they could crow.

Come the day, they will all be wearing their poppies, of course.

Do you think more than a handful know the story of the Somme, or the Field of Flanders?

How many of them do you reckon know that the poppy itself dates back to the Napoleonic War, that it was a Canadian who wrote the iconic poem that made it famous, and that said poem was inspired by an attack on his countrymen, not British soldiers?

How many know that it was an American who first pioneered the tradition of wearing a poppy at Remembrance Day?

Do they know how few in the States, or Canada, still observe that tradition?

Ask them when the Great War began. Who the combatants were. What it was fought over.

Ask them if they know the ways in which it led to the next one and then ask them about World War II itself.

Why it was necessary. What the steps towards it were.

Ask them what happened at Munich, where the West sold out the Czech people. Ask them on what date we declared war on Nazi Germany, and which country’s invasion prompted that.

Ask them about the Holocaust, beyond the simple fact that it occurred.

Do they know the names of the camps where the killings took place?

Do they know where the Final Solution was conceived and who attended the meeting?

If they can name three major battles in that war which haven’t been covered on The Pacific or Band of Brothers (American soldiers too, not British) you ought to be more than amazed. In fact, if they can name just one major battle in which British soldiers fought – and simply saying “the D-Day landings” or “The Battle of Britain” (airmen, that one, ask them if they know that) doesn’t count – then you should buy them a pint.

And as a last aside, ask them if they know which country suffered most in those wars.

Ask them if their people wear the poppy today.

Don’t be surprised if all you get are blank expressions.

But then, history never was their strong suit.

They never bothered about it because deep down they just don’t care.

Their true motivations are far uglier. We all know what they are.

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Comments on The Coming Poppycock

  • Gherrybhoy57

    Bang on, James. The horde’s agenda is to slur Celtic, their fans, Catholics/Irish at every opportunity. The intensity of these attacks has increased in the last 4 years since Rangers FC 1872 stopped paying its bills and entered liquidation. Deflect and ignore!
    Their pain in a few months time will be excruciating, My joy will be unbound.

  • Paul mckenzie

    Couldn’t agree more,an oil barrel would be more appropriate for modern day conflicts as a symbol of what it’s really all about.

  • http://facebook Owen dolan

    100% right on the button James,and I am 100% with you mate HAIL HAIL.

  • Garrymac

    The poppy has now been hijacked by sevconians as a symbol of loyalism . They can keep it along with the msm

  • bill kirk

    I agree Garrymac.My Grandfather served in the first World War and my Father in the Second, I have documentation to prove that.I now refuse to wear the Poppy as it has been tainted by the Sevco brigade.I will contribute , but will politely refuse to accept the Poppy offered.I would like to think that many of my fellow Celtic fans will do the same “contribute that is)

  • Big Mike

    I used to wear the poppy but I would feel dirty wearing it now as a result of its being hijacked by zealots.

  • edward

    Great article much appreciated and agree totally with the sentiments especially the efforts of Nations to glorify war and who kowtow to the Military Companies who sell their weapons of death and destruction
    As a Canadian I point out however that the origins of the Poppy as a symbol of Remembrance was as a result of the the Poem written by A Canadian Soldier during 1915 ‘;In Flanders Field”

  • Gerry

    They are not very good at history because they don’t have one themselves.

  • joe mccormack

    Excellent article James with many good points.

    Whenever I think of World War 1 one I can’t but feel sorry for those whose life’s were lost and the impact on the families .

    So many young men lost………..in many instances for little or no gain in the scheme of things.

    When you see the old black and white movies of the men going over the top, many going to certain death, it makes my blood boil that the politicians and generals were lauded as heroes, promoted and/or decorated for their part in using these young men as cannon fodder.

    Those men, miles behind the front line, still alive should be charged with war crimes and so should those posthomously who are dead.

    To me that would be a more fitting tribute to those who gave their often young lifes rather than wearing a poppy of any colour.

  • yogithebear67

    The British Troops waving scarves at Ibrox proclaming “Keep Ulster Protestant” was enough for me – never will I wear a poppy again. Neither will I contribute to Help for Heroes etc etc.

  • Frank B

    Fantastic piece of writing James. I have read a couple of your posts rececently and thoroughly enjoyed them. I look forward to more of the same excellent stuff.
    In relation to wearing a poppy my mother had 4 cousins (all brothers) killed in action in the 2nd world war. Whilst I refuse to wear a poppy for most of the reasons described by you. I make it my point to remember them on Remebrance Sunday. I don\’t need to wear a poppy to remember the sacrifice made by my mother\’s cousin and the terrible impact that their deaths had on the family. Indeed, their father then died of what my mother described as a broken heart!

  • Monti

    Excellent article James.
    I have never worn a poppy and have absolutely no intention ever to.
    I have the utmost respect for those who died fighting in the two world wars, but I do it in my own way, quiet acknowledgement and really, that is all that is needed

  • johnbhoy

    Brilliant as usual James. As an ex soldier myself, I agree 100% with your views. When I saw the debacle on the first forces day at ibrox, I was disgusted and angry beyond belief. I was also embarrassed. Like you said,”what were the top brass thinking about”? It was a disgrace. They would know the history of that club. So it was a kick in the cheenies for me and I’m sure many current and ex servicemen/women who don’t have any allegiance to that club or it’s tribute act. Missed you when you were away btw. UTLR

  • Allan Mackie

    Any loss of life is a tragedy for family, friends, loved ones. To ‘celebrate/remember’ one particular human episode is to diminish ever level of human suffering and loss.

    As a club, as a society, we should disavow and disown any sense of collective hysteria around grief. Grief is personal. Grief is heartfelt and sorrowful. It is not a crowdfund event.

    We should be, and are, greater and more empathetic than that.

  • http://Newsweek Ray

    My dad fought in WW 2 the fact is he did it so you could write your article. I wear it because I served as well and had friends killed on active service. It is everyone\’s choice to wear or not to wear the poppy, if you decide not to wear it please do not deride others who do. I agree sport is no place for this show and anyone who promotes there own ends by its use should be castigated. It says support the troops on the box because that\’s what the money does, it supports those who have been wounded or injured when they served their country, please do not imply that it is used for something else.

  • Simon

    Spot on Ray. For all this \”it should be your own choice\” fhat, it has went 180 degrees and turned into a shaming of anyone who chooses to wear it.

  • http://www.onfieldsofgreen.com Kenneth macaulay

    I don\’t usually agree with most things you publish but in this instance you are spot on .My late father refused all medals and point blank wouldn\’t wear a poppy as he said and l quote \” some things are not worth remembering \”.The whole issue has been hijacked by right wing politicians who want to \” celebrate\”every martial adventure by silences and parades and it\’s getting worse as their disgusting policies impact more and more on the poor and dispossessed .lf you want to wear one fine but if not that should be your choice

  • Steph1895

    Great article and a very, very emotive subject.
    Both my Grandfathers served in WW1(maternal) and WW2 (paternal) respectively.
    One suffered horribly with mustard gas poisoning and what is now called PTSD.
    The other one, captured in Burma and held prisoner and forced to build THAT railway, before escaping – missing for 6 years until he walked up his street in 1947.
    My father never recognised him and my Grandmother thought he was dead.
    Both Grandfathers never talked about the war and never bought a poppy – the futility of war they said.
    I served 18 years in good awful places like Iraq (1st one), Bosnia (3 tours) including NI.
    I never buy a poppy and refuse to put towards what is now a political statement.
    As you have stated; I respect a man who stands a post as I say, but not blindly.
    We need to think about what we are doing in this world before sending innocents to fight a political conflict, to protect the price of a litre of petrol at the pumps.
    Not and never in my name.
    FOOTBALL should give this a wide berth.

  • Béal Feirste

    You were doing ok until you wrote you respected those in uniform today, I presume British military not lolly pop men and women. Why do you respect those who bring the misery and horror of war to the innocent? And for Christ sake give over about the WW1 and 2 unless you want to play the militarists game. The poppy commemorates British forces in ALL wars including the war they waged in my country where they not only murdered the innocent on Bloody Sunday but also hundreds more innocent children, women and men in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The poppy is a bloodstained badge of the bigoted and racist trying to hide behind false sentimentalism about two global tragedies – it glorifies murder – bin it.

  • http://www.onfieldsofgreen.com James Forrest

    I respect anyone who’s willing to do a job I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself.

    Especially one that involves getting shot at.

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