What if a British footballer wanted to wear a white poppy?

Remembrance means different things to different people, writes Baroness Jenny Jones


Remembrance Day is about joining together to respect the dead and we each have our own memories when we do so.

Personally, I  wear a red poppy, but I wear a white one too. One of the defining features of modern wars is the vast numbers of civilians who are killed as well. Over 140,000 civilians are estimated to have died in the Iraq war or its aftermath.

The white poppy is one way of remembering them. From those thousands in Iraq, to the Londoners who died in the blitz and the citizens of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the white poppy speaks for them. When the red wreaths are laid at the cenotaph and at numerous memorials around the country, would a wreath of white poppies be out of place? Should we remember all of the dead, or only those in uniforms?

Many in the media have pushed the FA to ignore the FIFA rules and put them on armbands for players to wear at the England vs Scotland game next Friday, but what if one of the players wanted to wear a white poppy as well? What if one of the players didn’t want to wear one?

The Republic of Ireland footballer, James McLean refused to wear one at a Wigan game because of the British army’s role in Northern Ireland. Would some English or Scottish players feel awkward about wearing a red poppy if England were playing Ireland next week, or even Germany? After all, none of us should feel obliged to wear, or not wear, a poppy.

I feel that the dead from the numerous conflicts and wars need to be remembered. The reasons why we remember them will vary. For some it is the loss of relatives or friends. The dead should not be forgotten and the British Legion works extremely hard to ensure that the families of people in the services are supported.

The white poppy was first introduced by the Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1933 and is now sold by the Peace Pledge Union. Their motto is:

“War is a crime against humanity. I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war. I am also determined to work for the removal of all causes of war.”

That belief; that we should not only remember the dead, but also think about the reasons they died, has always been surrounded by controversy. Some women lost their jobs in the 1930s for wearing the white poppy, on the basis that their campaign undermined those who been killed in service.

In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher expressed her distaste for the white poppy. I hope Theresa May will refrain from being equally divisive. If not wearing a red poppy or wearing white one is ‘making a statement’, then why is a red poppy not a statement? Why have statements become undesirable? Surely the point of Remembrance Day is to give us a collective space to think about it all?

The Royal British Legion seems fairly relaxed and play down the controversy. They say on their website: ‘We have no objection to white poppies, or any group expressing their views. We see no conflict in wearing the red poppy alongside the white poppy.’

Remembrance Day is about joining together to respect the dead and we each have our own memories when we do so. Personally, I respect the dead by taking a moment to think, to question and to act according to my conscience.

Jenny Jones is a Green Party peer and a former London Assembly Member

See also: Poppy wars are a seasonal distraction from the horrors of today

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11 Responses to “What if a British footballer wanted to wear a white poppy?”

  1. David Lindsay

    Some of the people whom I most respect politically, and sometimes in other spheres as well, wear the white poppy. But I must admit that I am not convinced. The red poppy was initially, and it is still properly, anything but a glorification of war. The white poppy message to “remember all victims of war” is already included, and the red poppy no longer features the name of Haig.

    White poppy money goes to the Peace Pledge Union, a campaigning organisation for absolute pacifism (a cause to which I do not subscribe), rather than to a welfare charity of any kind. Wear your red poppy with pride. I am wearing mine as I write. Because of what it really means.

  2. Mick

    White poppies are political items. And the politics can veer into whackjob territory, with the opposition to ALL war. Indeed, had Tony Benn’s view prevailed that liberating the Falklands was wrong, some of his own countrymen would still be occupied by a tyranny.

    Unite Against Fascism? Not when it suits many on the Left!

    Red poppies are in remembrance of those servicepeople who fell and can, in all our hearts, also stand for those who died on home fronts.

  3. CR

    The white poppy is an anti-British political symbol. A symbol of surrender to the worst sort of political correctness.

  4. David Lindsay

    Mick, there is plenty of “whackjob” politics on the red poppy side, too. To put things at their very, very mildest.

  5. Mick

    Well, then the left can throw stones, can they?

  6. Mick

    Well, then the left can’t throw stones, can they?

  7. Imran Khan

    In answer to your question Ms Jones yes, if they want to. Is there anything else I can help you with?

  8. David Lindsay

    I only ask, but in that case, why are England and Scotland playing each other at football on Armistice Day in the first place? As I say, I only ask.

    Apparently, England last played on Armistice Day in 1987. In 1987, First World War veterans were still alive in numbers comparable to Second World War veterans today, while some Second World War veterans had not even retired. For example, my father. But no poppies were worn by the players. In those days, they never were. A great deal more recently than that, in fact.

    Ho, hum. I assume that all of next Friday’s gate receipts will be going to the Royal British Legion. Of course. Together with any monies paid for the right to televise the match. Of course.

  9. Mick

    I suspect we younger ones now have these things only hit us when the old lads are finally dying out. I know the sacrifices hit home all over again when the last World War I people had their obituaries. It’s sweet that footballers want to mark their remembrance, no matter how high the takings at the gate. And life doesn’t stop all Remembrance Day, just for a minute.

    And incidentally, again, lefties have little room to pontificate. Time and again I’ve heard from old timers, during Labour governments and riots and PC mania, that it’s a wonder what kind of freedom they fought for.

  10. Georgie

    White and red poppies are political. War is political, death is political as is life. And why if one supports thevwhite poppy is one automatically termed as “leftie”. Utter codswaddle. And is it not a sad state of affairs that tge British Legion has to raise funds for ex service persons all because the Westminster has abdicated its responsibilities. But lets not discuss that lets just bemoan the wearing or not wearing of either colour of poppies.

  11. Marcie

    I agree with Georgie. The world isn’t neatly divided in left and right. Most of us have a mixture of views and making this into a competition/conflict between left and right is unnecessary and disrespectful. And to CR, what a silly comment, especially the first sentence.
    I’m in two minds about either poppy, so I wear none. Wearing both would no doubt trigger comments and anger from people who don’t fully seem to understand the white poppy and that it also remembers the dead of war. I don’t want to end up in a situation where I have to explain all the time, but not wearing one opens one up to ‘poppy fascism’, unfortunately. I don’t like the militarised nature of remembrance… there is no pride in war (though there can be pride in actions by soldiers). War is a failing…
    But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember the dead, military or otherwise, of war. I also contemplate why humanity still often fails and resides to war. I feel that complete pacifism is an ideal which we can’t afford now. It’s not realistic, though we should all work towards that…
    Until humanity grows up enough to resolve their differences in a non-violent way, we unfortunately need weapons, still. There are a lot of power crazed demagogues around in the world, and abandoning a way to scare off those people who want to do us harm by abandoning all weapons is not very wise. Let us hope that soon we don’t have to use the weapons we develop and have. In the meantime, we have a tremendous debt towards all those that gave their lives, it doesn’t mean that we can’t also be sad for the existence of war.

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