A lot has been posted and discussed about James McClean and his ongoing and long held choice NOT to wear a poppy and I was disgusted by the behaviour of portions of the crowd at Stokes game against Middlesbrough last night (3rd November). The expectation that everyone who lives and works in the UK will join in whatever UK based celebration is taking place at the time is starting to become dangerously prescriptive and dictatorial. The latter being the very thing that the world wars were fought to prevent. The people that you are honouring during this cycle of remembrance by the wearing of the poppy are largely those that fought in the two world wars. Wars fought on the premise that we could retain the very freedom that is now being eroded. The freedom to choose. To choose to follow a religion, to choose your sexuality, to choose a different side and to choose whether to wear a poppy or not.
I understand that the British Legion campaign is closely tied with remembrance Sunday, a day when the nation remembers and honours those who have sacrificed themselves to secure and protect our freedom, but every conflict we have fought had “an enemy” millions of whom died as well, it’s not aimed at remembering them. After 50 years of relative peace many of those we previously considered enemies, have become our allies, friends and business partners, but do we truly expect them to participate in an event that is specifically designed to remember our dead and not theirs? Some may choose to, but should we really dictate participation?
Maybe the problem is less with the poppy than with James heritage as an Irish Republican. Many people on both sides were killed and injured in that long-lasting civil war and whilst I am no authority on the matter, I suspect that views on both sides have changed little about a united Ireland. What I do know is that violence begets violence and if the Queen can shake hands with Martin McGuiness and Mr McGuiness can shake hands with the highest representative of the nation he has fought against all his life, then we should be able to see that a difference of view, differing beliefs, are not a cause for this level of public hate and violence.
I served in the British Military for ten years, I don’t wear a poppy nor do I actively advertise support for Help for Heroes or other veteran support groups. I have my own reasons for feeling it is an inappropriate measure and because of this I haven’t worn a poppy for more than eighteen years. Just as I have the right to choose, James McClean has the right also. Everybody does. The British Legion themselves agree, they have this posted on their website:
“Wearing a poppy is a personal choice and reflects individual and personal memories. It is not compulsory…”
So, do you really support Stoke City FC or is it just Saturday entertainment for you? Why, if you claim to support a team, are you booing one of our own players for his beliefs? That isn’t that what support is about – we should be offering James our support against those outside of our club who are abusing him, not be abusing him ourselves? I remember the days not that long ago when NOBODY could speak out against Stoke, its team, its style of play or its players… we called it the Bear Pit – but it wasn’t our own players that were the food for the bears…
To all those supporters who attempted to assault him at the end of the game, please go and consider if you are truly fit to wear the very poppy you think should be everywhere. Go and consider if you are truly representing those that you claim to be remembering. My parents and grandparents have all passed away, I can’t ask them what they think, and would they support Mr McLean, I do know however, that the idea of fighting for freedom has to mean freedom for all, freedom to choose, freedom to make up one’s own mind and not be told what to do – otherwise those that we are remembering lost their lives for nothing because at that point we no longer have the freedom they gave their lives for!