Almost exactly a year ago, I was moved by outrage and irritation to write in my local newspaper column about an edict from the world governing body for association football, Fifa. They had seen fit to dictate policy to national football associations in the matter of their representative teams wearing the poppy symbol for international fixtures held on or around Armistice Day. The Fifa position was that the poppy fell under the definition of "a political or religious symbol" and therefore had no place in sport. It is a position from which Fifa has now, belatedly but sensibly and with more or less good grace, backed down. And that's good news for anyone who supports freedom of choice in matters of conscience and conviction.
Still, a debate rumbles on across social media about the wisdom or otherwise of wearing a poppy symbol, and whether that symbol should be red or white. There are passionate arguments being advanced on all sides, with every advocate of a particular point of view seeming utterly convinced of the rightness of their position. Feelings run high, and the original idea behind the subject being so hotly debated is in danger of disappearing beneath this welter of conflicting dogma. Plus ça change...
Surely, the clue is in the way in which these annual commemoration events are referred to. Armistice Day - a reminder of the time that peace broke out. Remembrance Sunday - a day set aside to recall the sacrifice of those who paid the ultimate price in a conflict not of their own making. The point of wearing a poppy symbol has to be, in equal parts, paying tribute to all those who died, or who suffered lasting injury, in time of war - and also the heartfelt desire for peace in a world that has seen far too much strife. Whether or not a person - or an international football team - wears the poppy symbol, should be a matter for them and them alone. And whether that poppy is red, or white, or sky-blue pink is likewise down to the choice of the wearer, or of those behind that team. By definition, matters of conscience are not the business of third parties. FIFA now appears to accept this, in the case of the poppy at least.
I'm reminded of a poem written by my mother over twenty years ago, which eloquently expresses the reason behind the symbolism of the poppy at this time of year. This is why I'd always choose to wear one, be it white or red, around Remembrance Sunday.
Bravest flower true and red, black of heart whose petals bled
On Flanders Fields
Its brave defiance duly won, it opens with the rising sun
But what of sunset, what of then?
The poppy droops and fades again
A tissue paper flower bold, fresh as dawn, too soon grown old
A transient life, not many hours
O delicate and fickle flowers
Beloved poppy, every hue, from palest pink to purple blue
Prolific bloom with jigsaw leaves
A mystic tale of death it weaves
Frail wispy stem, the poppy grieves
Symbolic of the blood they shed
A soldier's flower, brave and red
The black and peppered seed it yields, blooms anew on Flanders Fields
Mrs L K Atkinson, 1994