Football And Remembrance

By on Nov 16, 2010 in Latest, Opinion | 4 comments

This statement appeared on Airdrie United’s website yesterday:

Saturday’s Match Programme

I would like to unreservedly apologise for the error on our Remembrance programme which resulted in the wrong photograph being used for the front cover.

The original match sponsor for the game was Network Rail so I decided to base our Remembrance programme images on wartime trains. A number of photos were considered and when the final choice was made, the wrong image was lifted which was almost identical to the one that I had selected. Unfortunately it showed German soldiers instead of allied troops with the nurses.

As a Club, we are hugely supportive of Remembrance and have dedicated our Remembrance weekend programme to poppyscotland for a number of years. We always have a minutes silence and we also played in special strips bearing the poppy, all of which makes the programme gaffe very embarrassing.

Personally, I am devastated at this unfortunate mistake as I am immensely passionate about Remembrance and wear my poppy with pride, however you can be assured that the same mistake will never be made again.

Jim Ballantyne

Chairman

Airdrie United FC

Now, first and foremost, this is funny. Very funny indeed. And whatever serious points I may have to make in the rest of the article, I don’t want anyone to lose sight of the humour which is the main point here.

But why is it so funny? Is it just because it happened, that the staff at Airdrie had not been watching enough war films to be able to spot the obvious German insignia on the collar? Or is it indeed the fact that it happened to Airdrie, a club who have worked hard to rid themselves of Nazi jibes arising out of the behaviour of a few idiots among their support? It’s both of those things, of course, but more than anything what amuses me is that the club, and Ballantyne, are apparently so mortified about it.

And why? What’s to apologise for? Perhaps I’ve misunderstood or just wasn’t paying enough attention in school, but I always took Remembrance Day to be an all-encompassing, politically neutral event, to remember soldiers of all stripes and colours who lost their lives for causes which were often propagated at political levels entirely outwith their own purview. Why would there be any problem using a picture of German soldiers? Are they meant to be excluded from the remembrance?

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. Maybe it’s not that they’re excluded, it’s just that the picture is deemed insensitive. That might have been a fair point in 1948 – and if there was anyone among the 1,013 attendance on Saturday who still feels a loss from World War 2 so keenly that the picture caused them personal distress then perhaps they appreciate the apology. But as you probably gathered, I’m pretty sceptical – it seems to me that the exclusivity is intentional. And maybe it’s always been this way and I’m just becoming more aware of it, but I think the politicisation of it is getting worse.

The current slogan, “Supporting Our Heroes”, rather adds to this impression. “Our heroes” is explicitly exclusive, as well as implying a requirement to make a moral or political judgement as to the justice of the cause. Even the word “supporting” seems to be calculatedly ambiguous to refer not just to the financial support offered by the Royal British Legion to veterans, but also to a more active sense of backing for troops currently engaged in conflicts which many of us don’t support – and among whom opinion is divided as to what attitude to take towards those taking part in the conflicts.

It’s not the place of this blog to get involved in expressing opinions either way on the politics of it, only to note that I regard this division of opinion as a perfectly legitimate one, on which neither side can claim any moral superiority as regards the manner in which they choose to remember (or learn from) past conflicts. And it wouldn’t be especially relevant to this blog at all, were it not for it’s increasing involvement with football. Because alongside this politicisation of the event, the commemoration of it also seems to be becoming more and more obligatory, in forms demanded by some of the moral grandstanders among our society, and particularly among some elements of the tabloid press.

The Daily Mail led the charge a year ago when contestants on Strictly Come Dancing failed to be appropriately poppied up, and the ‘paper was even able to get its teeth into another of its favourite bones when the BBC used the excuse of health and safety. I don’t own a TV, myself, but I understand this dreadful error was rectified this year. I’ve even been told of another programme on which poppies appeared on the presenters mid-programme. And even the Premier League, it seems, is not strong enough to withstand the Mail’s withering moral gaze. The practice of having poppies embroidered on football shirts is a recent one, but already seems to have become mandatory, at least in top divisions. The Mail kept an ongoing tally of which clubs had and hadn’t yet signed up to the campaign. In the end of course, all of them did. And all twelve SPL sides too.

Including Celtic, to the consternation of at least some of their support who don’t wish to participate in Remembrance Days because they perceive it not just as commemoration but as celebration of the deeds of British armed forces. And I’ve got to say that I at least see their point – however provocative a manner in which some of them chose to express it before the home game against Aberdeen last week. You can’t have it both ways. Either the process of remembrance has to be a neutral one, and absolutely should include German soldiers and anyone else, rather than just “our heroes”, or you have to accept that you have already politicised this process and it’s not fair or reasonable to expect everyone to share that political viewpoint. It doesn’t matter that, in the particular case of World War 2, the judgement as to just cause is pretty uncontroversial – the judgement shouldn’t be involved at all, particularly as you’re then drawing implicit analogies with other, much more contentious, conflicts which you’re also wrapping up in the same event. I’m not condoning those banners at Parkhead (the context has to be considered as well as the message) but nor do I condemn them for it – they are not the ones who have introduced politics into the situation.

And there’s an additional irony in the fact that the Celtic Chairman who promised to ban those responsible is John Reid. Again, I wish to stress I wish to give no opinion either way on the rights or wrongs of Iraq or Afghanistan (actually I don’t even have much of an opinion), but it might quite reasonably be argued that a prominent member of the government that embarked on those wars is seriously short of moral high ground from which to tell other people how they should remember the dead of previous conflicts.

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this. I’m not quibbling with the concept of Remembrance Sunday, at least not in the manner in which I always understood it. If I were to be part of a generation that was wiped out by war, I think the least I’d ask of future generations is that they remember that it happened – regardless of how or of what they choose to learn from it. And having an annual occasion on which to mark that remembrance seems to me that it ought to be a good thing. The minute’s silence at East End Park before the Fife derby on Saturday was poignant and beautifully observed and it’s a tradition I’d like us to maintain.

But I’m uneasy about the manner of its presentation lately, and I’m especially uneasy about the almost crypto-fascistic trend by which it has become obligatory for everyone in the public eye to make public demonstration of their remembrance. Football clubs – and indeed individuals – should be free to choose who or what they commemorate, and how, and what organisations they want to be associated with in the act of doing so. If these basic criteria can’t be observed then maybe it would be better if football stayed out of it altogether, and told the Daily Mail to do one. Enforced commemoration is no commemoration at all.

Okay, rant over. You can go back to laughing at Airdrie now.

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    4 Comments

  1. This is excellent. Brilliantly incisive. Thanks, Gavin. Someone needed to say it.

    Pete Green

    November 16, 2010

  2. Personally, I do wear a poppy but, nobody should be forced to wear one and that’s why this post is so incisive. Spot on.

    Lanterne Rouge

    November 16, 2010

  3. I know nothing about Airdrie and any alleged Nazi supporters. But which club doesn’t have idiots?

    I feel that Airdrie have doen the right thing here and I would expect any programme editor to be mortified at this sort of mistake.

    Whilst what you say may be right in principle, it’s nevertheless naive to equate German and British soldiers when they were on opposite sides of a conflict. Not least because there must still be plenty of septuagenarians who have been forced to grow up without a father whom they knew.

    I’m not saying this wasn’t also a tragedy for German families or that there ought not to be an implicit equivalence between soldiers on both sides, but to make it explicit in this way would be crass in the extreme if it had not happened by mistake.

    AdamR

    November 18, 2010

  4. All clubs have their idiots but Airdrie have a certain reputation. No reflection on the club of course, but if you could have picked someone for it to happen to ….

    As far as the substantive issue goes, I sort of see the point and sort of don’t. The picture certainly becomes incongruous when it has the slogan “Supporting Our Heroes” imposed on it, but for me that highlights the shortcomings of the slogan (and the thought behind it) more than of the choice of picture.

    Gavin

    November 18, 2010

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