A reader from Glasgow writes:
On Saturday 6 November, supporters of Celtic Football Club displayed banners criticising the presence of poppies on their club’s strips; reading, ‘Your deeds would shame all the devils in Hell. Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan. No bloodstained poppy on our hoops’.
Following frenzied media outcry and condemnation from the British establishment, Celtic FC has vowed to ban those involved in the protest. Furthermore, instead of admiring the principled stance of supporters or at least acknowledging their right to protest, sections of the British left have also damned their actions.
Yet, a deeper analysis is required to understand the reasons behind the dissent and also the concealed motives of the media and state to vilify it. The inflammatory, disproportionate and hysterical response has served to suppress a legitimate argument.
The Green Brigade, the anti-fascist supporters group behind the banner, has not condemned people who wear the poppy and considers it an entirely personal matter. The problem lies in the imposition of it on to the strips of a highly symbolic football club by a resented state – and the cowardly adherence to this by an increasingly unrepresentative PLC.
Celtic FC is often perceived as not just a football club but an institution representing the interests of the Irish Diaspora community in Scotland and upholding their working-class traditions. As such, it is a club whose supporters are intrinsically political, combining a passion for football and a vested interest in anti-imperialist struggles in Ireland.
This unique connection has aroused a community that is inclusive, progressive and inherently critical of the British state. The imposition of the poppy, without the slightest public consultation or regard, is an insult to members of this community, many of whom have family who have suffered directly at the hands of British imperialism.
The emerging conflict between supporters groups and the club PLC deepens when we consider that the former Labour Defence Minister John Reid, widely regarded as a war criminal, is club chairman. Since his arrival, there has been an intensified polarisation between traditional fans and the growing number of consumers comfortable with the rapid commercialisation of the club.
Reid has shown a strong commitment to reducing radicalism and stamping out the traditional fan base by policing their actions, songs and banners, whilst manufacturing division among supporters. On top of this, Reid’s desire to glorify British militarism within Celtic Park has understandably incensed many.
The demonisation of Celtic fans and their protest is an attack on progressive critical thought and on collective action, further highlighting the increasingly penetrable façade of British democracy. It is not a coincidence that the Scottish Football Association, which receives state funds, introduced the compulsory promotion of the poppy during a devastating recession, in which Glasgow, like other traditionally working-class centres, has suffered disproportionately.
This, along with the rebranding of Veterans Day to Armed Forces Day – representing a shift from remembering world war veterans to supporting those on active duty, became carefully constructed public-relations acts intent on replacing opposition to a crumbling economy and two illegal wars with a cheap air of nationalism. Instead of activists to appease, the state produced supporters – and all too often volunteers – to contribute to the brutal British war machine.
It is imperative for all progressive people to question the authority of imperialist media and recognise, as emphasised in this case, their predatory and highly manipulative nature. The remembrance of victims of war, both soldiers and civilians, is not a possession of the state or media. It is should serve as a reminder of the horrors of conflict, not act as an exploitative tool to galvanise support for war and send more working-class people to their deaths.
A reader from West London writes:
Remembrance poppies have also been used in an aggressive manner in China recently when prime minister Cameron’s team in China insisted on wearing poppies on remembrance day despite the Chinese objecting. For China, poppies sported by people from Britain call to mind only one thing: the opium wars, and it was crass of the British visitors not to remove them when requested to do so.
When it comes to staging protests in Britain over the wearing of poppies, it has to be considered that many people find the issues surrounding poppies difficult to cope with, since it is considered to be simply a mark of respect for people who gave their lives bravely fighting for their country, failing to understand that in fact those lives were sacrificed in the interest of imperialist profits. Even people who understand that those men were callously sacrificed at the altar of profit associate the poppy with helping their unfortunate families.
Personally, although I would certainly not wear a poppy myself, I would not demonstrate against it because the message that needs to be conveyed to the public is too complex to come across in this way. All you achieve is annoying the people that have been duped rather than enlightening them.
A reader from South London writes:
It is obvious that the excessive promotion of the poppy is part of the general campaign to build support for militarism and imperialist war.
The issue is not whether individual people choose to buy/wear poppies but that the Celtic players were forced to wear shirts with a poppy while playing. This is highly offensive to the (substantial) anti-imperialist section of the working class in Glasgow and the west of Scotland.
This section of the working class has always supported the IRA and the Irish struggle for self-determination as well as Celtic Football Club, which was founded by poor Irish immigrants in the 19th century and has always had a special place in the community. This carries over into wider issues – Celtic fans wave Palestinian flags at games; Rangers fans wave Israeli flags.
What has caused particular resentment has been that there has been a concerted campaign to stamp out and outlaw pro-republican and anti-imperialist expressions on the part of Celtic fans – especially since Labour war criminal John Reid became chairman of the club. This pro-republican and anti-imperialist sentiment has been labelled ‘sectarianism’, which, in turn, has been placed on a par with racism.
This has even extended to banning the singing of the Fields Of Athenry, a totally non-militarist song about the Irish famine, which spent over a year at No 1 in the Irish charts and is also the recognised song of the Irish Rugby Union (whose base is more akin to Fine Gael than Sinn Fein).
Against this background, the imposition of the poppy representing those who ‘took the Queen’s shilling’, whilst stamping on even the mildest expression of pro-Irish sentiment, is an absolute affront to Celtic fans and the advanced workers of Glasgow (who are very often one and the same thing).