Wearing poppies with pride

Poppies: A genuine mark of respect or virtue-signalling? Neil Walton, an account manager at Deep South Media, reflects.


Photograph by Rachel Read, account director at Deep South Media


Most of us know of a relative that served their country in World War One.

My great-grandfather, Harry Walton, was a first-class Lewis gunner with the Warwickshire regiment.

Despite fighting at the bloodbaths of the Somme and Passchendaele he survived. However, just one month from the end of the war his company of guards was surrounded in an offensive in remote Northern France.

Of the 120 men cornered, 94 were killed. The survivors, including Harry, were sent to Germany as prisoners of war.

Some 8.7 million British soldiers went to The Great War. More than 950,000 were killed.

Poppies are worn across the United Kingdom to remember and honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

But is wearing one a genuine mark of respect or just virtue-signalling to enhance social standing?

The vast majority, who voluntarily make cash donations into the collection tins, wear poppies with respect in mind – and the gesture has spread to sporting events.

Since 2010, Premier League football clubs have worn poppy-embroidered shirts, raising money for The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal. In 2015, clubs raised a record £271,810.

However, is this just a high-profile sport practising virtue-signalling? Possibly.

Positive stories are a victory for football’s public relations, where negative stories abound.

So imagine the disappointment at the English and Scottish FAs when FIFA banned the players from wearing poppies on both their shirts and armbands.

FIFA has strict rules against teams making political statements, using advertising and the like. Its President, Gianni Infantino, will likely have to deal with an appeal against the decision.

However, there is a precedent. In 2011, a deal was agreed for England players to wear poppies on their armbands in a 1-0 friendly win against Spain.

Of course, footballers do have a choice in the matter. West Bromwich Albion midfielder James McClean shuns the poppy because of its connection to the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, his hometown.

McClean has also stated he would wear a poppy if it solely marked respect towards the fallen in both world wars.

Poppy-wearing is virtually compulsory for TV presenters – with the exception of Channel 4’s Jon Snow, who branded this practice as “poppy fascism”. Snow later clarified that he wears poppies off-air.

Perhaps we should wear one because we want to, not because we feel obliged.

Lest we forget, what would my great-grandfather Harry Walton say?

He’d at least hope that we have learned from the lessons of the past.

That we are not condemned to repeat them.

That right must defeat wrong.