David Preece: Wear a poppy if you want but respect Nemanja Matic and James McClean if they choose not to

Manchester United players observe a minute's silence for Armistice Day, with Nemanja Matic deciding not to wear a poppy on his shirt.
Manchester United players observe a minute's silence for Armistice Day, with Nemanja Matic deciding not to wear a poppy on his shirt.
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It’s been some week, news-wise, hasn’t it? So let’s try to cut it up into pieces small enough to digest.

I love a good headline. So much so that I often sit and pretend I’m the copy editor of the day’s newspapers and make up my own headlines to whatever story I’m reading.

Quite often they’re terrible puns so if you are averse to such things, look away now. Here is the news.

GROWN MEN DECIDE NOT TO WEAR POPPY

This is a very simplistic, less nuanced take on Nemanja Matic and James McClean’s decision not to display a poppy on their shirt, but when you boil it right down, their freedom of choice on such matters is exactly the kind of thing those who it represents fought for.

I did think this was just a storm whipped up annually to allow column inches and radio waves to be filled with the kind of chat we’re having here, but after listening to someone on radio declaring how much he loves the poppy and what it stands for, I realised it’s more than that.

Instead of the acceptance that one person’s reality and truth is different from another’s, without causing any harm by holding that belief, there’s resistance and outrage that they must fall in line with ‘our beliefs’.

They take our British pounds, therefore they should adhere to our rules.

Absolute rubbish.

Matic and McClean’s abstinence from poppy wearing isn’t a slight on those in the British Forces who lost their lives in conflict.

It’s just that their experiences have been shaped by being on the other end of the battles those Forces fought. Does that make them wrong? No, just human.

My grandfather was a prisoner of war, marched through Poland in winter and had to pick off every one of his own toes after he lost them through frostbite.

He then escaped his camp to France where he was taken in by a farmer and his family and slept in their barn until the war was over.

Reading that back, it sounds like a cross between The Great Escape and ’Allo ’Allo, but it’s true.

Little did I know when I used to laugh at the stumps on the end of his feet when I was a kid, what he had been through for that to happen, but now I do, that’s why I’ll wear a poppy.

Not just for him, but for those who were alongside him who weren’t lucky enough to come back and start a family.

I’m sure I wouldn’t feel that way inclined if I’d lost him to a bomb dropped by a British plane or by a bullet shot by a British soldier.

Whether just or not, the conflicts partaken by British forces resulted in casualties innocent of any wrongdoing and when you have been touched by tragedy, it’s not so easy to be part of something that you see as contributing to that.

New boundaries for freedom of speech have laid us open to hearing the views of those who should never be heard and when the line between right and wrong have become blurred, non-poppy wearers aren’t doing wrong.

And you can guarantee that many of the people complaining about players exercising their right not to wear a poppy are the same ones who protest about the silencing of a certain right-wing mouthpiece from Luton.

Neither have been silenced, but the difference is that refusing to wear a poppy does not spread hatred.

Without the forced reasoning why, it shouldn’t spread anything, but a polite “No thanks” and everyone gets on with it. We’re all supposed to be adults here so let’s just act like it.

Our energies should be concentrated on those who are causing the divisions in our society today, rather than forcing others to take part in something that, if done, should be heartfelt and genuine, not forced.

This annual outrage isn’t befitting of anyone, least of all these who are being commemorated.

You should wear a poppy if you want to, not because you’re told to.

As the Royal British Legion say themselves: “Poppies aren’t compulsory and nobody should be targeted for not wearing one, or for wearing differently to you.”