I do however hope that all those who are so determined that our nation's footballers should remember the nation's fallen will respect the right of other nations to do the same. I look forward to seeing the England crowd stand in respectful silence as the Argentinean footballers wear their mark of remembrance for those who died in the Falklands war when they next play England. I trust the England fans will also be proud to stand beside the Russian fans when their footballers mark the deaths of all their troops who died in the battle of Stalingrad during the Great Patriotic War that turned the tide of the Second World War in the allies favour. We were, of course, then one of the allies that benefitted. But will we be as keen when the Russians play the Ukrainians and they battle with each other over who has the right to wear what symbols and nationalists on both sides try to use football to get a nasty little message across along with the remembrance?
The use of football matches to bring us together to remember the dead ought to be a nice moment and one that is uncontroversial. But it isn't that simple. The North Korean's might be quite keen on marking the deaths of all their nationals at the hands of British troops during the 1950s. Or the Iranians and the Iraqis might wish to use a football match to kick lumps out of each other and re-ignite old conflicts because they have both chosen to wear provocative symbols of the millions who died in the war between those two nations. You remember that war. This was the one in which the UK backed Sadam Hussein and supplied him with weapons of mass destruction in the hope that he would beat the Iranian religious fanatics for us. That was before he used some of those same weapons to gas the Kurds and before we decided that we no longer supported him and indeed that he was such a crazy dictator that we needed to topple him in order to establish peace, order and democracy throughout the Middle East. You must have noticed how well that went. I'm sure that the relatives of the British soldiers who lost their lives in this ill advised adventure will really appreciate the newspapers who campaigned so hard for them to go off to that war trying to increase their circulation by campaigning for poppies to be worn in their memory.
When footballers step out onto a pitch to represent their nation there is more going on than a simple football game. Much of what takes place also involves bringing people together under a single national identity and a lot of effort to make us aware of what it means to belong to that nation. Even if that national tradition is underperforming and going out in the early stages of the tournament after a set of lack lustre performances that don't bear any resemblance to what the players achieve week in week out for their clubs. Standing in silence in a huge crowd and respecting those who are not there because they died or were badly injured fighting for their country is a great tradition and a thoroughly admirable thing to do.
Provided of course that it is not used by nationalists to whip up the kind of blind fanaticism that leads to the next set of deaths and the next war. FIFA is a horrible corrupt institution that is riddled with self satisfied old men trying to line their own pockets and promote their own self importance. Remembrance day is a fine and an important institution. We are, however, entitled to wonder whether all those in the British press who are attacking FIFA and defending remembrance day are entirely doing so from the best possible motives. Or whether they would be entirely comfortable with the consequences if the custom was adopted across the board by all nations wishing to commemorate their dead.
I like my football games to bring people of different countries together to enjoy the spectacle of seeing the beautiful game played at its best. Is it perhaps just possible that some of those who are campaigning so hard for poppies to be worn are not completely wedded to the same concept? My kind of nationalism takes pride in the British sense of humour, the British sense of fair play, British tolerance and British support for the underdog. It is a nationalism that is proud of two centuries of the nation acting as a safe haven for refugees and of a tradition of standing up against narrow minded fascism whether it is via the battle of Cable Street or Rock against Racism.
Excessive narrow minded nationalism can be a very dangerous thing. Ask those who fought and died in the trenches of the First World War and never could work out why they were fighting people who were remarkably like themselves. I suggest that when we proudly see our teams going out to compete we think with pride of the thousands of British and German soldiers who came out of their trenches on Christmas day in 1914 to play football together. That is the kind of behaviour that I am proud of. Not the stupid narrow minded nationalism of the officers who ordered them at gun point to get back into their trenches and start up the machine guns again.
Can I have my funny, tolerant, welcoming and inclusive country back please?