In Depth

Fifa poppy row: Remember, the FA banned Somme visit at Euro 2016

England players will wear poppies against Scotland next week, but they were told not to visit WWI memorial in the summer

by Gavin Mortimer

The Prime Minister is outraged, the public is in uproar and for the first time in a while, the Football Association is enjoying the full weight of the nation's support in the wake of Poppygate.

The embarrassing departure of England manager Sam Allardyce after just 67 days has been consigned to history and so, it seems, has another faux pas that didn't cast the FA in a favourable light. That came back in the summer - and no, it's not the humiliation of being knocked out of the European Championships by Iceland

Before the tournament had even begun, then manager Roy Hodgson and his England squad arrived in France and set up camp north of Paris at Chantilly, which lies 70 miles from Thiepval, the scene of some of the bitterest fighting of World War I. 

Towering above the bleak landscape is the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, on which are inscribed the names of 72,246 UK and Commonwealth soldiers who fell on this part of the Western Front and who have no known grave.

It was Hodgson's intention to lead a party of players to the memorial to pay homage to the fallen ahead of the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme

He had taken a group of seven players to Auschwitz during the European Championships in 2012, despite the concerns of FA staff who, reported The Times, were worried "about the impact of the travel on their bodies and... the effect it may have on the players’ emotions during the tournament". 

On that occasion, Hodgson had his way by taking players not involved in the opening match against France (plus Joe Hart, who was playing, but insisted on visiting the former Nazi death camp).

However, the FA vetoed the pilgrimage to the Somme on the advice of its sports scientists, who said the three-hour round trip "would be too draining and likely to impact on England's performance".

That was enough for it to cancel the trip, much to the "frustration" of Hodgson. 

Instead, while FA chief executive Martin Glenn represented the England squad at a service at Thiepval, two of the players, James Milner and Joe Hart, recorded a video message honouring the fallen, among whom were 37 professional players.

Glenn has been vocal this week in condemning Fifa's ban on the wearing of poppies in Friday night's England vs Scotland match. "It's not a political symbol and I think most people would agree with us," he said, calling the FA's stance "a point of principle".

Cynics might say the FA's principles, like their poppies, are worn only at certain times of the year.

Gavin Mortimer is the author of Fields of Glory: the Extraordinary Lives of 16 Warrior Sportsmen

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