In December 1993, Jon Hare, one of the early pioneers of the UK video game scene, released his latest title to almost universal acclaim.
One small group of holdouts were determined to wreck the party. The Royal British Legion and a handful of others were outraged. Showcased on Remembrance Day, Cannon Fodder was an anti-war strategy shooter, a game which still has a high place in the pantheon of truly great titles, in spite of its age.
In order to convey its anti-war message, and make people think about the horrors of armed conflict, it gave each soldier and volunteer a name, and it featured a tiny virtual graveyard for its “fallen” which grew as the game went on, a graveyard adorned with poppies.
The British Legion flipped out. The Daily Star ranted about it for days.
Only a handful of major figures spoke out though, even after Amiga Power’s Stuart Campbell – yeah, the same one who runs Wings Over Scotland – said “Old soldiers? I wish them all dead” at the height of the controversy.
He didn’t even need to resign over that. Can you imagine a columnist today saying such things and keeping their job?
But that’s how different it was back in 1993, before this matter became a front in the culture wars, before the poppy – a symbol of the fallen and which Jon Hare used precisely in context – became something else entirely, before it became a Statement.
Today is Remembrance Day, and the 30th anniversary of Cannon Fodder’s initial foray into the world. This is a radically different environment.
Stuart Campbell would not have lasted two minutes at a mainstream publication these days and that game would have faced a cancel-culture backlash which could have put the studio out of business.
Public figures are scorned and threatened for refusing to wear the poppy. The discourse over it is nuts, and to be frank a little bit obscene.
Once, Remembrance Day was treated with respect by those who observed it, but now it has been hijacked by a phalanx of outside interests, including Tory ministers who just don’t like pro-Palestine rallies and far right activists whose idea of patriotism involves fighting running battles with the police.
But this is what happens when something that wasn’t a political symbol is appropriated as one, and forced on people.
Those who hijack it can make it represent whatever they want. Those who oppose that can be characterised as traitors and sell-outs.
This is what some people would have Celtic become. A political symbol. Something alien to a lot of our current supporters, even something offensive.
Celtic is not a political entity and although it has taken political stands in our history, it has not, by and large, allowed itself to be hijacked.
Celtic boards have been careful what causes it has associated us with. They have been careful what they have allowed in our house.
The reason is simple; to do otherwise makes us into something different, something that we’re not supposed to be.
Although some have accused Celtic of inconsistency, I think in fact we are pretty consistent by and large, and to certain basic principles. But we have never gone to extremes, and that’s what certain people want us to do.
Today, we’ll be one of the few clubs in this country not to wear a poppy on our shirt.
Only a handful of teams on this island have taken that decision as a point of policy, and for us that’s what it represents.
A point of policy. But it’s also a point of principle.
Celtic is clear on why the poppy is not allowed on our shirts; the club is not a political entity and the poppy has become a politicised and divisive symbol.
We cannot ask people from countries which might have suffered at the hands of British military forces to wear the symbol which now endorses those conflicts on their chests.
We do not get enough credit for that. In certain places, where that should be applauded more loudly, we don’t get any credit for it at all.
Two years ago, I wrote an article on this subject in which I said that, “’Remembrance’ is now forced on people, either by those in authority or by the threat of public opprobrium and that’s why I’m proud that my club no longer plays ball, that it respects the quiet dignity of Remembrance Day for what it was, but will not bow to what it has become.”
I will observe the silence today because it represents the end of the Great War, quite simply the most pointless conflict in history.
And if you don’t want to observe it for that, you can pick your own reason or cause and respect those around you who do. I will observe it because of something personal in my own life at the moment.
I will fall silent in remembrance and I don’t care what those around me think of that … that’s why a lot of people will choose not to, a herd mentality which marks them as sheep instead of thinking human beings.
Others have good reasons for not observing it; this act, too, has become politicised in some places, but I really wish that people would take a more thoughtful stance on this one.
But the poppy is different.
The poppy has become a symbol of imperialism and the glorification of war, which is why you will never again see one on a Celtic shirt.
But it has also become a cautionary tale.
The poppy didn’t start out this way any more than we started out an extremist football club which alienates far more people than it inspires. We aren’t that. Yet. God willing, we never will be. Our “apolitical” stand is how we stay out of those sorts of hands.
Celtic must never allow itself to be politicised in that way.
This is the difference between having Palestine flags in the ground and being seen to allow banners glorifying slaughter or promoting the PFLP.
The Palestinian flags reflect our internationalism … there is a difference between that and political extremism.
So those who want Celtic to be “political” … be careful what you wish for.
Look at those shirts today, without a poppy on them, and remember that this is what it means to reject overt political sentiment.
Sometimes I think we forget how lucky we are.