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England vs. Spain Third to FIFA Poppy Ban and John Terry Racism Allegation

Will Tidey@willtideySenior Manager, GlobalNovember 9, 2011

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 13:  An embroidered poppy is seem on the assistant referee's shirt during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Blackpool at Boleyn Ground on November 13, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

This Saturday England entertain world champions Spain at Wembley. It should have been an occasion to savior for Fabio Capello's team and the nation at large—the chance to take on the revered pass masters in their own backyard and make a long-awaited statement of intent ahead of next summer's Euro 2012 finals. But in the buildup to the match, football has come a very distant third on the agenda.

In second place is England captain John Terry, and the allegation of racist abuse that threatens to end his international career. Investigations by the FA and the police are ongoing, but in the meantime Fabio Capello will rightly stand by his man. Innocent before proven guilty, so goes the prevailing view in the rational world. Unfortunately for Terry, a good number of the fans inside Wembley on Saturday won't share it.

Terry is in for a difficult afternoon. Judging by the reaction on Twitter to the allegation he called QPR's Anton Ferdinand a "f**king black c**t," they'll be a large number of England fans ready to boo his every touch if he does indeed lead out the team. He's been here before, of course, fending off the abuse in the wake of his highly publicized affair with the mother of Wayne Bridge's child. He got through it, but this is an altogether more volatile issue.

Terry may ultimately benefit from FIFA's decision to ban England players from wearing poppies on their shirts—a ruling that has incensed everybody from Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere to Prime Minister David Cameron in the last few days. If Terry was looking for a distraction to his current plight, he couldn't have designed it better himself.

"This seems outrageous," Cameron said. "The idea that wearing a poppy to remember those who have given their lives for our freedom is a political act is absurd. Wearing a poppy is an act of huge respect and national pride. I hope that FIFA will reconsider.'

FIFA's argument goes like this. They say putting poppies on shirts could in theory lead to other nations using the space on their jerseys to make religious, political or commercial statements—thus "jeopardizing the neutrality of football." Here's their statement to the FA.

"We regret to inform you that accepting such initiatives would open the door to similar initiatives from all over the world, jeopardizing the neutrality of football. Therefore, we confirm herewith that the suggested embroidery on the match shirt cannot be authorised. There are a variety of options where the FA can continue supporting the cause of Remembrance. One of them already was approved by Fifa, the Period of Silence."

Predictably England has reacted with outrage. Twitter is awash with angry protest, and there are many who feel the FA should defy FIFA and go ahead with the poppies regardless. The shirts have already been printed and it would present a wonderful opportunity for some positive PR if they stuck their necks out. But it won't happen. In the context of world football politics, FIFA are far too powerful to upset and England's chances of ever hosting a World Cup again are not worth risking.

As we stand odds have been slashed to 16-1 that the game won't even go ahead. Bookmakers William Hill offer 9-2 that England will ultimately get their way, but the most likely outcome will see them wear poppies on their training tops during the national anthems instead. There's even a market for an England player celebrating a goal by revealing a poppy on a t-shirt, but that of course relies on England scoring against the best team in the world.

Whatever happens, the game will be secondary to the poppies and Terry circus now. And for fans of football played the right way, by a team boasting the most technically proficient squad on the planet, that's a crying shame—one that not even a scintillating 5-0 win at Wembley will put right now.

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