A Kerfuffle Is Brewing Over England Players And A WWI MemorialPhoto by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Soccer News England
England, like the other 23 teams currently in France, are neck-deep in preparations for the start of Euro 2016. In between training sessions, technical and administrative staff are filling out the players’ schedule with PR and sponsor obligations, as well as trying to make the most of their (admittedly limited) time in France.
As part of their off-hours programming, manager Roy Hodgson thought it would be a nice gesture if England players made the three-hour trek to visit the Thiepval Memorial, which commemorates the more than 70,000 British and South African soldiers who went missing and presumed dead during the Battles of the Somme in World War I. (A few dozen of those men were professional and amateur footballers.) The players were game, and the visit was supposed to happen yesterday.
The visit never happened. Dave Reddin, the FA’s head of performance services, canceled the trip after concluding that the visit (and the journey to and fro) would be too physically and emotionally draining. With the kind of pressure the team is under— because it’s England in a major tournament— and their first match just three days away, the FA decided not to leave anything to chance.
In lieu of the visit, James Milner and Joe Hart made a short video honoring the lost soldiers on the 100th anniversary of the first battle.
???? #England duo James Milner and Joe Hart pay tribute to those who died in the Battle of the Somme, 100 years ago https://t.co/D0yOOK7Jjt
— England (@England) June 2, 2016
FA chief Martin Glenn also paid a visit to the memorial on behalf of the squad.
Of course, this being England, there was bound to be some manufactured controversy.
Richard Anderson, 55, whose great grandfather, Private Harold Walter Allen, was killed on the Somme aged 24, condemned the FA’s decision.
‘It is absolutely obscene that professional athletes can’t take a few hours out to recognise the sacrifice of thousands of men for Britain,’ he said.
Mr Anderson, who is taking part in a Soldier’s Charity walk through the battlefields for the 100-year anniversary, added: ‘Can it really be that draining?
‘It is an absolute joke that they haven’t been able to pay their respects. It is 100 years since the Somme, it is the British Army’s bloodiest battle and they can’t give up three hours.’
You know the drill. There have been hot takes. There have been hot takes about the hot takes. It’s all very exhausting.
The Guardian’s Marina Hyde perfectly summed up why the debate over this non-controversy is so ridiculous.
To anyone sensible, the irony… should be so crashingly obvious as to require no elaboration. It is just another version of the annual Premier League poppy row. The truly tasteless insult to the war dead or the death camp victims is using them as a plot device in the England football story. It reduces the sacrifice which you affect to revere or the unimaginable suffering you affect to abhor to minuscule levels. These synthetic rows are not about respect. They are nothing more than another way of telling the same small-minded story that some people are always telling about footballers, which is that they are so self-absorbed as to be devoid of any perspective. Well, it certainly takes one to know one.
War is still an immense and incomprehensible tragedy, the England national football team will forever labor under standards that no one could ever feasibly live up to, and they kick off their Euro 2016 campaign against Russia on Saturday.