Serbian international said it reminded him of NATO bombing campaign on his home country in 1999
Man Utd's Nemanja Matic refuses to wear poppy
Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic will not wear a Remembrance Day poppy on his shirt because the symbol reminds him of the NATO-led bombing offensive of Serbia in 1999 when he was 12 years old.
The Serbia international was the only United player not wearing a poppy on his shirt during his team's 2-1 victory over Bournemouth on Saturday. He asked fans to respect his decision ahead of Sunday's crunch premier league derby at Manchester City, as the 100 year anniversary of Armistice Day looms.
"I recognise fully why people wear poppies, I totally respect everyone's right to do so and I have total sympathy for anyone who has lost loved ones due to conflict," Mr Matic said on Instagram.
"However, for me it is only a reminder of an attack that I felt personally as a young, frightened 12-year old boy living in Vrelo, as my country was devastated by the bombing of Serbia in 1999.
"Whilst I have done so previously, on reflection I now don't feel it is right for me to wear the poppy on my shirt."
Serbia refuses to recognise the independence of its former province Kosovo, whose 1.8 million people are mostly ethnic Albanians, which broke away 10 years ago.
"I do not want to undermine the poppy as a symbol of pride within Britain or offend anyone, however, we are all a product of our own upbringing and this is a personal choice for the reasons outlined," Mr Matic added.
Stoke City midfielder James McClean issued a similar call to supporters last week, asking them to respect his decision not to wear a poppy on his shirt during matches. He is from Derry, where 13 protestors were killed by British troops in 1972 on Bloody Sunday.
He is facing an investigation by his club and the Football Association for referring to some fans as “cavemen” after they abused Mr McClean for his public refusal to wear a poppy.
Meanwhile, UK police were searching for a group of criminals who are believed to have flogged fake poppy products before then making off with the proceeds. Authorities raided a warehouse in Manchester holding 1,700 bogus Remembrance products including earrings, badges and pendants with ‘Lest We Forget’ emblazoned.
The swindlers are cheating people of their money by convincing them it was going to support the armed forces.
Manchester City Council executive member for neighbourhoods,
Rabnawaz Akbar, said in a statement: “It is absolutely appalling that counterfeiters would sink to the depths of creating fake poppy merchandise, to try to exploit the public’s desire to support members of our Armed Forces community.”
“I encourage all Manchester residents to be vigilant and ensure that they are buying their poppies from official Royal British Legion vendors, or the charity’s official websites, to ensure their generous donations reach the people who deserve them, instead of ending up in the pockets of callous scammers,” he added.