(Reuters) - Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic will not wear a Remembrance Day poppy on his shirt during Sunday’s Premier League derby at Manchester City and called on fans to respect his decision.
Matic said the poppy symbol reminded 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.
“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,” 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,” 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.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond