Nemanja Matic: Manchester United star won't wear poppy due to bombing memories

    Nemanja Matic (left) opted not to wear a poppy as Manchester United beat Bournemouth on Saturday.

    Story highlights

    • Matic opts not to wear poppy
    • Man Utd star says it reminds him of childhood attack

    (CNN)Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic has explained isn't wearing a poppy on his shirt because it reminds him of his childhood when the former Yugoslavia was bombed in a NATO-air campaign that lasted 78 days in 1999.

    Ahead of Remembrance Sunday, English football teams' kits include a poppy on the center of their shirts. Poppies have long been used as a symbol to remember those killed in conflict, particularly during the two world wars that consumed Europe during the last century.
      On Saturday, the Serbian international drew attention by not wearing the emblem as Manchester United beat Bournemouth, receiving a barrage of abuse online.
      "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," wrote Matic on Instagram.
      "I recognize 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.
      "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."
      NATO launched cruise missiles against the former Yugoslavia in 1999, following through on a long-standing threat to strike if Serbs refused to sign a US-drafted peace accord for Kosovo.

      'I don't want to offend anyone'

      "I do not want to undermine the poppy as a symbol of pride within Britain or offend anyone," added the 30-year-old midfielder as he confirmed he wouldn't be wearing a poppy on his shirt for his side's derby game against rivals Manchester City. That match takes place on Remembrance Sunday.
      "However, we are all a product of our own upbringing and this is a personal choice for the reasons outlined.
      "I hope everyone understands my reasons now that I have explained them and I can concentrate on helping the team in the games that lie ahead."
      Known for his philanthropy, Matic set up a local team in his hometown of Vrelo and is now owner of two local football clubs. He has also helped fund charitable projects in his hometown -- buying new equipment for the fire service and donating money toward the renovation of a church.
      Nemanja Matic has made 45 appearances for Serbia.