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.

READ: Mayweather would get smashed by Khabib Nurmagomedov, says UFC boss

READ: Bayern Munich accused of racism over Halloween party photo

‘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.

READ: Xherdan Shaqiri left out of Liverpool squad for Belgrade game

READ: Mo Salah statue has social media in stitches

Matic isn’t the only player to refuse to wear a poppy.

Republic of Ireland international James McClean opted not to wear one in 2012 and received a strong backlash for his decision.

McClean is from Derry, Ireland. The 1972 shootings at a civil rights march in Londonderry hardened anti-British sentiments in Northern Ireland, according to analysts, and led to many fresh recruits to the Irish Republican Army.

James McClean, who is pictured playing for West Brom, also refuses to wear a shirt with a poppy.

In 2010, the British government released a damning report into the “Bloody Sunday” massacre, placing blame overwhelmingly on the British soldiers who killed 14 people in Northern Ireland that day.

The forward, who now plays for Stoke City in English football’s second-tier, said wearing a poppy would be “a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the ‘Troubles.’”

Visit for more news and videos

Almost 3,000 people died during three decades of violence, which became known as “The Troubles.”

Despite the controversy, McClean continues to not wear the emblem on his jersey and is often abused online for his decision.