After such a lengthy period of time with football fans not being allowed anywhere near a stadium to scream abuse or shout their disdain, it hasn’t taken long for supporters and those wearing three lions to be back in the headlines for the wrong reasons. This is despite the fact Euro 2020 hasn’t even started yet.
England’s first home game back with spectators allowed in was in Middlesbrough. Now I could understand it if the fans started to boo because they were forced to eat a parmo and travel to the land of smog to see their nation play football, but unfortunately it was because they opposed the players taking the knee to support equality for all.
A number of those who oppose taking the knee might say they don’t like those who are behind the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m not a Marxist and I doubt the millionaires on the pitch, on the coaching staff and the white old men heading up The FA are either, but the players and management do believe in showing support for equal opportunities. Or at least they say they do support it. On the face of it you’d have thought most would too. Not amongst the England support though or so it seems and this argument doesn’t wash with me.
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Some might say that politics has nothing to do with football and vice versa. I understand the argument for that but surely football could be a vehicle to force change within society and use its mass audience to help those less well off or oppressed. Marcus Rashford being the prime example of that over the past year with his campaign for free school meals. Brian Clough and Jack Charlton once spoke out against the National Front. Were those on the terraces speaking out against them then? Actually, they probably were, but you’d hope society as a whole were in support of Old Big ‘Ead and Big Jack.
While we’re on the topic of politics in football, the poppy is worn on football tops across the UK once a year in memory of soldiers in the British Army. A politicised tribute if ever there was one and one that England supporters and The FA have spoken out in favour of during international matches in the past. Is it that the knee just doesn’t suit the agenda of those in the stands? James McClean will certainly be able to speak about how he has been treated disgracefully for a number of years now for having an opinion regarding the political tribute.
The Royal Family must also be relieved that when the Duke of Edinburgh passed away recently fans weren’t allowed in the stands. Given the silence for 60 seconds that was demanded before each professional football match from the players across the UK for what seemed like an eternity must have disgusted a number of England fans. I imagine football fans would have been throwing their pies on the pitch and spitting phlegm over the advertising hoardings at this tribute for a figure who had nothing to do with football and opposed to this act. I think not.
It probably doesn’t help the cause of the booing England fans when king of the racial slur Boris Johnson refuses to condemn the action either. Nigel Farage has also weighed in with his comments that politics should stay out of sport. Quite ironic when the serial loser politician is commenting on sport.
The England players come from a huge mix of cultures, backgrounds and identities and that should be applauded. It should be spoken about with great pride that this diverse group of players are representing their nation and showing support for equality. It wasn’t so long ago Declan Rice and Jack Grealish were Irish, singing rebel songs and shouting “come on you boys in green” now they are joining a number of other players shouting God Save the Queen and Three Lions.
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It is a shame that in the run up to the hotly anticipated Euros this has become the main topic of conversation. If the booing continues then given recent behaviour at England matches the pre-match events could be a hell of a long spectacle with the opponents national anthems being booed vociferously and then the knee being taken.
With fans flocking back to stadiums this could be an opportunity to tackle the issue and speak out against those booing as Gareth Southgate and the players are doing so. There is also a need to explain why they are doing it to educate those who are currently opposed.
Of course, football isn’t alone in this. Cricket has had its own problems in the past week with Ollie Robinson’s historical tweets coming back to bite him before he was applauded on the pitch by the England faithful at Lord’s. Given the audience in North London that was probably because they agreed with what he said and are hoping he can return to tweeting similar comments to those he made a decade ago. It will also be interesting to see whether English RFU manage to stop their fans singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot which is rooted in slavery next time fans are heading to leafy Twickenham.
A number of those who booed the players on Teesside for taking the knee bizarrely claim they’re not motivated by racism yet the message supports anti-racism and is what it stands for. However, there does need to be a dialogue about what has been happening behind the scenes to tackle the issue of racism, diversity and equality in the past 12 months and what the plans are in the coming months and years.
Taking the knee should be the beginning of change and football, sports teams and organisations now need to stand up and say what they have been doing in the community and within to help this since they backed the move to take the knee. It cannot simply be an empty gesture to take the knee and for those who backed it to rest on their laurels.If the knee continues to be taken, it should be to stand up against racism, for equality, and support changes being made to tackle it.
DAN WHITE – @Danwhitepr