Boos were drowned out by applause as England took the knee before their opening Euro 2020 fixture against Croatia.
After a week of public debate and a fierce defence of the anti-racist gesture by a young multi-ethnic England team, fans largely got behind the wishes of the players, and the booing from some sections of the 22,500 crowd were silenced by the time the match kicked off.
Those booing were identified as forming part of the England support, with some of the individuals also singing anti-IRA songs before kick off. They were vastly outnumbered, however, by fans applauding and even cheering the gesture.
The way the protest was received by fans will come as some relief to the England camp after a week of intense scrutiny. On Monday Number 10 Downing Street appeared to support the right to boo against the gesture, only for the message to be moderated on Friday. “The PM would like to see everyone getting behind the team to cheer them on – not boo”, the spokesman said.
The England players have made their position regarding taking the knee clear over recent weeks and have also received complete support from their manager Gareth Southgate. Speaking before the match to the BBC, Southgate addressed the prospect of the act being booed.
“We want that support,” he said. “We know we will have it during the game whatever happens, but before it’s for individual people to decide. We know what we’re doing and our focus is completely on the football.”
Having received support from their rivals Scotland who said they would take the knee before the Auld Enemy fixture next Friday, the Football Association on Saturday spelled out the argument in favour.
“As the team has reiterated many times, they will collectively take the knee ahead of their fixtures during the tournament,” English football’s governing body said. “They are doing this as a mechanism of peacefully protesting against discrimination, injustice and inequality. This is personally important to the players and the values the team collectively represents.
“This gesture of unity and fighting against inequality can be traced back as far as the 18th century. It is not new, and English football has made it very clear that it does not view this as being aligned to a political organisation or ideology. There can be no doubt as to why the players are taking the knee and what it represents in a footballing context.
“We encourage those that oppose this action to reflect on the message you are sending to the players you are supporting. Please respect their wishes and remember that we should all be united in the fight to tackle discrimination. Together. They will do their best for you. Please do your best for them.”
Before the match protestors were spotted outside Wembley carrying a St George’s flag reading “Don’t Kneel For Marxism”. Their protest was sparsely attended.
Some supporters booed before warm-up friendlies against Austria and Romania in Middlesbrough, withSouthgate saying the booing feels like an attack on England’s black players. The debate has also drawn attention from outside the sport, with Keir Starmer accusing Boris Johnson of undermining the team with his reluctance to condemn the booing last week. – Guardian