Calls for 'unity' as England players to take the knee at Euro 2020

6 June 2021, 13:47 | Updated: 6 June 2021, 15:04

England's Raheem Sterling (left) and Kalvin Phillips take the knee ahead of a match.
England's Raheem Sterling (left) and Kalvin Phillips take the knee ahead of a match. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

England fans are being urged to stop jeering players who take the knee as the national team heads into the final warmup game ahead of the Euro 2020 tournament.

Many players have been kneeling ahead of football matches in protest against racism for around a year, following the murder of Black American George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer.

But there were jeers and boos as England players took the knee at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium on Wednesday evening ahead of a win over Austria - the first time an England side have made the anti-racism gesture in front of a home crowd.

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Conservative MP Lee Anderson has even threatened to boycott his "beloved England team" if they continue to take the knee before matches at the European Championships, which begin next week.

"For the first time in my life I will not be watching my beloved England team whilst they are supporting a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life," he posted on Facebook.

England Manager Gareth Southgate has called on fans to think about how they would feel if it was "their kids" being booed.
England Manager Gareth Southgate has called on fans to think about how they would feel if it was "their kids" being booed. Picture: PA

However, there has been pushback from many in the England team and wider sporting community, who are calling for fans to get behind the players.

With the team set to play Romania at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday afternoon, England manager Gareth Southgate has said he is more determined than ever to take the knee before games at the Euros.

"Some people decide to boo - I think those people should put themselves in the shoes of those young players and how that must feel, and if that was their children, how would they feel about their kids being in that sort of situation," he told a press conference on Saturday.

Watch: Caller 'happy to hear booing' when footballers take the knee as it 'shows racist minority'

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"The most important thing for our players is to know that we are totally united on it, we're totally committed to supporting each other, supporting the team.

"We feel more than ever determined to take the knee through this tournament. We accept there might be an adverse reaction, and we're just going to ignore that and move forward."

Former England player and commentator Gary Lineker also tweeted his support: "If you boo players for taking the knee, you’re part of the reason why players are taking the knee."

Multiple Black England players have received social media abuse in recent weeks. Winger Marcus Rashford said he received "at least 70 racial slurs" on social media following Manchester United's Europa League final defeat against Villareal at the end of May.

Head of player engagement at football equality campaign Kick It Out, Troy Townsend, has pushed back against critics who say that taking the knee is a political move linked with the Black Lives Matter organisation.

"Taking a knee was a gesture chosen by the players as a stance for greater racial equality in football," he said in a statement.

Read more: Anti-racism activist urges athletes to use black power salute – not take the knee

"It is important to reiterate they have said explicitly that it was not intended to be connected to any specific political movement.

"All the players and staff who wear the Three Lions shirt with pride share a collective voice in the fight against racism. To those that booed, we ask you to support them irrespective of the gesture they use."

"The actions and support of all fans can send a powerful message across the whole country that football is united in the fight against racism."

Read more: Man, 49, charged with racially abusing Premier League footballer

Wales' Chris Mepham takes the knee prior to their game against Albania on Saturday.
Wales' Chris Mepham takes the knee prior to their game against Albania on Saturday. Picture: PA

England are not the only team making the gesture. On Saturday, the Welsh national team took the knee in their warm-up game against Albania in Cardiff.

Unlike the England fans on Wednesday, the fans at Cardiff City Stadium were seen singing and cheering as both sets of players took the knee.

Interim Wales manager Robert Page said: "We had a meeting with the players and we all think it's still important to take the knee.

"That's the message we've given out. We're all in it together and there were no issues."