This weekend, England football fans once again booed players as they took the knee ahead of kickoff.
At Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium on Sunday, in a game against Romania – the last friendly before the UEFA European Championship starts this week – the England national squad took the knee “as a sign of solidarity with the Black community, including members of our squad who themselves continue to suffer abuse on a regular basis”.
Disappointingly, a number of England fans could be heard jeering and booing from the stands, just as they could at England’s fixture against Austria last Wednesday.
Following that match, manager Gareth Southgate said he believes that “the majority of people understand” the gesture, which gained attention in 2016 when American football player Colin Kaepernick took a knee as the US national anthem played before a game. He said at the time, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of colour.”
However, Southgate continued: “Some people aren’t quite understanding the message, and I suppose we are seeing that across a number of football grounds at the moment.”
We’re also seeing it on social media, where this weekend a load of white patriots got together to boo their national side. Under the hashtag #BooTheKnee, hundreds of accounts – many of them the “proud of Britain’s history” variety – sounded off about “keeping politics out of football”.
As many, many others pointed out in response, opposing systemic racism is not a political act – and having a hissy fit about people doing so might suggest you have more of a problem with that cause than you’d like to admit. As pundit and former England captain Gary Lineker tweeted: “If you boo @England players for taking the knee, you’re part of the reason why players are taking the knee.”
Still, that didn’t stop this account from posting a bizarre video of a man booing – now watched over a million times – and encouraging fans to film themselves doing the same, alone in their homes, while England players take the knee hundreds of miles away. Or failed London mayoral candidate Laurence Fox, who tweeted, “I’m embarrassed to be British,” and, “My prayers are with Croatia, the Czech Republic and Scotland. Knock these woke English babies out.”
From the actual political sphere, Tory MP Lee Anderson has vowed to boycott the England squad for as long as they continue to support “a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life”, which sort of tells you everything you need to know.
Elsewhere, in one of the larger reaches made on Twitter this year, Nigel Farage claimed that those taking the knee are “using race as a means, not to bring people together, but actually to divide people”.
Labour MP John McDonnell has called the booing “sickening”, tweeting, “It was racism and should be called out. If supporting BLM [Black Lives Matter] is part of the culture war, then bring it on because you have to stand up against this new wave of racism.”
After scoring the one goal of the Romania game, England forward Marcus Rashford said: “[The booing is] something that we can’t control, and for us we believe [that taking the knee is] the right thing to do, so we’re going to continue to do it.”