Nobody wins by booing the knee - not even the booing fans


England’s game against Romania was marred by boos as sections of fans once again made their displeasure at players taking the knee clear. While it was drowned out by applause, the jeers were still audible for what was the second consecutive game in which boos could be heard from the stands. For some, it has raised concerns about the viability of taking the knee. Fortunately, both the players and the FA have so far maintained their positions.

“It’s not something on behalf of our black players that I wanted to hear because it feels as though it is a criticism of them.

“I think the majority of people understand it. Some people aren’t quite understanding the message and I suppose we are seeing that across a number of football grounds at the moment.”

Gareth Southgate

Southgate backed his players but was political in his suggestion that this was a message “some people aren’t quite understanding”. That may be the case but only to a degree. On the whole, and given last year's events and exposure to issues of racial disparities and injustice, this does not appear to be a case of miscommunication. Rather, many fans appear to understand exactly what it means and represents, which may explain why they are so vocal in their opposition. 

Barney Ronay touched on the subject in a recent Guardian column following Sunday’s game. Ronay, as with an increasing number of columnists, is sceptical surrounding some reasons given for booing the pre-match knee, chief among which has been suggestions that taking the knee represents support for a wider Marxist agenda. 


Pretending this has something to do with “keeping politics out”, or that creeping “Marxism” is a threat to your way of life in Britain (Conservative majority: 83) is cowardly and disingenuous. It is worth remembering in the middle of all this that football is just an amplification of what is out there. If there are racists, boneheads and people without compassion at England football matches, this is because these people exist in England. 

Barney Ronay, The Guardian

Players past and present have been disappointed with the response. Jordan Henderson described the booing as unhelpful and responded defiantly to the issue. 

“I think it shows that if there’s still people booing because we’re standing together against racism, then there really still is a problem and we’ve still got to fight it and stand together.”

Jordan Henderson, after England's match with Romania 

On a day when the only focus should have been on his landmark moment, Bukayo Saka, who is only 20 and scored his first England goal in the win over Austria a week ago, had to respond to questions regarding the boos. He, as other players had expressed, could not understand why: “I don’t understand why they did it. You’ll have to ask the fans that were booing to understand why they did it.”

Former England captain Rio Ferdinand may have more freedom to speak freely now that he’s retired, but you suspect his stance would be the same if he was still wearing the three lion shirt. Speaking to the BBC yesterday his frustration was clear. “I know the players are disappointed. … They [the players] want to go in with a positive mindset and want the nation to be fully behind them.

"I know what it feels like when you go into a situation where you feel you’re backed, it’s a beautiful feeling. … But I feel these people - the ignorant people - who are a minority that are being heard loud and clear are part of the problem. I think half of them don’t even know what they’re booing for.” 

As a former player, Ferdinand’s view is especially important - this will have an impact, likely an adverse one. For fans who care enough to part with their money in support of the team, it is difficult to justify throwing this same group of players in a mental bind game after game prior to kick-off. It's counterintuitive and does little to place the players in the positive headspace Ferdinand had spoken about. This is especially true for a national team that is constantly chastised for its lack of mental toughness and ability to deal with the 'weight of the shirt' (an interview with any England player over the past 30 years will let you know how this has fed into their performance).

Even if they insist that their opposition to the knee is so strong that it warranted the jeers, it leads to the question of why this should take precedence over a decision made by the players (who come from the same communities as many of these fans) to remind the watching world of where we still are in terms of race and persistent inequalities. In reality, it’s not something that should be this hard to accept, but for matters of the heart, it often is. 


Mayowa Ayodele


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