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Football Reporting


England fans’ shameful boos should only convince players they are doing right thing – Andy Dunn

Harry Kane is proving to be an identikit England captain, ever conscious of saying the right thing.

“Great to hear @England fans again,” he tweeted in the immediate wake of the narrow win over Austria.

And it WAS great to hear them salute Jude Bellingham’s performance and it WAS great to hear them celebrate Bukayo Saka’s winning goal.

It was not so great to hear some of them jeer Bellingham and Saka for taking a knee before kick-off.

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Yes, yes, yes, it is a free country, everyone has the right to protest. If the players’ gesture upsets or angers you for some reason, you are free to voice your displeasure.

But ask yourself how young black men such as Bellingham and Saka felt when, by taking a knee, they express sincere concerns about racial inequality in life and sport yet are, even momentarily and even by a minority, vilified for it.

Jude Bellingham takes the knee before kick off as fans inside the Riverside Stadium boo
Jude Bellingham takes the knee before kick off as fans inside the Riverside Stadium boo

Because that is what it sounded like when loud boos rang out around the Riverside on Wednesday night before decent applause, thankfully, took over.

How many times must players explain their action for a mere ten seconds before a game is not a show of support for any political movement?

Wouldn’t it be nice if their explanation, very well articulated by Gareth Southgate, was taken as the truth?

One of international football’s most wonderfully multi-cultural teams wants to draw attention to their worries about discrimination and worse but are booed by people who have come to support them?

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Opposition to certain elements of the Black Lives Matter movement might be fathomable, jeering players who feel strongly about racism is most certainly not.

The problem, according to Southgate, is that some people simply refuse to disentangle the two. Or are unable to.

Well, quite frankly, that is their problem.

That England’s core football following in no way mirrors the diversity of the group of players they are supporting probably explains a lot of things.

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But the melting pot of heritages in this England squad is something that should be cherished by all.

To share Saka’s joy post-match was something to savour. Brought up in Ealing by parents who had emigrated from Nigeria, a humble young man spoke of how he had dreamt of the moment when he scored his first England goal.

And we had to ask him about being booed for taking a knee. Shameful.

Bukayo Saka scored his first England goal but had to face questions post match over taking the knee
Bukayo Saka scored his first England goal but had to face questions post match over taking the knee

Southgate was going to talk to his players about the issue and wondered out loud if they might do something else.

Hopefully, they will not.

And I suspect the white players in the group will be as equally determined to keep making their point.

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Don’t forget, they kneel in support of their friends, their team-mates, not in support of any political movement.

And they are booed for that.

There are some black players who have decided against taking a knee but that is because they are probably frustrated that gestures are not being followed by practical measures, that black representation in football’s corridors of powers and in the coaching ranks is still scandalously low.

But those who believe gestures at least draw attention to their feelings, to their worries, to racism in society, should be applauded, not booed.

And the jeers that echoed around the Riverside should not make England players think twice about taking a knee … the jeers should make them doubly convinced it is the right thing to do.

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