Gareth Southgate has criticised England fans and said ‘some people aren’t understanding the message’ after boos were heard when players took the knee before the Three Lions’ win over Austria.
After renditions of ‘Three Lions’ and the national anthems, there were audible jeers as the players took the knee at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium on Wednesday evening.
It was the first time an England side has made the anti-racism gesture in front of a home crowd.
The boos were soon drowned out by cheers among the near-7,000 crowd – but Southgate and his players will hope the immediate reaction does not follow the team throughout the upcoming European Championship.
England have a diverse squad that reflects the country’s society with match-winner Bukayo Saka, for example, of Nigerian descent.
Wednesday’s scenes come after players were also booed while taking the knee at the start of the FA Cup final between Leicester City and Chelsea, as well as some Premier League matches on the final day of the season.
After there were audible boos before Aston Villa’s win over Chelsea on the final day, England defender Tyrone Mings wrote on Twitter: “To anyone that booed us taking the knee, have a look at yourself and ask if you truly support equality and equal opportunity for the black players on the pitch. It’s tiring. Educate yourself.”
Southgate was also critical of those booing the gesture on Wednesday evening, saying that their jeers could be construed as a ‘criticism’ of those players and that the reason behind the stance has been misunderstood.
“I did hear it,” he said when asked about the immediate reaction from a large number of fans.
“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 we have got a situation where some people seem to think it is a political stand that they don’t agree with.
“That’s not the reason the players are doing it. We are supporting each other.”
The initial jeers were overtaken by a groundswell of support and, with other stadiums across England witnessing similar responses since the return of fans, Southgate wants to see the meaning behind the message reaffirmed.
“I was pleased that was drowned out by the majority of the crowd but we can’t deny the fact that it happened,” he added.
“I think the most important thing for our players to know is that all their team-mates, all the staff are fully supportive.
“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.”
FA are said to be coming up with plans to encourage fans not to boo the anti-racist demonstration, including a film explaining why players are taking the knee and will continue to do so this summer.
It has also been claimed the England squad are set to meet to decide whether they will continue to take the knee at the start of matches throughout the Euros – and the expectation is that they will.
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