England to kneel at Euros despite possible adverse reaction – Gareth Southgate

Gareth Southgate says England will take the knee at the European Championship despite the potential for an “adverse reaction” as those that booed the gesture at Middlesbrough only strengthened the group’s resolve.

The Three Lions have made the anti-racism stance in every match since international football resumed last year and will continue to do so despite some negative reaction when supporters returned on Wednesday.

Fans had been shut out of England matches for 18 months until the 1-0 win against Austria, where the pre-match gesture was met by loud booing that was swiftly drowned out by the applause of others.

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Southgate leads his side back to Middlesbrough for their final Euro 2020 warm-up match against Romania on Sunday, when the group will again take the knee – just as they will do throughout the summer.

“I think those people should put themselves in the shoes of those young players and how that must feel,” the England manager said.

“If that was their children, if they’re old enough to have children, how would they feel about their kids being in that sort of situation?

“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.

England and Austria players take the knee before Wednesday's friendly at the Riverside Stadium
England and Austria players took the knee before Wednesday’s friendly at the Riverside Stadium (Lindsey Parnaby/PA)

“We accept that there might be an adverse reaction and we are just going to ignore that and move forward.”

Southgate spoke eloquently about the subject on Saturday, saying his players are sick of talking about the gesture and would not take more questions on it during the tournament.

But the England manager says he must “never be allowed to be tired” of talking about such subjects as he has not experienced the kind of issues that his players have.

“In essence, people are booing their own team,” said Southgate, who thinks about his players and their journeys when he takes the knee. “I don’t really understand that.

England have taken the knee since football resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic
England have taken the knee since football resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic (Neil Hall/PA)

“If you don’t agree with the situation then perhaps you don’t have to applaud or you don’t have to do anything.

“But to boo your own team is a very strange response in my mind.

“I wanted to gauge that the players were happy to continue. I think there’s an acceptance that this gesture, if you like, is waning in its impact because we’ve been going now for a season.

“But I think ahead of a European Championship where the games are going around Europe, around the world, that moment just before the kick-off, which will be shown everywhere, will have a significant impact.

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“If we can affect only a handful of people, then we’ve made the world better for others. I think we’ll affect more than a handful of people and for that reason it is worth us continuing.”

England midfielder Kalvin Phillips was on the bench for Wednesday’s match and was left “confused and disappointed” by the reaction to the gesture.

“I think I was just happy that the boos got cancelled out by the fans cheering in the end, but I don’t think it’s a great situation, especially for us players,” he said.

“All we can do is just focus on the game and speak about it afterwards.

England players and fans celebrate Bukayo Saka's winner against Austria
England players and fans celebrate Bukayo Saka’s winner against Austria (Scott Heppell/PA)

“And I think the team spoke about it together and we came up with the conclusion that, regardless of what goes on around, we’re still going to participate in the kneeling and I think that’s a great idea.”

Southgate highlighted the need for those “in hierarchies of business, sport, government to make changes for all organisations to actually show change”.

The England manager also said there is probably a more impactful way of making a stand against inequality moving forwards but stressed “we weren’t prepared to take a backward step” after Wednesday.

“We feel that would be wrong and would be bowing to pressure from outside and we don’t think that’s appropriate,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live. “We’re united on that as a full team.”

Gareth Southgate leads England into their final warm-up friendly on Sunday
Gareth Southgate leads England into their final warm-up friendly on Sunday (Lindsey Parnaby/PA)

While braced for more jeering from some, Southgate does not believe it would diminish their home advantage at this summer’s Euros.

“Well, only if we allow it to and we’re not prepared to allow it to because we’re totally together on taking that stance,” he told talkSPORT.

“We are accepting that if there’s an adverse reaction, the support of each other, the support of team-mates, and the support of the majority of fans in the stadium is what we’ll focus our attention on.

“We don’t really want to give oxygen to people who no matter how many times we say why we’re doing it seem to ignore it, frankly, because they’re choosing not to.”

Southgate said: “People are choosing to create the narrative that they want and it’s pointless us wasting our energy if people aren’t prepared to take part in change, look for progress”.

Among such voices are Conservative MPs Brendan Clarke-Smith and Lee Anderson, with the latter saying he would boycott England games this summer if they continued to take the knee.

Asked what he would say to people that take that approach, Southgate simply said: “Well, we’ll be very sorry to see them go.”