Is football fans booing players taking a knee the sound of ignorance?

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

This weekend saw the return of football fans to grounds across the country. What was suppose to be a wonderful moment in the UK's fight against COVID-19 and for football in general, has instead been marred by evidence and reports of booing at a number of grounds during the moment where players took a knee in the support of equality.

Some Millwall fans booed the players taking a knee before the club's match against Derby. When both sets of players made the now customary anti-racism gesture, there were audible jeers from the stands, where there were supporters for the first time in almost nine months. The reaction from some Millwall fans had been anticipated before the match, with the players and management confirming they would continue taking the knee regardless. - The Guardian But it wasn't just the obvious hardened and overtly racist Millwall fans getting in on the booing, jeers from Colchester United's home fans also rung out on Saturday afternoon, a town and a club that on the surface you would not expect to be taking part in such behaviour, but is it all that surprising?

Colchester United are fully behind any and all of our players and staff who take a stand against any form of discrimination in football, sport and life. We also condemn the behaviours of any supporters that actively voice opposition to those activities. - Colchester United FC (Via facebook) The above was a post on facebook by the official Colchester United page on Saturday evening, a great stance by the club, but some of the comments in the post are more concerning and are unfortunately the views shared by some people in society, not just in football.

Colchester player Callum Harriott immediately voiced his disgust on Saturday and today the Chairman of Colchester United FC has come out with this statement; "

Our club supports the players and their choice to take the knee for a few seconds before every game.
Callum Harriott described the purpose of the gesture perfectly to me explaining that taking the knee dates back to early civil rights movements as a way of silently showing solidarity in support of political inequalities suffered by oppressed communities.. Those that take the knee want to highlight that all lives should be valued and should not be treated inhumanely or inferior to others just because of their race.
It is undeniable that black and other ethnic minority people are still the victims of racism, and the black footballers and staff at Colchester United feel that they are in a position of privilege that has been fought for through the blood and sweat of their ancestors." - Robbie Cowling

I’m originally from Colchester, I’m a black man of mixed heritage, my Dad was one of a handful of grassroots black footballers in Colchester in the 70s and 80s and he faced all kinds horrendous racial abuse during his time playing.

My Dad, my hero. Bruce Hallpike. Think you can tell which one he is.

Fortunately my passion for the beautiful game, the strength of my character and the love of my Mum far outweighed the negative racial abuse shown towards me. The abuse I took only inspired me and drove me on. They were not going to effect my game and when I left the pitch with all three points and I'd played well that was enough. Job done. - Bruce Hallpike

My Dad's way of handling racial abuse isn't dissimilar to how the majority of black footballers dealt with it in the 70s and beyond, thick skin and an overall positive outlook on humanity were the only tools that they had.

I played a lot of football in Colchester through the 90s and 00s and although I didn’t face anywhere near the same level of abuse, racism towards me just became slightly more thinly veiled, but it was still there.

I also worked for Colchester United Community Sports Trust through my teenage and young adult life, So Col U means a lot to me. Seeing how some fans reacted to players taking a knee on Saturday is sad, but also not surprising to me at all.

I believe that structural discrimination still exists in football at every level of the game. Taking a knee is a powerful symbolic message that keeps the conversation very visible. I agree that it’s only a symbol and real change needs to happen, but I also think that IT IS HAPPENING! Former Charlton Athletic, Chelsea and Celtic defender Paul Elliott recently announced The F.A pledge with their Football Leadership Diversity Code which was taken up by the vast majority of football league clubs, it's an effort to see more representation of BAME staff, coaches and managers in the game and at all levels of leadership. Progress!

Paul Elliott is chair of The F.A Inclusion Advisory Board The amount of BAME sports broadcast presenters has visibly increased in recent months and Sky Sports has played an active role in continuing the conversations around equity in sport and the media. Progress! Uncomfortable conversations are being had in living rooms around the country when the football comes on, whether you agree with your family and friends or not, the conversations are happening. Progress! The fantastic Anton Ferdinand documentary was released by the BBC, a heartbreaking reflection on the structural failings of The FA, Kick It Out (The FA funded campaign) and society as a whole. It's not an attack on John Terry at all, in fact I think the documentary let him off pretty easy (but that's just my opinion), it's an attack on the structural racial bias that existed in football then and still exists in football today. It's fantastic that this documentary is getting a lot of attention right now, it's uncomfortable to watch and it’s even more uncomfortable to discuss with your Chelsea fan friends and family, but the conversations are happening. THIS IS PROGRESS! It's happening, it's messy and confrontational, but that is where change exists, in those uncomfortable places.

Anton and Rio Ferdinand on the John Terry fallout - BBC Even me writing this blog post is progress. 12 months ago I would never of had the courage to speak so candidly about this subject for fear of making some people feel uncomfortable, but the courage of people like my Dad, like Anton Ferdinand, like Colin Kaepernick or Lewis Hamilton has given me strength and confidence to now do so. Even when I think back to my childhood or time playing adult football I feel guilt around my silence and sometimes even my complicity in subtle racial slurs around black players and our supposed racial stereotypes. But this is 2020, there is a seismic change happening right now, not just in football.

These examples of positive change have undoubtably been brought about by the BLM movement and an awakening that is happening around the world when it comes to race and equality. Accelerated by the death of George Floyd and the global pandemic I believe that we are at a pivotable point in history that our children and grandchildren will see the benefit from if we can continue to speak out and strive for change.

Me and my team mates circa 1995. Can you tell which little one I am?

I like the taking of a knee still, now more than ever, if only to see how offended some people seem to be getting about it this week. It shows there’s still so much work to be done in football and society that these people still exist!

Personally I just don’t understand how it offends or threatens some people so much. To me the sound of the boos are just the sound of ignorance and white supremacy losing its strangle hold on society and as long as we have people that are willing to boo a group of their so called heroes for showing solidarity against the injustices around racism and in equality, then it’s only proving the players right that they should continue taking a knee.

Only when these people that are booing either fully understand the sentiment, or just f**k off out of football do I think it will be time to move on.

Then there's the argument that "This is a political statement and there is no room for this in football" - Well that is quite frankly laughable and is simply not true, standing up for injustices in society is no more political than standing up to cancer or a minute silence and the "forced" wearing of poppies to commemorate lives lost to war. Remember, anyone who doesn't wear a poppy is completely vilified. This is a human rights issue and players should have the right to express their support of this without the fear of being jeered! And then there is the thinly veiled racist attempt to lump in taking a knee with a so called “Marxist movement” which is also hilarious and is just lazy ignorance, most people that use that as a form or antagonism don’t even truly understand the word.

Whether you stand with the BLM movement or not, the players have clearly defined what taking a knee means to them, it means standing up to racism, and if people have an issue with that, then...I think it’s obvious what their real problem is!

If the players tomorrow decided that they would stand on their heads instead of taking a knee to symbolise the same message, would these people still have an issue...course they would! Football has a huge platform and players and clubs have a huge influence on younger generations in particular - showing them messages like 'No Room for Racism' or 'Rainbow laces' coming from their heroes helps cement that message. Allies within Colchester United FC, The F.A, Sky Sports and others have a really important job of continuing with this solidarity, as do we all if we are going to continue making progress in our beautiful game.


FA investigating crowd incidents at Millwall and Colchester

Fans at Millwall vs Derby and Colchester v Grimsby Town on Saturday booed as players took knee before kick-off in support of fight against racial injustice; Millwall 'dismayed and saddened' by incident - Via Sky Sports

Witten By Jordan Hallpike

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