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‘Fans who booed will feel vindicated by stopping players taking knee’

I

am disappointed Millwall and QPR players are not collectively taking the knee. Sometimes one has to be defiant to create the change we all want to see.

At the same time, I also know the players will have had multiple considerations on their minds. In the end it is the players who are the important actors here, they are ones making a gesture in the middle of a football pitch and if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable then they should determine how they move forward.

I hope that the black players have been consulted and feel comfortable with the decision because the message of Black Lives Matter is one that affects their lives, and the lives of their families and friends.

Over the years I have met a fair few Millwall supporters, from a leading sociologist to journalists, an artist, social workers and traders in the City. They are attracted to Millwall because they grew up in South East London and love the atmosphere, and there’s no doubt the anti-establishment reputation – ‘No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care’ – plays a part.

But Millwall’s fanbase has a record of racism that goes back more than 30 years. It sometimes feels like part of a generational handover.

Like many others, I view what happened at The Den on Saturday as racist. If you willfully disrespect a gesture that is in solidarity with an anti-racism movement, in support of the empowerment of a racial group, then you stand accused of racism.

The problem has continued with the club response. Colchester – who faced a similar situation at the same time – set the marker for how a club can respond very quickly and very firmly. Millwall’s statement was slow to come and looked lost. Even now, one more statement later, it is difficult to see how they plan to address their fans: how they are going to get into the minds of those that booed?

Other people should also look at their actions. The environment secretary George Eustice was asked about it on Sunday and whittered on about being against racism but refused to condemn the booing; in fact he supported the pretext that the Black Lives Matter movement was ‘Marxist’. He was playing the culture wars for political benefit.

The FA also had an opportunity last year to set a marker when they sanctioned an incident during an FA Cup third-round match between Millwall and Everton in January 2019. On that day over 100 Millwall fans were filmed singing racist chants.

The FA had the ability to issue Millwall with a stadium ban: in fact their regulations set that as the standard penalty, but they chose to fine them and put in place educational measures.

So whatever happens tonight, the bigger question remains – beyond the words of shock and outrage, beyond the culture wars: who is taking genuine leadership on these issues?

Right now it seems to be the players who take the knee in defiance of the boos…


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