Taking the knee: why do England's players do it - and why do a minority of fans boo it?

Taking the knee has become synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement

Tyrone Mings of England takes a knee a a gesture of against racism prior to England vs Romania (Getty Images)

The Football Association has called on England fans to “respect the wishes” of the decision of the players to take the knee ahead of their matches at the European Championship.

The Three Lions open their Group D campaign against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday, where 22,500 fans are anticipated to watch on from the stands.

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England’s players have been taking the knee ahead of kick-off in recent months as a gesture against racism and inequality.

But the stance was jeered by a minority of fans in both of England’s Euro 2020 warm-up games at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium – the first occasions the knee had been taken with supporters in attendance.

Why are players taking the knee?

Taking a knee is an anti-racism gesture.

Head of player engagement at Kick It Out Troy Townsend explained the action in a statement released on June 3.

He said: “taking a knee was a gesture chosen by the players as a stance for greater racial equality in football. It is important to reiterate they have said explicitly that it was not intended to be connected to any specific political movement.

“All the players and staff who wear the Three Lions shirt with pride share a collective voice in the fight against racism. To those that booed, we ask you to support them irrespective of the gesture they use.

“The actions and support of all fans can send a powerful message across the whole country that football is united in the fight against racism.”

Premier League players began taking the knee before fixtures following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin.

The campaign was inspired by the kneeling protest staged by American football star Colin Kaepernick in 2016, that has since become synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The FA has underlined its stance and asked those with plans to boo the gesture to “reflect” on the image it would project and distanced the move from any political movement.

“Tomorrow, our England senior men’s team will begin their EURO 2020 campaign at our home, Wembley Stadium,” a statement read on the eve of the Croatia game.

“Major tournaments don’t come around often and when they do, it’s an opportunity to unite friends, families and the country.

“This collective support is what spurs our team on during challenging moments and it gives them the best chance of succeeding.

“As the team has reiterated many times, they will collectively take the knee ahead of their fixtures during the tournament.

“They are doing this as a mechanism of peacefully protesting against discrimination, injustice and inequality. This is personally important to the players and the values the team collectively represents.

“This gesture of unity and fighting against inequality can be traced back as far as the 18th century. It is not new, and English football has made it very clear that it does not view this as being aligned to a political organisation or ideology.

“There can be no doubt as to why the players are taking the knee and what it represents in a footballing context.

“We encourage those that oppose this action to reflect on the message you are sending to the players you are supporting.

“Please respect their wishes and remember that we should all be united in the fight to tackle discrimination. Together.

“They will do their best for you. Please do your best for them.”

Why are some fans booing the gesture?

Most of those who oppose the the gesture have failed to present a clear explanation of why they boo taking the knee.

Some have said the gesture’s ties to the Black Lives Matter movement is why they jeer.

Tory MP for Dudley Marco Longhi said fans wanted to watch football "without having the agenda of a Marxist supporting organisation rammed down their throats by overpaid prima donnas".

Lee Anderson, also a Tory MP, called for a boycott of English fixtures.

He said: “for the first time in my life I will not be watching my beloved England team whilst they are supporting a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life”.

Some footballers stopped taking the knee during the Premier League season, including Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace, but he explained that his decision was a personal one and that he would continue to “fully respect” those “who continue to take the knee.2