The England team are determined to stay on their toes during Euro 2020, even if parts of the crowd choose to laugh at the gesture, said manager Gareth Southgate.
A minority of fans who shot to the knee in Middlesbrough last Wednesday have further united the team, with Southgate meeting senior players and then the squad on Friday.
The players and Southgate were encouraged that the rest of the crowd at the Riverside drowned out the boos with their applause and support for the gesture.
Audible cheers were heard as players from England and Austria knelt before their match
Jude Bellingham and Tyrone Mings take the anti-racism gesture before the match started
Gareth Southgate insists his England players will stay on their knees despite the booing
“We weren’t prepared to step back,” Southgate said. “We think that would be wrong and would bow to outside pressure and we don’t think that’s appropriate.”
Scotland manager Steve Clarke revealed his players can reverse their decision not to take the knee and he has scheduled talks with his side about the matter before their first game.
Southgate said the players had explained so many times that the gesture didn’t reflect some of the more extreme views of the . represented
Black Lives Matter group that those who choose to ignore that do so on purpose.
Getting on the knee was conceived as a peaceful way to make a point about racial injustice by American football player Colin Kaepernick, along with American Special Forces veteran Nate Boyer, who had objected to the sitting of the American national anthem by Kaepernick and suggested an alternative.
And the England manager insisted that while he was sorry some Conservative MPs said they would no longer watch England, it would make no difference to the team’s views. He asked those who booed and criticized to put themselves in the shoes of some of his young players and imagine how that would make them feel.
“First and foremost I wanted to hear the older players in the group,” Southgate said of their encounters on Friday. ‘I met a slightly smaller group because it is easier for people to talk and be open. My role is to represent the feelings and thoughts of the whole group and it was important to hear their opinion.
“We did discuss, ‘Is there a better way to do this? Is there a more effective way to do this now?” Maybe, going forward is probably there. But at this point, given what happened recently, we weren’t willing to step back.
Southgate claims the reason behind the players taking the knee is ‘misunderstood’
“We feel that would be wrong and would bow to outside pressure and we don’t think that’s appropriate. So we agree on that as a team. I spoke to the wider group about that today. Everyone feels comfortable with that. The most important thing is that the players support each other and that’s important to us in recent years and we are totally in agreement on how we think about this.
“It’s my responsibility to represent them as best I can, but I can’t quite feel what it’s been like for them because I haven’t been in their shoes. But I do have a very good understanding of it.
“I would like to ask people to think about how they would feel if they were an English player, a young English player, who was about to represent their country and basically hear the team being booed.
“I was afraid that what happened would mainly affect the young players, because it happened just before kick-off. I would have been confused. I don’t know how I would have reacted as a young player. Essentially, people are booing their own team. I don’t really understand that. If you don’t agree with the situation, you don’t have to applaud or do anything. Jeering your own team is very strange.
“This gesture of kneeling is a moment for people to think and they can choose to reflect however they want. Personally, when I do it, I think of the guys who play for us, the journey they’ve taken, the difficulties they’ve faced in their lives that unfortunately sometimes they seem almost immune to, but certainly other times it hurts .
Southgate acknowledged players could get more booing during the European Championship
“Ahead of the European Championship, where the matches are shown around the world, that moment just before kick-off will have a significant impact. If we can influence only a handful of people, we have made the world a better place for others. We’ll be hitting more than a handful of people, so it’s worth continuing.”
Southgate said they were willing to stamp out all negativity, but added. “I don’t think that will help their mental preparation for the game. But we are prepared in case it happens. We have to accept that there can be elements of the crowd that captivate. That would be hugely disappointing for us, but we are willing to go through that.
“We are adamant that we are not going to change and we don’t want to talk about it all summer. The players have said their piece, they have made their statements. It’s now up to other people in the hierarchies of business, sports, and government to make changes for all organizations — to actually show change.
“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.
‘We are a country with freedom of expression, so everyone is entitled to their own opinion. What I would say is that people need to recognize that if that opinion or showing that opinion can affect the performance of the team, it’s a strange attitude to take.
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“They have to put themselves in the shoes of those young players and how they should feel. If those were their children, how would they like their children to be in that situation?
“You know, one minute a player is being booed, the next they’re being cheered for making a tackle, putting in a cross, scoring a goal. We want everyone to be behind the team right now.”
Asked about the Conservative MPs who say they will not look at England, he said: ‘We will be very sorry to see them leave.’