Cabinet minister wades into row after Millwall fans boo players taking the knee

A Cabinet minister today waded into the row after Millwall supporters booed their own players when they took the knee.

Environment Secretary George Eustice was asked about the extraordinary scenes during the Championship match yesterday.

It has prompted criticism from Gary Lineker among others, who told his Twitter followers the Millwall fans not booing were in the ‘minority’.

Mr Eustice was played audio of the scenes on Sky News, and took aim at Black Lives Matter – although he stressed that protests by individuals should be treated with ‘respect’. ‘Obviously the issue of race and racial discrimination is something we all take very seriously,’ Mr Eustice said. 

‘My personal view is that Black Lives Matter, capital B, L, and M, is actually a political movement, which is different from what most of us believe in, which is standing up for racial equality.

‘But look each individual can take their own choices about how they reflect this. I know a lot of people feel quite strongly and have taken that approach.’

He added: ‘There has been problems obviously with racism in football in the past. It is right that that is called out and challenged when we see it.

‘It doesn’t have any place in society today and if people choose to express their view in a particular way that should always be respected.’   

The booing came at the first game attended by fans since lockdown began in March – during which period many footballers have started taking the knee before kick off.

The gesture has been carried out by players and staff across the country originally in support of Black Lives Matter, before the Premier League distanced itself from the movement.

Not all teams continue to take the knee before games, with Queens Park Rangers’ director of football Les Ferdinand saying the impact of the stance had been ‘diluted’. 

Some 2,000 supporters were at the Millwall versus Derby County match, and video footage from the ground showed there were a large number of aggressive boos from the stands as the players knelt down.

Millwall boss Gary Rowett said he was ‘disappointed’ by the fans’ behaviour, while opposition manager Wayne Rooney said it was ‘surprising’.

Millwall fans booed after players took the knee ahead of their Championship clash with Derby

Millwall fans booed after players took the knee ahead of their Championship clash with Derby

Millwall fans booed after players took the knee ahead of their Championship clash with Derby

Supporters were allowed back into The Den for the first time since the Covid outbreak in March

Supporters were allowed back into The Den for the first time since the Covid outbreak in March

Supporters were allowed back into The Den for the first time since the Covid outbreak in March

George Eustice was played audio of the scenes on Sky News, and took aim at Black Lives Matter - although he stressed that protests by individuals should be treated with 'respect'

George Eustice was played audio of the scenes on Sky News, and took aim at Black Lives Matter - although he stressed that protests by individuals should be treated with 'respect'

George Eustice was played audio of the scenes on Sky News, and took aim at Black Lives Matter – although he stressed that protests by individuals should be treated with ‘respect’

In response, the FA said in a statement: ‘The FA supports all players and staff that wish to take a stand against discrimination in a respectful manner, which includes taking of the knee, and strongly condemns the behaviours of any spectators that actively voice their opposition to such activities.’ 

The scenes sparked shockwaves through the game, and have divided social media users.

Some players, pundits and fans have condemned the fans’ actions while others say the gesture is no longer appropriate.

On Twitter, Gary Lineker, said: ‘Let’s be fair, it only appears to be a small minority of Millwall fans that didn’t boo the players taking the knee.’

Trevor Sinclair, who was sacked by the BBC for racially abusing a police officer while being arrested for drink driving in 2018, slammed the Millwall fans.

He wrote: ‘Reality is Millwall fans booing players taking a knee doesn’t surprise many!!!’

Former England striker Dion Dublin said: ‘To me, they are racist. They don’t agree with taking the knee, which means they’re racist.’ 

Millwall boss Gary Rowett (left) said he was 'disappointed' by the fans' behaviour, while opposition manager Wayne Rooney (right) said it was 'surprising'

Millwall boss Gary Rowett (left) said he was 'disappointed' by the fans' behaviour, while opposition manager Wayne Rooney (right) said it was 'surprising'

Millwall boss Gary Rowett (left) said he was ‘disappointed’ by the fans’ behaviour, while opposition manager Wayne Rooney (right) said it was ‘surprising’

The Premier League and EFL made the decision to replace the BLM slogan on shirts after growing concerns the movement has been hijacked by extremists. Pictured: Patrick Hutchinson is pictured carrying Millwall fan to safety in the midst of clashes with anti-racism protesters in London on June 13 in one of the iconic images of the Black Lives Matter protests

The Premier League and EFL made the decision to replace the BLM slogan on shirts after growing concerns the movement has been hijacked by extremists. Pictured: Patrick Hutchinson is pictured carrying Millwall fan to safety in the midst of clashes with anti-racism protesters in London on June 13 in one of the iconic images of the Black Lives Matter protests

The Premier League and EFL made the decision to replace the BLM slogan on shirts after growing concerns the movement has been hijacked by extremists. Pictured: Patrick Hutchinson is pictured carrying Millwall fan to safety in the midst of clashes with anti-racism protesters in London on June 13 in one of the iconic images of the Black Lives Matter protests 

Speaking after the game, Millwall manager Gary Rowett said: ‘I’m disappointed that we are talking about that when we should be talking about the fact we are all back and we want to enjoy the football match again.

‘The club do an enormous amount of work on anti-racism and the club do a lot of work in the community and there is some really positive stuff, so of course I am disappointed.’

On players taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Rowett added: ‘Is it a political message, is it an anti-discrimination message? 

‘The players have come out and said they don’t support the political aspect, but they do support the anti-discrimination aspect of it and of course we all do.’

Derby interim boss Wayne Rooney, who secured his first win in charge of the Rams with a 1-0 success at The Den, said: ‘With everything that has been going on in recent months, it was very surprising.

‘I don’t want to say much about it, but all I can say is everyone at Derby County Football Club, we obviously took the knee, and no one condones that behaviour.’

Millwall footballer Mahlon Romeo said his team’s fans ‘have personally disrespected not just me but the football club’.

He told South London Press: ‘What they’ve done is booed and condemned a peaceful gesture which was put in place to highlight, combat and stop any discriminatory behavior and racism. That’s it – that’s all that gesture is.

‘And the fans have chosen to boo that, which for the life of me I can’t understand. It has offended me and everyone who works for this club – the players and the staff.’

Gary Lineker joined other former players who condemned Millwall fans' behaviour on Twitter

Gary Lineker joined other former players who condemned Millwall fans' behaviour on Twitter

Gary Lineker joined other former players who condemned Millwall fans’ behaviour on Twitter

Tweeting after the game, Derby County first team coach Liam Rosenior said: ‘Proud of the team. Proud of the players. Proud of the staff. Proud of the result. Proud of the club. Proud to be black.’

Derby forward Colin Kazim-Richards, who is black, described the booing as an ‘absolute disgrace’ in a tweet after the match where he expressed pride in taking a stand against racism.

‘Having to say this is a pain,’ Kazim-Richards said, ‘but I’ll say it every single damn time this is why I STAND and STAND PROUD and I have to say every single person involved with (Derby) did too.’

He added that it ‘made me proud to wear this shirt with the boys today!!!’

Former Nottingham Forest and Cardiff footballer Greg Halford also criticised the fans, saying: ‘What am I seeing at the Millwall game.

‘The players take the knee and the 2000 fans are booing. The efl have to be strong and take serious action against this.

‘Every time I’ve played there I’ve heard a form of racist abuse this has got to stop.’

Former England defender Micah Richards described the scenes as ‘disheartening’.

Speaking to the BBC, he added: ‘There are 2,000 so you can pinpoint the people going. There are no excuses. I am sick to death of talking about this situation.

‘It is so disheartening because it is like we have come so far but we have so far to go.

‘I don’t even like talking about the matter. It feels like it falls on deaf ears. It is time and time and time again.’

Stan Collymore Tweeted a video of the booing and simply wrote: ‘Shock.’ 

Players from both clubs took a knee before kick-off as part of the on going fight against racism

Players from both clubs took a knee before kick-off as part of the on going fight against racism

Players from both clubs took a knee before kick-off as part of the on going fight against racism

Inbetweeners actor Blake Harrison said: ‘Sad and embarrassed to be a Millwall fan today.’ 

Anti-racism campaign Kick It Out said: ‘We are saddened by the behaviour of fans booing the players taking the knee today at Millwall.

‘What this demonstrates is that players are right to continue standing up to discrimination, whether that is through taking the knee or speaking out.

‘The fight for racial equality continues and we will continue to work closely with clubs across the country to tackle discrimination in all its forms.

‘We applaud the players for taking a stand and defying the hate shown today.’ 

Players have been taking a knee since July and Gary Rowett and his squad confirmed they would continue the gesture in a statement earlier this week. 

There had been calls on the club to abandon the practice, as a handful of other Championship sides have done in recent months.

But Rowett and his squad said it was their duty to reinforce the positive messaging in the fight against racism. 

The statement released by Millwall read: ‘We are fully supportive of the efforts in ridding the sport, and society, of all forms of discrimination.

‘It is our duty to reinforce the positive messaging.

‘Taking the knee, for us, is in no way representative of any agreement with political messaging or ideology.

‘It is purely about tackling discrimination.’

The death in Minneapolis of a black man, George Floyd, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes sparked protests around the world, with many demonstrators kneeling in streets and squares to protest against racism.

The position was taken by National Football League (NFL) player Colin Kaepernick during the playing of the U.S. national anthem to call attention to racial injustice, and has been adopted by many sports players since.

Football players originally started taking the knee when the 2019-2020 season resumed in June.

Protests were seen across the UK, with one of the most iconic images showing Black Lives Matter protester Patrick Hutchinson carrying Millwall fan Bryn Male to safety in London on June 13

The Black Lives Matter slogan also appeared on football players’ shirts.

However, the Premier League and EFL made the decision to replace the BLM slogan on shirts after growing concerns the movement has been hijacked by extremists.     

Players in the Premier League now wear ‘No Room for Racism’ while EFL shirts bear the message ‘Not Today or Any Day’ in support of their ongoing campaign against all forms of discrimination.

Milwall's players and manager Gary Rowett confirmed they would continue the gesture in a statement earlier this week

Milwall's players and manager Gary Rowett confirmed they would continue the gesture in a statement earlier this week

Milwall’s players and manager Gary Rowett confirmed they would continue the gesture in a statement earlier this week

Queens Park Rangers made the decision to stop taking the knee in September with director of football Les Ferdinand saying the gesture had ‘reached a point of ‘good PR’ but little more than that’.

He added: ‘Taking the knee was very powerful but we feel that impact has now been diluted.

‘In the same way ‘Clap For Carers’ was very emotional for us all, it got to a stage where it had run its natural course and the decision was rightly made to stop it.

‘No one is more passionate than me about this topic. I have spoken on the matter throughout my footballing life.

‘I work for one of the most diverse football clubs in this country. A lot of people are being fooled out there.

‘What are our plans with this? Will people be happy for players to take the knee for the next 10 years but see no actual progress made? 

‘Taking the knee will not bring about change in the game – actions will.’ 

The EFL decided to allow individual players and teams in the Football League to make their own decision on whether to continue taking the knee while the gesture still takes place in the Premier League.

Coventry are another team who have opted not to take a knee this season. 

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