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Gareth Southgate has suggested England may reconsider how best to tackle racism and inequality after seeing his players jeered for taking the knee ahead of Wednesday night’s friendly win over Austria.
After renditions of ‘Football’s Coming Home’ and the national anthems, there were audible jeers as the players took the knee at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium – the first time an England side have made the anti-racism stance in front of a home crowd.
It was soon drowned out by cheers among the near-7,000 crowd – but Southgate and his players will hope the immediate reaction does not follow the team throughout the upcoming European Championship.
England have a diverse squad that reflects society with match-winner Bukayo Saka, for example, of Nigerian descent.
Speaking immediately after the game, Southgate said he felt the booing of the knee could be construed as a “criticism” of those players and that the reason behind the stance has been misunderstood.
To that end, Southgate has suggested the continuation of the gesture will be discussed as part of wider conversations ahead of the Euros.
“What has happened probably means I need to have another conversation with the players first and foremost,” he said.
“Because I need to see how they feel about it and that’s an important discussion for us to have.
“I know there was some concern in the past in March that we were losing some of the impact so I think after what has happened we need to consider whether we continue to do the same thing, whether we do something different and I’m sure the players will have a really good view on that.”
The initial jeers were overtaken by a groundswell of support and, with other stadiums across England witnessing similar responses since the return of fans, Southgate wants to see the meaning behind the message reaffirmed.
“I was pleased that was drowned out by the majority of the crowd but we can’t deny the fact that it happened,” he added.
“I think the most important thing for our players to know is that all their team-mates, all the staff are fully supportive.
“I think the majority of people understand it, some people aren’t quite understanding the message and I suppose we are seeing that across a number of football grounds at the moment.”
Anti-racism campaigners Kick It Out also criticised the actions of those who opted to jeer the taking of the knee, urging them to unite and support the fight against racism.
Head of player engagement at Kick It Out Troy Townsend said in a statement on Thursday: “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.”