Inside the England Supporters Travel Club, where even the most devoted are divided over taking the knee

·5-min read
Tyrone Mings of England takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to the international friendly match between England and Romania at Riverside Stadium on June 06 - Inside England's Supporters' Club: Even the most devoted fans are divided over taking the knee - FA COLLECTION
Tyrone Mings of England takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to the international friendly match between England and Romania at Riverside Stadium on June 06 - Inside England's Supporters' Club: Even the most devoted fans are divided over taking the knee - FA COLLECTION

They made up almost half the crowd that booed England players for taking the knee in their European Championship warm-up games and have also been given priority access to tickets for the Three Lions’ Euro 2021 games at Wembley.

But what do England’s most hardcore fans, those from the England Supporters Travel Club, really think about players taking the knee and why are so many jeering them for doing so?

The answer can be found within a Facebook group, a private one only the 21,000 members of the ESTC are allowed to join but which Telegraph Sport has gained access to.

And although taking the knee is only one of many topics of discussion among the 4,300 members of that group – the focus being more on ticketing, logistics and the match-going experience – few have generated as lengthy and heated debate.

That includes accusations of racism against those who oppose players taking the knee, woke-ism against those to support it, and even personal attacks against Three Lions icon Gary Lineker for speaking out over it.

But there have also been more reasoned arguments put forward when it comes to players’ rights to perform the gesture and supporters’ right to boo it.

The Telegraph’s reporting on the issue has recently provided much of the spark for that debate, particularly its exclusive revelation that England’s players would continue to take the knee during the Euros, followed by its disclosure that plans were being drawn up to stop fans jeering them for doing so.

The first story last month generated an almost equal number of angry emojis as it did likes or loves, as well as dozens of comments indicating just how much it had divided opinion.

One which attracted plenty of support read: “I’m all for a stand against racism but I won’t support anybody or anything that shares its symbolism with a Marxist communist ideology. If you want to take a stand against racism then maybe stand arm in arm.”

Another much-liked post read: “What is it about a quiet, short, respectful gesture designed to keep the anti-racism message alive and well that so triggers some people? For the life of me I can’t understand. Unless they don’t like the message of course.”

One member came under fire for stating it would be “good to weed out the sad case gammon in the ground”, while another posted: “The only way to stop it is to arrest the perpetrators, stick their faces all over the internet and press, put them in court and let the law take its course. But no one does anything.”

The second story provoked an incendiary response from some, with one member branded a “moron” for posting: “If you have an issue with the players taking the knee, you’re a racist freak.”

Another responded: “It’s this type of comment which means that people don’t enter dialogues for fear of being labelled racists or some other lazy stereotype.”

One member against the booing was also dubbed “so woke it hurts” but much of the argument centred on whether players taking the knee was merely an anti-racism gesture or tantamount to an endorsement of some of the more radical policies to emerge out of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“They may have changed the message slightly but the BLM banners are still in stadiums,” wrote one member in defence of booing the pre-match ritual.

The booing before England’s game against Austria last week prompted calls for all involved to “be stripped of their Euros tickets”.

Another member wrote: “Same ones saying they should keep politics out of football are probably the same ones singing ‘no surrender’ during the national anthem.”

But there was also plenty of support for the booing, with one member posting: “We’re all sick of s--- getting rammed down our throats.”

After Sunday’s game against Romania, the group admin, FA membership executive Richard Weekes, called on fans to “make a point of outwardly cheering on the boys when they take the knee” at the Euros.

But that provoked a largely negative response, including: “Zzzzzz any danger of talking about the match or do u want to continue to fail to convert people who don’t agree with u? They won’t be converted… give it a rest.”

After one member revealed he would turn his back when players performed the gesture instead of booing, another wrote: “A few did today, that’s the way forward.”

When one later endorsed a Twitter post from Lineker attacking those who jeer the ritual, it sparked personal attacks against the Match of the Day host.

One member of the ESTC agreed to speak to the Telegraph about the booing of players for taking the knee.

Simon Harris, a member for almost two decades who attended both Euro 2020 warm-up games, said: “The problem with the knee now is it has become a divisive thing and you cannot delink it from the politics, the Black Lives Matter politics.

“So I did wonder whether it would be appropriate instead for all the players to link arms or perform a huddle, just a statement that says it is not right to abuse people because of the colour of their skin, or their religion, or their gender, or whatever it is.

“But the players seem determined to continue taking the knee and I worry that, if the booing continues, it could have an impact on the team.”