After England were booed for kneeling before their international friendly with Romania, Gareth Southgate revealed in no uncertain terms that his players would continue kneeling during the European Championship.
“The most important thing for our players is to know that we are totally united on it (taking the knee), we’re totally committed to supporting each other, supporting the team,” he told Sky Sports.
The 50-year-old condemned the supporters that booed, saying the national team were “collectively disappointed that it happened” while pleading with fans to put themselves in the players’ shoes, and it’s great to see him striking the right tone on this subject.
By his own admission, Southgate had to educate himself to learn the true reasons behind the kneeling and the history of racism in the United Kingdom, and now he’s calling on people to talk about white privilege.
Southgate was honest about getting the Middlesbrough job when he probably wasn’t qualified or ready for the role in 2006 and admitted a black former player may not have been so fortunate in his shoes.
“I know I got an opportunity at Middlesbrough when I wasn’t qualified,” he said. “That came because I had worked at the club and the owner knew me.
“But I couldn’t say that opportunity would have been there for somebody else. And I think we are all very conscious of it,”
This isn’t how England managers usually talk, but Southgate’s bold comments show the FA were right to trust him. His players should have a lot of respect for him too, as he’s not shied away from speaking his mind on divisive topics and hasn’t been swayed by disgruntled fans. Long may that continue.
Southgate has a number of black and mixed raced players in his 26-man squad for the Euros and would be doing them a disservice if he wasn’t publicly supporting them. It’s just sad that spectators fans don’t follow.
Southgate has been on point with about before too. In 2018, he was asked about his players potentially suffering abuse by supporters in the Russian World Cup and said the UK needs to “get its own house in order” before pointing fingers. His comments were unfortunately ignored.
When England players were on the end of racial abuse in 2019’s win over Bulgaria, Southgate talked up the possibility of his players leaving the pitch and has called for tougher punishments for offenders.
Fast-forward to present day and race is still a hot topic, but the population is divided. Many believe supporters’ booing shouldn’t warrant a ‘racist’ tag, but what else can it be called when an anti-racist gesture is receiving such treatment?
Southgate stopped short of labelling the fans and he’s right to be diplomatic, but it’s clear he’s embarrassed seeing his players getting booed before each game.
It doesn’t reflect well on anybody and would be a tough sight to see during the Euros. Players are starting to grow frustrated too.
Kalvin Phillips recently said: “I was confused and disappointed. I was just happy the boos were cancelled out by fans cheering in the end. I don’t think it’s a great situation, especially for us players.”
Southgate has been open about his feelings and players seem to have the same luxury to speak their truth without repercussion. It’s a healthy way to discuss the problem, so hopefully the more they talk the more minds they can change.
The England manager has come in for a lot of criticism for his Euros team selection and will be under a lot of scrutiny if England underperform this summer, but it can’t be argued Southgate hasn’t spoken brilliantly about the Black Lives Matter movement and kneeling before games.
He’s not sat on the fence, given empty platitudes or ignored the subject when asked, Southgate has been clear and concise about the importance of kneeling in multiple interviews and is 100% behind his players. That takes a lot of courage.
And while England are expecting more backlash from their own fans, they’re more determined than ever to exercise their freedom of expression before games.
Southgate has let his players dictate what action they wanted to take in games, whether that’s leaving the pitch if racist abuse occurs or kneeling before a match, so it’s clear how much he believes in the cause.
In 2019, Henry Winter wrote a column in The Times telling Southgate to be ‘fearless in the face of racism’, and he has been.
Some football clubs in England stopped kneeling after the booing from crowds became overwhelming, but the national team are really going to test fans’ resolve.
Like Southgate previously said, the UK needs to get its own house in order. Perhaps this is the moment.
The entire country are having a dialogue about kneeling and the meaning behind it, so minds should become enlightened when they realise the truth.
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