Fans jeer as players take a knee in English soccer match

Fans attending an English second-tier match between host Millwall and Derby on Saturday jeered as players took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In video footage published on social media, booing was clearly heard from some fans in the stands containing Millwall supporters as both sets of players made the symbolic gesture after the referee blew the whistle to signal the start of the match at The Den, the home stadium of the south London club.

Only home fans are allowed into games due to pandemic restrictions.

“I heard it and was very surprised," said Derby manager Wayne Rooney, the former England and Manchester United striker. “It’s a shame because there has been great progress in that campaign and hearing that is very disappointing and upsetting for a lot of people."

Players in English soccer have continued to take a knee this season to show support for the fight against discrimination following the death of George Floyd in the United States. Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, died May 25 after a white police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck as he said he couldn’t breathe.

Limited numbers of fans are being allowed in stadiums in England this week for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak in March. This was the first game with supporters at The Den since Feb. 29, and 2,000 were allowed into the ground. Derby won 1-0.

“The club does 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,” said Millwall manager Gary Rowett, “so of course I am disappointed.”

In what appeared to be a response to the incident at the Millwall-Derby game, the English Football Association said it “supports all players and staff that wish to take a stand against discrimination in a respectful manner, which includes taking of the knee.”

It “strongly condemns the behaviors of any spectators that actively voice their opposition to such activities,” the FA said.

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!!!”

The English Football League, which runs the three divisions below the Premier League including the Championship, said it would continue to support clubs and players who wish to take a knee.

“We are disappointed that a small group of supporters have today chosen to voice their opposition to such activities directly aimed at raising awareness of the fight against racism," the EFL said.

“Discrimination in any form is not welcome and we remain committed to working with our clubs, including Millwall, who undertake a significant amount of work on equality and inclusion initiatives, as we continue with our collective objective to eradicate all types of prejudiced behavior, ensuring the EFL is an inclusive and diverse environment for all.”

The topic of Millwall's players taking a knee was discussed on a fans' forum this week. The first-team squad released a statement on the club’s official website on Friday, saying the players were “fully supportive of the entire football family’s efforts in ridding the sport, and society generally, of all forms of discrimination.”

“It is our duty as players to reinforce the positive messaging and action of clubs, community trusts, charities and governing bodies, and we do so with great pride and knowledge that so much good work is being done up and down the country," it read. "The gesture of ‘taking the knee’ before matches provides an opportunity for us to do exactly that and continues to allow all those playing to publicly showcase their support — on behalf of the whole squad — for the fight against discrimination.”

It added that the gesture of taking a knee is, in the club’s view, “in no way representative of any agreement with political messaging or ideology.”

“It is purely about tackling discrimination, as has been the case throughout,” the statement read.

Millwall, a club from east London, was renowned for its struggle with hooliganism in the 1970s and ’80s.

At a game played later Saturday in the Premier League, many Chelsea's fans applauded as players from their team and visiting Leeds took a knee before the match started.

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