England will continue to take a knee before their games throughout Euro 2020 and are “more determined than ever” to ignore any boos from the stands, according to manager Gareth Southgate.
The squad held a meeting to discuss their next steps after a loud minority of supporters jeered them for taking the anti-racism stance at their friendly against Austria in Middlesbrough. They agreed overwhelmingly to carry on, starting when they play Romania in another warm-up game on Sunday, and Southgate said his players had “had enough” of being called on to explain an action that should speak for itself.
“The first thing is that collectively we are very disappointed that it happened,” he said. “I think you have to put yourself in the shoes of a young England player about to represent his country. We’re all trying to move towards equality and support our own teammates because of some of the experiences they’ve been through in their lives, but people decided to boo.
“I think those people should put themselves in the shoes of those young players. If that was their children – if they’re old enough to have children – how would they feel about their kids being in that situation?
“The most important thing for our players is for them to know we are totally united on it. We’re totally committed to supporting each other, supporting the team, and we feel more than ever that we are determined to take the knee throughout this tournament.”
Southgate said booing one’s own team is “a very strange response in my mind”. He was speaking alongside the midfielder Kalvin Phillips, who said he had felt “confused and disappointed” when he heard the reaction seconds before kick-off. The controversy has threatened to distract from preparations for a largely home-based tournament, and Southgate said his team’s stance is final.
“We accept that there might be an adverse reaction but we’re going to ignore that and move forward,” he said. “The players are sick of talking about the consequences of should they, shouldn’t they. They’ve had enough really, and as far as I’m concerned they’re not going to take more questions on this through the tournament. If it happens, it happens.
“The fact that we are going to keep going is impactful. But how many times have we sat here over the past two years discussing these things? I must never be tired of doing that because I don’t have the right to be tired of doing it.
“I haven’t lived the life my players have or experienced the things they have. It saddens me that they are so hardened to it that they’re almost dismissive. That’s something that, in our country, we should all reflect on.”
The Conservative MP Lee Anderson said he would boycott future England games if players persisted with taking the knee. A number of his colleagues have also been critical of what they have framed as a political message and, asked what he would say to people who want to withdraw their support, Southgate simply responded: “We will be very sorry to see them go.”
Southgate suggested some people were wilfully avoiding the point of the stance, which has also been taken before club matches across the country throughout the 2020-21 season.
“People are choosing to create the narrative that they want and it’s pointless us wasting our energy if people aren’t prepared to take part in change, look for progress,” he said. “But I think the majority of the country are. We know that from one generation to the next things improve.”
England begin their Euro 2020 campaign next Sunday against Croatia at Wembley, with Scotland and the Czech Republic completing their set of opponents in Group D.