There was widespread condemnation on Saturday of the behaviour of Millwall supporters who marked their return to the Den by booing as players took a knee before their Championship match against Derby.
Fans were back in the stadium for the first time since 29 February but their return was quickly mired in controversy. Booing from the stands was clearly heard after the referee, Darren England, blew his whistle for the players to take a knee, a gesture used to show support for the fight against discrimination following the unlawful killing of George Floyd in America.
The FA said it “supports all players and staff who wish to take a stand against discrimination in a respectful manner, which includes taking of the knee, and strongly condemns the behaviours of any spectators that actively voice their opposition to such activities”.
There had been fears before the match that a section of supporters would stage a protest, with some calling on the team to stop making the gesture because of its links to the Black Lives Matter movement and politicisation. Millwall rejected those calls, saying the club remains “fully supportive of the efforts to rid sport, and society, of all forms of discrimination … Taking the knee, for us, is in no way representative of any agreement with political messaging or ideology. It is purely about tackling discrimination.”
Our response to today's incident at Millwall. pic.twitter.com/129BS270N0
— Kick It Out (@kickitout) December 5, 2020
The booing sparked outrage, with Derby’s Colin Kazim-Richards calling it an “absolute disgrace”, and Millwall’s manager, Gary Rowett, saying: “The players have come out and said they don’t support the political aspect, but they do support the anti-discrimination aspect of it … The club does an enormous amount of work on anti-racism.”
Derby’s interim manager, Wayne Rooney, who secured his first win with a 1-0 victory at the Den, said: ”With everything that has been going on in recent months, it was very surprising. I don’t want to say much about it, but all I can say is that everyone at Derby took the knee, and no one condones that behaviour.”
Sanjay Bhandari, chair of Kick It Out, praised the players for “defying the hate shown by some fans. What this demonstrates is that players are right to continue standing up to discrimination, whether that is through taking the knee or speaking out.”
The EFL said it would “continue to support any players and clubs who choose to take the knee in support of tackling inequality in society.
“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.
“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 behaviour.”