The players of Millwall and Queens Park Rangers will be supported by their clubs and the football authorities to take a knee ahead of their match at the Den on Tuesday night, three days after the gesture was loudly booed by Millwall fans.
The English Football League and the Football Association have made it clear that they will continue to back players who make the anti-discrimination gesture, even though QPR as a club now think that its impact has been diluted and the wider message lost.
Les Ferdinand, the club’s director of football, has still told players that he will support them in making their own personal choice and, in Saturday’s match against Huddersfield, five QPR players took a knee and six players did not.
A similarly mixed response will be evident on Tuesday at Millwall, whose fans were strongly condemned on Sunday by former England captain Wayne Rooney, who was managing Derby County at the Den.
He described the behaviour of a “large section” of Millwall fans as “disgraceful and mindless”. Although “aware of the possibility of a planned disruptive response during the taking of a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign”, Rooney said that “nothing prepared us for what we heard”.
Derbyshire police on Sunday said that a 25-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offences in reference to Facebook posts made after the game.
The Millwall players had issued a statement before the match in which they stressed taking a knee was meant to support “the fight against discrimination” rather than “any agreement with political messaging or ideology”. Football’s link to the Black Lives Matters movement, however, has become increasingly controversial and the slogan was replaced this season on the shirts of Premier League players by the words “No Room for Racism”.
George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said on Sunday that “Black Lives Matter – capital B, L and M – is actually a political movement that is different to what most of us believe in, which is standing up for racial equality”. Eustice, though, said players should be free to express their views. There was also booing of Colchester players who took a knee on Saturday, but applause for the gesture at other grounds.
The FA is not considering disciplinary action over the incidents but did “strongly condemn” the booing.
Like QPR, Millwall as a club believe that the gesture must now be backed by action and the players have said that they will take a knee only until January, when “a comprehensive anti-discrimination strategy will be announced”.
A Millwall club statement did not mention fans specifically but promised to work over the coming days with Kick It Out, the anti-discrimination charity.
“Millwall Football Club was dismayed and saddened by events that marred Saturday’s game,” the statement read. “The players are continuing to use the biggest platform they have to support the drive for change, not just in football but in society generally.”
Sanjay Bhandari, the chief executive of Kick It Out, highlighted the “many good people” at Millwall and said that it was “complete and utter nonsense” to align footballers’ taking a knee with some of the “fringe” views within the BLM movement.
“Taking a knee is a gesture that has been driven by the players and supported by the clubs and leagues,” he said.
“Players do it to highlight the fight for racial equality. It is explicitly not an endorsement of any specific political movement.
“BLM is a movement, not a party. It is an even bigger coalition of millions globally across political divides.”
A statement on Sunday by the Millwall Supporters’ Trust said that the booing was a “reaction to the war memorials and statues of Churchill defaced by the BLM organisation and the extreme political views they hold, and for which ‘taking the knee’ is associated”.
It added: “We fervently believe that the motives of those behind the booing were not racist.” The Trust, however, also acknowledged that the players were taking the knee in a stance of anti-discrimination and not to support any political organisation. “The action needed was not to boo the gesture,” it said.