Why England players take a knee before games – and it’s nothing to do with Marxism

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For the past year, footballers have taken a knee ahead of matches to send a powerful message about racism.

This is set to continue in England games during the delayed Euro 2020, which kicks off tomorrow.

Disappointingly the gesture – intended as a show of unity against discrimination – was met with booing by fans in two pre-tournament games.

Three Lions manger Gareth Southgate responded by saying some "aren't quite understanding the message", and senior players have explained why they take a knee.

Southgate said his squad have a duty to stand up for "equality, inclusivity and racial injustice" and said those who stand against these aims were "on the losing side".

Nevertheless the simplicity of the gesture is lost on some, with critics linking it to Marxism and even saying England players are endorsing political calls to defund the police.

Among them was former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who fumed: "Gareth Southgate is out of touch with England fans.

England players took the knee ahead of Sunday's pre-tournament friendly against Romania
(Image: The FA via Getty Images)

"They have a right to boo when players take the knee for Marxist BLM. Let's keep politics out of football this summer."

Tory MP Lee Anderson also said he was going to boycott his "beloved" England team because players are "supporting a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life".

Why do players kneel for a few seconds before games?

Far from being about Marxism, defunding the police or any such political protest, the message is simple – enough is enough.

Following a wave of protest following the murder of George Floyd last year, clubs decided that kneeling would be strong show of solidarity.

The first game where it happened was between Aston Villa and Sheffield United in June last year.

England manager Gareth Southgate kneels before Sunday's match

In a statement ahead of the fixture, Villa said: "In the first Premier League fixture of Project Restart both clubs hope that the act of 'taking a knee' will send a strong message of unity and amplify the many messages of support from Premier League players and the wider football family."

For the first 12 games after the Premier League season restarted last season, footballers' names were replaced by the words Black Lives Matter on the back of their shirts.

Critics will point to this as support for a multitude of goals attributed to some sections of the BLM movement – such as calls to defund police and instead invest in communities.

But this is not the case – black lives matter is a statement of fact, and does not mean that the lives of people from other races do not matter.

Following boos ringing out at Wembley, England midfielder Jordan Henderson said: “I think, as players, we’ve made it very clear that we all stand together against racism.

“That’s the reason that we continue to take the knee, and have done over the last few weeks."

Aston Villa and Sheffield United were the first teams to kneel before a game last year
(Image: Andy Hooper NMC Pool)

Where did taking the knee come from?

The first athlete to kneel before a game was American footballer Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers.

In 2016, angry at police brutality toward black people in the US, he opted for a simple, non-violent protest.

He knelt during the national anthem, and in so doing provoked a wave of indignation, coming under attack from right-wingers including former US President Donald Trump.

However more and more American footballers joined the protests, and it spread to other sports as high-profile examples of discrimination continued to pile up.

Kaepernick said: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way."

In the wake of George Floyd's murder by a police officer in May last year, the protest went global, and British teams began taking a knee for a few seconds before kick off last summer.

Colin Kaepernick (right) was the first high-profile sports figure to kneel in protest
(Image: Getty)

So it's not about Marxism then?

It's hard to believe that Karl Marx, who died in 1883, would see highly-paid footballers kneeling before a match as a manifestation of his aims.

In December Millwall fans booed when players from their team and opponents Derby County took a knee before their game.

Fans claimed they were booing what they viewed as a political move.

Responding to the controversy, Derby coach Liam Rosenior said hearing the booing "hurt", and told TalkSport : “There is not a single footballer in the country who is taking the knee because they are Marxist, or because they want to see bad things happening on our streets.

“I take a knee because I want to see every member of our society treated equally. That shouldn’t even be an argument."

Karl Marx died in 1883
(Image: PA)

What has Gareth Southgate said about taking a knee?

Speaking after booing ahead of the England team's friending against Austria, the manager said: "It's not something on behalf of our black players that I wanted to hear because it feels as though it is a criticism of them.

"I think we have got a situation where some people think it's a political stand that they don't agree with – that's not the reason the players are doing it, we are supporting each other.

"I think the most important thing for our players to know is that all their team-mates and all the staff are fully supportive.

Nigel Farage reckons it's all about Marxism
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)

"I think the majority of people understand it. I think some people aren't quite understanding the message and I suppose we are seeing that across a number of football grounds at the moment."

After being attacked by Nigel Farage for being "out of touch", the England manager penned an eloquent article calling for unity as his team headed into a major tournament.

Gareth Southgate has called for fans to get behind the team this summer
(Image: The FA via Getty Images)

He said he had never believed he and the players should "just stick to football", and would speak out about inequality.

He wrote that he did not understand why people would post racial abuse online, and said: "Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news. You’re on the losing side.

"It’s clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that.

"It might not feel like it at times, but it’s true. The awareness around inequality and the discussions on race have gone to a different level in the last 12 months alone.

"I am confident that young kids of today will grow up baffled by old attitudes and ways of thinking."

What have the players said?

Following Sunday's win against Romania – England's last game ahead of the tournament – Manchester United star Marcus Rashford said taking the knee was the "right thing to do".

Rashford, who has been praised for his incredible work campaigning to feed hungry kids, said of the booing: "It's something that we can't control, and for us we believe its the right thing to do so we're going to continue to do it."

England captain Harry Kane has been a staunch defender of the gesture – saying it can have a meaningful impact across the world.

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He told the BBC in December : "What people don't realise is sometimes we are watched by millions of people round the world. Of course, for the person who watches the Premier League every week, they see the same thing every week.

"But I think if you look around the world you see children watching the game for the first time, seeing us all take a knee and asking their parents and asking why we take the knee.

"It's a great chance for people to explain why and get their point across. Education is the biggest thing we can do. Adults can teach generations what it means, and what it means to be together and help each other no matter what your race."

Defender Tyrone Mings last month posted on social media: "To anyone that booed us taking the knee, have a look at yourself and ask if you truly support equality and equal opportunity for the black players on the pitch. It’s tiring. Educate yourself."

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