History will remember England’s fearlessness and courage to continue taking the knee

The fact that this young group of men have stuck to their convictions ahead of a career milestone is heartening and deserves a bigger spotlight than the boos

Melissa Reddy
Senior Football Correspondent
Tuesday 08 June 2021 10:52
Countdown to Euro 2020: Daily briefing

There should be no more time wasted on the morons who contort in every which way to insist a symbol for anti-racism - an historical sign for equality - is ‘Marxism,’ ‘wokeism,’ ‘a political tool,’ ‘divisive virtual signalling’ or, the kicker: ‘a terrorist threat to Britain.’

The energy now required is banning orders given they do not care for the truth, for the reality, or as one England player so efficiently summed up, “they don’t care that we’re doing the right thing.”

The boos, the squad have discussed, is a “way to bully us out of taking the knee.” It has only emboldened their resolve to stand strong against discrimination.

And so the actual headline here is not the fact that anti-racism makes such a swathe of people in this country so uncomfortable that they happily heckle their own footballers - among them young men who have endured horrid racist abuse - but that the England team will not be cowered.

That has been made clear in meetings, where players were adamant those that quite clearly demonstrated they have no interest in equality will not be allowed to dictate how they tackle a great evil.

And it was highlighted that if taking a knee is a ‘meaningless gesture’ as some of the opposition suggests, then it would not actually warrant such a reaction.

One black player pointed out that “just hashtags and carrying a banner would make them feel comfortable because that is not as powerful.”

Taking a knee is a peaceful, respectful method of protest that has been around since the 1780s, was used by Martin Luther King Jr in 1965, and latterly teleported to sport by the NFL quarter-back Colin Kaepernick in 2016.

From its roots to standing up against slavery, it has unmistakably been a communication tool against discrimination and the heavy hatred against it is the greatest testimony that it needs to endure.

So as Marcus Rashford neatly concluded: “We are confident that we are doing the right thing, so we will continue to do it.”

The courage of England’s players - the second youngest team at the Euros - to stick to their convictions ahead of a major tournament on the frontline of the country’s latest culture war is heartening.

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That these men, with 15 of the squad aged 25 or under, will not be booed out of their beliefs ahead of a career milestone offers hope that the future can be less ugly than the present and the past.

It would be the easy option for them to press eject, wear a ‘no room for racism’ shirt and simply stick to football when focus is paramount.

Who wants to be booed by their own ahead of doing an intensely pressured job on a major scale that is broadcast to millions around the globe?

None of them need this, least of all the black and mixed-race players that are tired from wearing this heavy battle since birth. The constant fighting, the educating they're told to do, and the sea of ignorance they are met with while also being routinely dehumanised.

Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee before England's game with Romania

Doing the right thing in the face of a venomous reaction is exhausting, especially in a Conservative country. It can eat away at you slowly and decay the will to counter the wrong.

But no positive change has come from giving in to bigots and chickening out. That route would also be diametrically opposed to the ‘no room for racism’ notion.

It takes guts to keep going, to soak up all the undesirable s***, and to show such mettle in return.

Whatever happens on the pitch, history will remember this England group favourably for their fearlessness.

Gareth Southgate has backed his squad to continue taking the knee

Let’s shine the spotlight on them rather than the disruptors, who like Joe Golberg’s character in the psychological thriller You, think that the filmiest of disguises can conceal their true self and shameful motivations.

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