England national soccer manager Gareth Southgate voiced his displeasure with fans who booed his team taking a knee before their friendly win over Austria on Wednesday, saying he heard the boos and those fans don't understand the message behind taking a knee.
"It’s not something on behalf of our black players I wanted to hear because it feels as though it’s a criticism of them. I think we have got a situation where some people seem to think it’s a political stand that they don’t agree with. That’s not the reason the players are doing it; we’re supporting each other," Southgate told reporters following his team's 1-0 victory.
There were about 7,000 people inside Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium, and the booing began as players knelt before applause drowned out the jeering.
Southgate added he was happy to hear the cheering take over the crowd noise, but the booing can't be ignored.
"I think the most important thing for our players to know is all their teammates and all the staff are very supportive," he said. "I think the majority of people understand it, I think some people aren’t quite understanding the message. I suppose we’re seeing that across a number of football grounds at the moment.
England coach Gareth Southgate stands on the side of the pitch before the international friendly soccer match between England and Austria at the Riverside stadium in Middlesbrough, England, (Photo: Lindsey Parnaby, AP)
English players such as Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka also spoke about the event after the match, with Grealish saying it's something, "we don't want in football in general, and especially in our games."
Saka, who is of Nigerian descent and scored the lone goal of the match, said he didn't understand why the booing occurred.
“I heard some boos and I heard some claps, but you’ll have to ask the fans that were booing to understand why they did it," he said.
Kick It Out, English football’s equality and inclusion organization, said in a statement on Thursday morning that the kneeling was done for racial equality in the sport and not for any specific political movement.
"All the players and staff who wear the Three Lions shirt with pride share a collective voice in the fight against racism," the statement read. "To those that booed, we ask you to support them irrespective of the gesture they use. The actions and support of all fans can send a powerful message across the whole country that football is united in the fight against racism.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jord_mendoza.
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