David Mercer, Sky News, December 6, 2020
A vocal section of Millwall fans have been branded an “absolute disgrace” for booing as players took the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Millwall’s match with Derby on Saturday was the first time their supporters were able to watch from the stands since the coronavirus pandemic halted games in March.
About 2,000 fans attended the game at The Den but it was overshadowed as loud booing could be heard when players from both teams took the knee before kick off, with at least one supporter heard shouting “get up!”.
Following the match, the Football Association (FA) said it “strongly condemns” supporters who “actively voice their opposition” to players taking a stand against discrimination.
In a statement, it said: “The FA supports all players and staff that 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.”
Derby striker Colin Kazim-Richards, who had stood with a raised fist as players took the knee, branded the booing an “absolute disgrace.”
He tweeted: “Having to say this is a pain but I’ll say it every single damn time – this is why I stand and stand proud and I have to say every single person involved with (Derby County) did too – made me proud to wear this shirt with the boys today.”
Footballers have been taking a knee at the start of matches since football resumed in June as part of global sporting protests against racial injustice, police brutality and systemic discrimination against black people.
Ahead of Saturday’s game, Millwall’s players released a statement signalling their intent to continue doing the gesture before matches until the New Year.
Millwall boss Gary Rowett said he was frustrated that the return of fans had been overshadowed.
He told Sky Sports: “I’m disappointed that we are talking about that when we should be talking about the fact we are all back and we want to enjoy the football match again.
“The club do an enormous amount of work on anti-racism and the club do a lot of work in the community and there is some really positive stuff, so of course I am disappointed.”
On players taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Rowett added: “Is it a political message, is it an anti-discrimination message?
“The players have come out and said they don’t support the political aspect, but they do support the anti-discrimination aspect of it and of course we all do.”
Wayne Rooney, Derby’s interim boss, said it was “very surprising” to hear the booing.
“I don’t want to say much about it, but all I can say is everyone at Derby County Football Club, we obviously took the knee, and no one condones that behaviour,” Rooney said.
The booing by some Millwall fans was heavily criticised by several former players.
Former England striker and Match Of The Day presenter Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter: “Let’s be fair, it only appears to be a small minority of Millwall fans that didn’t boo the players taking the knee.”
Ex-England and West Ham United player Trevor Sinclair said: “Reality is Millwall fans booing players taking a knee doesn’t surprise many!”
Former Wycombe Wanderers player Marcus Bean tweeted: “We all know Millwall’s history but it still shocked/upset me hearing the booing… Even more disturbing it sounded like the majority of fans to me.
“BLM is an anti racist movement. If you boo you are racist simple. #BlackLivesMatter.”
The chairman of anti-racism organisation Kick It Out applauded the players of Millwall and Derby for “defying the hate shown by some fans” at The Den.
Sanjay Bhandari said: “We are saddened by the behaviour of fans booing the players taking the knee today at Millwall.
“What this demonstrates is that players are right to continue standing up to discrimination, whether that is through taking the knee or speaking out.
“We urge the players to continue using their platforms and their voices to support this fight.”
Millwall lost the match 1-0 as former England star Rooney claimed his first win as Derby’s interim boss.