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England must get the fans cheering again

Paul Ellis/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

I was looking forward to watching Gareth Southgate’s England “just trying to win the Euros” this summer, says Tony Evans in the Independent. But the backlash against the team taking the knee before football matches has reached fever pitch. England fans booed their own players during warm-up matches last week. They’re sure to do the same when in the team’s opening tournament game against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday. And it’s not just pockets of supporters in the stands. One of several angry Conservative MPs, Brendan Clarke-Smith, claims the England players are supporting a “political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life”.

Players have gone “blue in the face” explaining that they’re not out to abolish capitalism, says Darren Lewis in the Mirror. Headbangers argue that taking the knee is a political act aligned with Black Lives Matter. The gesture actually originated in the civil rights movement, which was re-energised by the murder of George Floyd last year. But die-hard critics would rather “put their hands over their ears” than accept that black lives matter as a way of life rather than a political cause. Ironically, the same lot would be the first to howl their disgust if fans in Bulgaria or Croatia were to behave the same way as ours. “The hypocrisy is real.” If you think Britain doesn’t have a race problem, the next three weeks might make you think again.

No one has a problem with the antiracism element, says Rod Liddle in The Spectator. It’s BLM the movement they loathe: “the Marxism, the critical race theory stuff, the corrosive hatred towards capitalism and white people”. Premier League prima donnas have been opting in since June last year. As soon as fans have been allowed back in stadiums, they’ve let us know how they feel about this tokenistic guff. If Southgate, who has slammed the booers, wanted to do “something meaningful for inter-race relations”, he could copy Millwall, where the team stand united under a banner reading ‘Kick out racism’. That brought cheers from the crowd. Southgate thinks fans are “too thick to understand why the knee was taken”. Au contraire, Gareth, we get the politics. “It is you who are thick.”

Despite everything, there’s “an unmistakable whiff of optimism” in the air, says Sean Ingle in The Guardian. Get ready for an “11-city football extravaganza” from Baku to Bucharest, Seville to St Petersburg, winding its way to Wembley. It’s the most ambitious event since the onset of the pandemic. Fans will be back and England really have a chance. “Why would you choose to insult somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin?” Southgate asked in The Players’ Tribune this week. “Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news. You’re on the losing side.” The England manager has been exemplary, and I for one am excited. A “stunning feast of football” is coming home.