“It is time for the country to unite. Full stop!” Gareth Southgate said, with added purpose as Euro 2020 finally got under way in Rome.
He is steadfast in his support for his England players choosing to still “take the knee” before kick-off – despite booing from some sections of the limited number of England fans in stadiums in recent games.
“I’d say it’s been about 30% of the fans that have chosen to boo,” England supporter Kieran Baker told Sky News.
The 34-year-old from South Yorkshire has travelled home and away with England since the World Cup in Germany in 2006.
“We have been waiting for these Euros for so long, so it is disappointing for that row to overshadow it – some people are just joining in with it without thinking,” he added.
“I had to nudge someone next to me at one of the friendlies and say to him: ‘What are you doing?’
“It’s just their opinion, they are just reading it a different way – it’s hard to change someone’s mind when it’s like that.”
The fans that boo the taking of the knee say it’s because, in their opinion, Black Lives Matter is an extreme political organisation. Gareth Southgate and his players are adamant that it’s a sporting gesture to show solidarity in the fight against discrimination.
Tony Burnett, the chief executive of anti-racism group Kick It Out told Sky News: “I think the people who are now choosing to boo are basically saying to the England players and the England staff ‘we don’t believe, we don’t believe your motives’, and I think there’s a more sinister edge to that.
“This is not a political gesture, it’s a sporting gesture to say ‘we believe in the fight against discrimination’. The people who decide to boo aren’t patriots anymore because they are booing the national team on something they should be supporting.”
Southgate’s team face Croatia in their first group game at Wembley on Sunday. Next Friday, they rekindle the oldest fixture in international football, taking on Scotland, again at Wembley.
The Scottish FA has confirmed that its team will stand together against discrimination in their games at Hampden Park but will take the knee in solidarity with England at Wembley.
Like the vast majority of England fans, Mr Baker just wants to crack on with the football.
He said: “I’m buzzing. Walking round work on Friday I just couldn’t wait to clock off and get down to London this weekend.
“We do tend to do well at Wembley… and Southgate is the perfect international manager for us. The open letter he wrote to the nation, you can tell it’s from the heart. He isn’t the greatest manager in the world but he is a leader with principles.
“You can only hope. I go to all these tournaments and you hope. It doesn’t always end well but you always have the hope.”