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'Footballers shouldn't just stick to football,' says Gareth Southgate

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 09/06/2021 James Robinson for MailOnline
Gareth Southgate, Gareth Southgate are posing for a picture: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

England manager Gareth Southgate has today insisted his players have a duty to 'raise awareness and educate' both on and off the field, amid the ongoing row over footballers taking the knee.

In an open letter penned to Three Lions fans ahead of Euro 2020, the England boss said he has 'never believed' sports stars 'should just stick to football' and insisted his team 'are role models'.

Writing after a section of England fans booed stars for taking the knee ahead of Sunday's friendly against Romania, he said it was a 'duty' for stars to 'interact with the public on matters such as equality and racial injustice'. 

And he urged that supporters 'must recognise the impact' England stars 'can have on society'.

It comes as the FA officials today blasted Boris Johnson for a 'lack of support' over the row - which threatens to overshadow England's upcoming Euro 2020 opener against Croatia on Sunday.

In an impassioned open letter, published on Players' Tribune, The Three Lions boss said: 'Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. 

'We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people.

'I have never believed that we should just stick to football.'

Gareth Southgate standing in front of a green field: (

© Provided by Daily Mail

He added: 'It's their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.'

The Three Lions manager, who will lead his side at the summer tournament with England looking to put 55 years of hurt behind them, also opened up about national identity, pride and social abuse against players. 

Addressing the online abuse received his players, Southgate writes: 'There are genuine risks for our players online and I will always want to protect them, but I would never put rules on how or when they use their accounts while on England duty.

'I trust them. They are mature enough to make their own decisions, do what's right for their mental health and to keep being a force for good as we strive for a better society. 

'The last 18 months have put added pressure on everyone. Venting that might have taken place while walking out of the stadium or in the pub has been transferred online. I get that.

'However, there are things I will never understand. Why tag someone in on a conversation that is abusive? Why insult somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin? Why?

'Unfortunately for those people, I have bad news. You're on the losing side. It's clear that we are heading for a much more tolerant society, and our lads will be a big part of that.'

Conor Coady et al. standing in front of a crowd: ( © Provided by Daily Mail (

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand brands fans who boo taking the knee as 'ignorant' 

Former Manchester United captain and England defender Rio Ferdinand today slammed fans who boo taking the knee as 'ignorant'.

Speaking to the FIVE YouTube channel, he said: 'These fans, these ignorant people going to these games, they haven't got a clue.

'They don't know what the players are kneeling for. It's not a political stance.

'All these people saying, 'BLM is a political movement' – [the knee] is nothing to do with [BLM]. So take that out of your mind.

'The players, the manager are telling you, 'This is not a political campaign, the reason why we kneel is nothing to do with politics'.

 'This stance is about racism, about people being treated the right way and respectfully, and not based on the colour of their skin.' 

Considering what it means to represent England Southgate, who earned 57 caps for his country, finished his letter: 'Of course, my players and I will be judged on winning matches. Only one team can win the Euros. 

'We have never done it before and we are desperate to. Believe me. But the reality is that the result is just a small part of it. When England play, there's much more at stake than that.

'It's about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever.'

It comes as it was revealed that the FA are unhappy with the Government for failing to support them in their battle with England fans who booed players taking the knee before last week's European Championship warm-up matches against Austria and Romania. 

Southgate and his players have repeatedly tried justified their decision to continue with the anti-racism gesture - which some fans believe is political and linked to the Marxist group Black Lives Matter.

Boris Johnson previously said he is opposed to taking the knee on grounds that he prefers actions to gestures.

And the Prime Minister's official spokesman this week repeatedly refused to condemn fans for booing.   

Several other senior ministers, including Home Secretary Priti Patel, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, have made it clear they will not take the knee.

The FA have not commented on the Government's position, but several sources expressed disappointment to Sportsmail that they appear to be taking a populist stance in what has become a divisive culture war.

Southgate discussed the issue again with England's leadership group after the Austria game and the squad were unanimous in deciding to continue kneeling.

Southgate reiterated his stance on the Players' Tribune website, and Jordan Henderson said: 'If there's still people booing then there still is a problem. We've got to fight it and stand together.' 

It comes as England football fans said they are not racist after being condemned for booing when players take the knee before matches.

Supporters' groups say the gesture - which is done ahead of kick off - has now 'lost its original meaning' and 'is being misinterpreted'.

Meanwhile the Free Speech Union said if football is going to defend the right of the players to take the knee, then they should defend the right of the fans to react.

But one senior football administrator slammed those who heckled the footballers as committing a 'a racist act' and cannot use any anti-BLM excuse.

Former England star Rio Ferdinand also described those who boo the kneeling as 'ignorant'. 

And former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson said he 'loves to see' stars do it and hopes the heckling 'is behind us' as the Euros looms.

Boos have rung out across the Riverside stadium in Middlesbrough in England's two friendly games against Romania and Austria when players took the knee.

England fan CJ Joiner, a member of the supporters' group Block 109 - which sits in the Home End at Wembley - said fans who boo are not racist.

a person posing for the camera: ( © Provided by Daily Mail ( a group of people in front of a crowd posing for the camera: ( © Provided by Daily Mail (

He said he disagreed with those who do jeer at the players but said a new initiative should be launched to replace taking the knee.

The act was started in September 2016 by NFL player Colin Kaepernick to protest against the police in the US during the national anthem.

Mr Joiner told Sky Sports News: 'Players are doing it for one reason and one reason only, not to support any organisation but to show their support in the fight against discrimination and inequality.

'Those players are following the original message but this original message of Colin Kaepernick has been lost.

'The majority that were booing are not racist, it's just how the message has now been misinterpreted and put out with perhaps some mistruths made about it too.'

Meanwhile, another fan, Andrew, from Lincoln, told the BBC he booed to show his objection to an 'identity politics agenda' being brought into football.

He told Radio 1 Newsbeat: 'Booing is a way football fans can communicate dissatisfaction.

'Some seem to genuinely believe booing is an act of racism - I reject that.'

Other fans say the 'political' gesture of taking the knee is detracting from the sport.

'If I want to watch politics, I'd switch on Westminster Live,' one Twitter user said.

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