During the brief window in December when a small number of fans were allowed back into football grounds, one of our members got into trouble for booing players taking the knee. Some other fans complained to the club, where he was a season ticket holder, and he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to return to the stadium until he’d met with some club officials. The FSU appointed a barrister to accompany him to the meeting and, after he was able to satisfy the officials that he wasn’t a racist, the ban was lifted.
We think it’s wrong for football clubs to punish fans who boo players taking the knee – something that’s happened at a number of football clubs, including Cambridge United. The gesture has become inextricably linked with Black Lives Matter, a political movement spearheaded by a left-wing organisation. We take no view on the politics of BLM – we would be taking our member’s side if he’d been punished for applauding the players’ gesture or roaring his approval. The point is, it cannot be right to permit players to express their views about this political movement on the pitch, but prohibit fans from expressing theirs in the stands. In the case of our member, he didn’t boo because he disapproves of BLM, but because he wants to keep politics out of football. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to express that view, provided he does so in a lawful and peaceful way?
Consequently, we have written to the Interim Chair of the Football Association and asked the FA to issue some guidance to its members. Either the FA should ban taking the knee, just as it bans players or managers wearing badges or patches expressing their allegiance to any other political cause. Or it should permit it, in which case fans must be allowed to express their feelings about this political movement, too. And they should issue this guidance soon because fans may be readmitted to stadiums before the end of the season and some of them are bound to let the players know how they feel about this pre-game ritual if it continues.
We think the reason football clubs over-reacted to fans booing players taking the knee in December is because they mistakenly believed it was motivated by disapproval of the anti-racist cause. But that is not true of our member – he supports the Kick it Out campaign – and we doubt it’s true of the vast majority of fans who dislike this gesture. Many of them dislike it for the same reasons Les Ferdinand, Wilfried Zaha and Lyle Taylor do – because it’s a pointless bit of virtue-signalling that does nothing to tackle the residue of racism in English football. If fans share the feelings of these players and former players they should be allowed to express those sentiments in the stands.
Stop Press: The Mail on Sunday has written an article about our letter.
Stop Press: Tommy Guthrie, Supporter Liaison Manager has responded on behalf of the Premier League.