Gareth Southgate Open Letter: Disputes and Reactions?

In early June, England football manager Gareth Southgate wrote an open letter to Three Lions fans ahead of Euro 2020, to define a notion of Englishness, both traditional and radical.
July 10, 2021 | 17:30
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He 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.

What’s the letter about?

The England manager and former Aston Villa star spoke out after some fans booed England players for taking a stand against racism

According to Birmingham Mail, England manager and former Aston Villa player Gareth Southgate has been widely praised after defending players who take the knee in order to show their opposition to racism.

He spoke out after some fans booed when players took the knee before England faced Austria last Wednesday, although the jeers were drowned out by applause.

Southgate, who played for Villa from 1995 to 2001, wrote an article setting out his views. He 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’s open letter provokes disputes

England manager Gareth Southgate gestures during the Euro 2020 qualifier – Czech Republic v England, October 2019. Photo: Reuters.

"I know my voice carries weight, not because of who I am but because of the position that I hold. At home, I’m below the kids and the dogs in the pecking order but publicly I am the England men’s football team manager. I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players."

And he said he could never understand why anyone would choose to insult somebody "for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin", adding: "Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news. You’re on the losing side. It’s clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that."

Gareth Southgate’s open letter provokes disputes
England manager Gareth Southgate . Photo: Getty Images

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.'

Gareth Southgate’s open letter provokes disputes
Photo: Getty Images

Dispute around the knee-taking among footballers

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.

What do supporters say?

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, Daily Mail reported.

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.

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.

Gareth Southgate’s open letter provokes disputes
England fan CJ Joiner. Photo: Sky Sports

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, The Free Speech Union told MailOnline: 'If the FA is going to defend the right of the players to take the knee, it ought to defend the right of the fans to respond as they see fit, whether by booing or applauding. It cannot be free speech for the players but not for the fans.

'For the FA to say that the gesture has no connection with BLM and is simply an expression of support for the moral cause of anti-racism is naive.

'For the last five years, the gesture has been an expression of solidarity for Black Lives Matter, a neo-Marxist political movement that wants to dismantle the nuclear family, defund the police and end capitalism.

'If the England players want to take a stand against racism, all power to them, but why not do so with a less inflammatory gesture, such as standing in a circle and linking arms? If they did that, I doubt a single fan would boo.

'The leaders of the footballing community like Gary Lineker have condemned the booing fans as racists and said the fact that they're reacting in this way shows why players must continue to take the knee.

Gareth Southgate’s open letter provokes disputes
Photo: NMC Pool

But one senior football administrator disagreed and branded those who boo as committing 'a racist act'.

The unnamed official said those against the players taking the knee are showing they are against the drive for social justice.

They added: 'We can't necessarily call the people who are booing racists, but it's now absolutely clear that the booing is a racist act.

'And going forward, that's how we need to tailor our response, in terms of how we react to the booing.'

Former England manager Goran Eriksson said he was in favour of the players taking the knee and hopes the booing stops by the time the Euros start this month.

He told Times Radio: 'I really hope these things are behind us. Because taking about it and living with it - it's absolutely awful.

'So I really hope that nothing of this will happen before the game if they go down - I like that, I love to see it because it's sort of respectful.'

Meanwhile, former Manchester United captain and England defender Rio Ferdinand also slammed fans who boo taking the knee as 'ignorant'.

How did football fans react?

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.

The final round of EURO 2020 is scheduled for an 8pm BST kick-off on Sunday, July 11, 2021.

It will take place at Wembley Stadium in London, with over 60,000 fans expected to be in attendance.

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