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Fans who boo players taking the knee are ‘not welcome’, says Colchester owner

Colchester United v Southend United – Papa John’s Trophy – Southern Group A – JobServe Community Stadium
(Image credit: John Walton)

Colchester owner Robbie Cowling has told fans who want to boo players taking the knee they are not welcome at the club.

Colchester beat Grimsby 2-1 in Saturday’s League Two clash but that victory was overshadowed by a number of fans boing the players’ anti-racism gesture before kick-off.

Millwall fans also booed players taking the knee ahead of their 1-0 home loss to Derby, leading Wayne Rooney to condemn their “disgraceful and mindless behaviour”.

Now Colchester chairman and owner Cowling has urged those who want to keep booing the pre-match gesture not to return – and offered to refund the season tickets of anyone who chooses to accept his request.

“It is undeniable that black and other ethnic minority people are still the victims of racism, and the black footballers and staff at Colchester United feel that they are in a position of privilege that has been fought for through the blood and sweat of their ancestors,” he said in a statement.

“A position that in 2020 the average black person is still not afforded.

“Those taking the knee, and supporting the taking of the knee, not only show their willingness to support the drive to eradicate racial oppression but force it to be a talking point even when it’s uncomfortable.

“Undeniably, taking the knee is a fundamental catalyst in pushing the conversation and thus the necessary changes forward.

“I’m sure the vast majority of Colchester United fans are supportive and want to play their part in showing they back the actions of our players.

“Maybe those that booed on Saturday might now understand what this gesture means to our club and will at the very least remain silent during future games whilst the players continue to take the knee before each kick-off.

“Alternatively, they should just stay away from our club because anyone that still wants to boo now that I have explained the purpose and importance of the taking of the knee is not welcome at our club.

“I will be happy to refund anyone for the remaining value of their season permit if that is the reason they feel they can no longer attend our games.”

The booing at Millwall and Colchester prompted widespread condemnation, with Derby’s interim manager and former England captain Rooney leading the outrage.

The Professional Footballers’ Association described it as “a sad indictment of the lack of understanding and empathy for the players’ fight against racism and discrimination”.

It urged Millwall to “act swiftly to identify the section of the crowd who booed the players”.

The PFA added in a statement on Monday: “The decision to take the knee – as a result of the death of George Floyd in the USA and the global tide of support for the BLM movement – was a player-led decision in solidarity and support for black people facing racism. We have all seen players face racist abuse on and off the pitch – this is not a political issue it is a human rights issue.”

Foreign office minister James Cleverly added the Government’s voice to the criticism.

Cleverly told BBC Breakfast: “The footballers clearly wanted to demonstrate solidarity with people who had either been victims of racism or fighting against racism, I think that’s a noble thing for them to do. Ultimately what those fans did was wrong.”

Watford captain Troy Deeney told talkSPORT the Hornets would ignore any booing of taking a knee at Millwall when they visit The Den on December 29, but admitted his players would walk off if subjected to any racist abuse.

Asked what Watford would do if Millwall fans booed taking the knee, Deeney said: “When they boo? I’ll still be there.

“But if we get to that line of racial things being said to me or my players, we’ve already had a conversation about what will happen. We walk. Simple. We’re not here to be racially abused. We’re here to play football and entertain.”

Watford v Cardiff City – Sky Bet Championship – Vicarage Road

Watford captain Troy Deeney has said the Hornets will leave the field if any of their players are racially abused (Steven Paston/PA)

Cowling, meanwhile, called on Colchester’s fans to applaud the taking of the knee from now on – in a bid to wipe out the impact of any future booing.

“It would be very disappointing if anyone does decide to boo again,” he added.

“Therefore, going forward I would like to make the actions of those fans who do boo the taking of the knee completely irrelevant.

“For every game where the players choose to take the knee, I would like all of our fans to join me in applauding this gesture to ensure our players know we fully support them.

“Callum Harriot described the purpose of the gesture perfectly to me, explaining that taking the knee dates back to early civil rights movements as a way of silently showing solidarity in support of political inequalities suffered by oppressed communities.

“Those that take the knee want to highlight that all lives should be valued and should not be treated inhumanely or inferior to others just because of their race.”