Gary Rowett says taking the knee is ‘causing a rift and divide’ in football and has urged the sport to ditch the gesture for ‘a better way to unify people’
Millwall manager Gary Rowett has claimed taking the knee is ‘causing a rift and divide’ within football and urged the sport to ditch the Black Lives Matter gesture for ‘a better way to unify people’.
Boos could be heard at Millwall’s Championship match against Fulham on Tuesday night when the Cottagers took the knee at The Den. A number of Millwall’s players chose to stand instead, some raising a fist in the air.
Millwall were one of the first clubs to stop taking the knee last season and their fans were heavily criticised on their return when they booed players performing the gesture against Derby County.
The anti-racism display has been observed across English football since the end of the 2019-20 season as part of global sporting protests against racial injustice in response to the killing of George Floyd by a white police offer in the United States in May 2020.
However, since the return of fans as part of the unlocking of Covid restrictions, there have been several incidents of players being booed while performing the gesture, while other teams across the football pyramid have stopped doing it altogether.
All 20 Premier League clubs agreed that the gesture should continue into the new season but some, like Brentford, have allowed players to make their own statements after criticism that taking the knee has lost some impact.
But, speaking after the incident with Fulham on Tuesday night, Millwall boss Rowett insisted football’s authorities need to devise a better solution because taking the knee is causing ‘such a rift and divide’.
Boos could be heard at Millwall’s Championship match against Fulham on Tuesday night when the Cottagers took the knee at The Den
The 47-year-old said: ‘Up and down the country I think there are so many football clubs that do such good work in their communities around equality and anti-racism.
‘We need the authorities to help clubs out and find a better way to unify people. I don’t want to comment on individual people’s decision to do that but we just need to find a way to unify people.
‘At the moment, you know, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, before a game is just causing such a rift and divide. Football is a great spectacle. We’re privileged to be part of it.
‘What it does is has the power to help communities and do some really good work behind the scenes. It’s not just our club, there’s a lot of clubs doing that, so I think we need help.
‘We need help to find a more positive way of taking some form of action. That’s my opinion.’
Millwall fans booed after players took the knee ahead of their clash with Derby in December
Instead of taking the knee last season, Millwall decided to ask their opponents to link arms and unfurl an anti-racism banner.
Sky Sports pundit Jobi McAnuff has criticised Rowett for his comments and admitted he was ‘disappointed’, both with Fulham’s players getting booed and the Millwall manager’s stance.
The ex-Reading captain said: ‘I was disappointed by booing the knee initially and I’m disappointed by Gary’s reaction.
‘I don’t think we can be any clearer in terms of the message behind taking the knee and what it stands for. What it represents is the fight against racism and discrimination.
‘When somebody decides to make a racist tweet, or shout racist abuse, that’s a decision. These fans at this club are making a decision to boo players taking the knee.
Sky Sports pundit Jobi McAnuff criticised Rowett and said: ‘For me, there’s no other explanation other than that they’re opposing equality’
‘So for me, there’s no other explanation any more other than that they’re opposing equality. You’re a manager of a club, you might say you can’t control what a fan does but what you can do as the figurehead is condemn it in the strongest possible terms. I’m disappointed I haven’t seen it.’
The taking of the knee – which was popularised by American footballer Colin Kaepernick – has been criticised by some, with home secretary Priti Patel calling it ‘gesture politics’.
Some England fans were heard booing Gareth Southgate’s players when they took the knee in their two Euro 2020 warm-up matches at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.
The Three Lions played Romania and Austria on Teesside in front of around 10,000 supporters and some jeers could be heard from sections of the crowd as they made the gesture.
During those games and some of England’s Euro 2020 matches at Wembley, the boos were largely drowned out by applause from the rest of the crowd.
Some England fans were heard booing the Three Lions when they took the knee this summer
England boss Gareth Southgate said before the tournament that some fans ‘aren’t quite understanding the message’.
That was before England trio Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka were all subjected to shocking racist abuse online after failing to score their spot-kicks in England’s penalty shoot-out defeat by Italy in the Euro 2020 final.
As the new domestic football season got underway with the start of the Football League on August 7, players and fans were still divided on taking the knee.
Just over half of the games in the Championship, League One and League Two saw both teams take the knee with the gesture greeted at grounds with a smattering of boos before being drowned out with widespread applause.
It was a similar situation at Wembley for the Community Shield, where all players of Manchester City and Leicester took the knee and huge applause drowned out the boos.
Ten games across the Football League saw neither side take the knee while the others saw a mix of some players doing so and others remain standing.
Sportsmail has contacted Millwall for comment.