After QPR started to do so in September of last year, fellow West London and Championship outfit Brentford, and, as of last week, Derby County, have decided to stop taking the knee after the referee’s whistle at the start of games. Triggered by the barbaric murder of George Floyd in May of 2020, , players of all clubs in the EFL have taken, or at least had the option to take, the knee in support of Black Lives Matter, since football restarted after the first Covid lockdown, with a wider purpose of showing solidarity with ending racial discrimination in football and society as a whole.
In all of the clubs’ statements on the matter, they have stated that they will wholly support and respect clubs who continue to wish to do so, and have confirmed that it was a unanimously made club and dressing-room decision, and concluded by saying they will focus on fighting racism within wider society through other methods.
There are two important facts to note here. Firstly, many individual players and coaching staff involved continue to be active in the moment of taking the knee – for example, Derby forward Colin Kazim-Richards, of Turkish-Cypriot and Antiguan descent, raises his fist in the air before each game, resonating with the iconic 1968 Olympics Black Power salute. Secondly, these three aforementioned clubs are, like all clubs in professional football, racially diverse – it is not the case of an all-white XI stopping taking the knee. In fact, QPR are notoriously one of the most left-wing clubs in the country, leading the charge against racism in the doldrums of the 1980s and 1990s, and are now the only club in senior English football with a black Director of Football (club legend Les Ferdinand).
Commenting on the club’s decision, Ferdinand stated “Taking the knee was very powerful but we feel that impact has now been diluted”, going on to analogise the action with NHS Clap For Carers during lockdown – stopping it doesn’t mean you don’t support them, just that you feel the action has run its cause and ceased to be as effective. “Taking the knee will not bring about change in the game – actions will”, a clear statement in support of the argument that tangible actions are few and far between, if anywhere, with football clubs’ actions against racism. Brentford have propagated a similar view and have also developed their #BeeTogether initiative in addressing internal problems of all types of discrimination. With Derby County, the situation is admittedly more harrowing – their decision being triggered by the racial abuse of Kazim-Richards online, and a horrific story of how he had to tell his kids that [some people in society will hate you for being black]. According to Ryan Conway of The Athletic, every player expressed their thoughts on the matter, with an underlying issue being the divide between those who took the knee before games, and those who stood with a raised fist (not out of a deep personal disagreement, but perhaps a lack of symbolic unity amongst the individuals of the starting XI). Ultimately, the decision was made to stop taking the knee, and for greater action to be made from their Community Trust once Covid restrictions are eased.
Either decision, to take the knee or not, is completely justifiable with the right intentions. Racism has slipped away from mainstream football discourse before, and can’t be allowed to again, and the knee is a persistent reminder of that – yet at the same time the Clap For Carers analogy makes perfect sense; at the end of the day, a symbol pales in comparison to a solution. But one thing is clear- whatever happens, the momentum that football has developed since the first Covid lockdown behind the charge against racism is something that mustn’t be lost, and clubs must continue to do their bit in the fight to show the progress being made off the pitch if indeed they do stop taking the knee.
Football can often be a sad reflection of wider society but can also spur society on to change. The taking of the knee must, at least, be the seeds of that change.
With credits to Ryan Conway of The Athletic, and The Guardian. Images credited to SkySports.