Football Association diversity chief Paul Elliott has delivered an impassioned plea for supporters attending Sunday’s crunch clash against Croatia not to boo players taking the knee.
In a powerful interview with Sportsmail, the former England Under 21 captain explained:
- Why fans contemplating jeering should stay silent.
- His pride in hearing England manager Gareth Southgate’s passionate reasoning why his squad will continue with the gesture.
- How he was racially abused by his own supporters after captaining England Under 21s.
- Why English football will win the fight against racism.
The FA’s diversity chief Paul Elliott has discussed England fans booing the team taking the knee
The Three Lions stars were booed for doing the gesture in both of their pre-tournament games
Both England’s pre-tournament friendlies against Austria and Romania were marred by boos and it appears certain their opener against Croatia on Sunday will be overshadowed by the same as Southgate’s men take action in what they have explained is a message of anti-discrimination.
And Elliott, the chair of the FA’s inclusion advisory board, has appealed to fans to respect the players’ decision.
‘When you’re in that environment, I don’t care what you think — I care about what you say and how you behave,’ explained Elliott, who was Chelsea’s first black captain.
‘If you are a racist and you are going to watch England versus Croatia, you can think like a racist — but don’t talk like one.
Elliott was Chelsea’s first ever black captain and opened up on the racial abuse in his career
‘Imagine if they were in their own working environment and they were booed and told disparaging remarks about themselves when it wasn’t merited. How would they feel about that? How would you feel if someone was booing your child or a family member with a disability? Have more consciousness, have more respect.
‘So keep that to yourself on Sunday and support your country because if you don’t want to, there are thousands of people, who are good citizens, that do.
‘We are lucky we have a new generation of players who are human — but resolute. All those players want is to do their work in a racism-free environment. Why should they be deprived of that? It doesn’t matter if you’re working in a factory or a football field.
‘It’s against their human rights to be denied that privilege. It’s hard to understand how they think their behaviour is acceptable.’
England will continue taking the knee at their European Championships games this month
In the aftermath of last week’s friendly against Austria, Southgate received widespread acclaim for his articulate explanation of why his squad will continue taking the knee.
Elliott has been deeply impressed by the England manager’s capacity, not only as a coach, but also his ability to socially galvanise an ethnically diverse group of players — a trait the former Celtic defender says has a bigger impact than any other public figure in the country.
‘Gareth is protecting his players like a lion protects his cubs. I’m so proud England have come across a great coach but also a great human being,’ said Elliott.
‘He articulated that narrative in a very clear manner. What he said will have more impact than anyone else in this country.
Elliott praised the cultural transformation of current England manager Gareth Southgate
‘Look at how Gareth has evolved that squad. What we have seen in English football is an unbelievable cultural transformation.
‘What’s great is the black players have giants like Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane standing alongside them — and they are fighting. That is what Gareth has galvanised.
‘In 30 years of being an activist, that has been the single biggest change (that white players are fighting alongside black players).
‘A lot of that is about the individuals themselves but a lot of that is about Gareth. He has totally revolutionised the culture of the English game.
The diversity chief claims black and white footballers have never been closer in 30 years
‘You saw our black players at their greatest strength in those games against Bulgaria and Montenegro (where they were racially abused). You saw the power and resilience of Raheem Sterling, Tyrone Mings.
‘When they saw one of their own in Chris Powell standing next to Gareth Southgate that was so powerful. The way Chris imparted his experience, his guidance — he was like their big brother.
‘Gareth gets that like no other person I know. He gets it because he has lived the journey in the dressing room and seen that happen to black players from when he was at Crystal Palace at 16. He is judged on results like every football manager, but he is bigger than results.’
Despite the depressing scenes that have cast an ugly shadow over England’s preparations for the tournament, Elliott is adamant the English game will eventually conquer the threat of racism.
Elliott praised Southgate’s work, especially during difficult games such as Bulgaria in 2019
He believes the recent of appointment of Debbie Hewitt as the FA’s first female chair will hasten the process.
‘She will accelerate the cultural evolution inside the organisation in a way no leader can — a brilliant role model for women,’ said the 57-year-old.
But more than anything else, Elliott says the real power lies with the fans and participants who he believes will eventually self-govern abuse out of the sport.
‘Nothing breaks down barriers, brings people together, educates people like football. There’s no power like football.
‘I can say that because I’ve been on the end of the most vociferous abuse when I captained England Under 21s and been told to my face there’s no black in the Union Jack. It also happened when I played for England B.
Former England U21s captain Elliott revealed he was told there was no black on the Union Jack
‘It had such a profound effect on me. I played in very hostile environments in the 1980s in the UK, Italy and Scotland.
‘I have lived this journey to the full, and I’ve played in an environment where they (the racists) were the majority. But now they are the minority.
‘They are on the way out, because if you look at the quality of people inside the stadiums now, the diversity of people, more women, people of ethnic groups, people with disabilities — the game is far more inclusive than ever before.
‘Ultimately there are too many good, sound and sensitive people that want to do right by the beautiful game — they will nullify them. They may have won the battle in the 80s and 90s but we will win in the 21st century.’