Boos turn to cheers at The Den as arm-in-arm players display anti-racism banner

Millwall and QPR players with anti-racism banner. Pic: John Walton

Millwall fans applauded the anti-racism banner displayed by their team, who linked arms with Queens Park Rangers players before their Championship game last night, just four days after booing their own players for ‘taking the knee’. 

Before kick-off, Millwall decided against ‘taking the knee’, but QPR’s players did for the first time since September. They were applauded by the 2,000 fans inside The Den.

The game ended 1-1, but most eyes were fixed on how the crowd would react before the ball had been kicked. There was visible tension in the ground among the players and managers in the pre-match interviews.

“They want us to fail”

But the night will be a huge relief for the South London club, who handed letters to all of their 2,000 fans, outlining the importance of the occasion they were part of. The letter read: “This is one of the most important days in Millwall’s history.”

“Before kick-off, our players and those from QPR, will link arms in a show of unity and togetherness towards the fight against discrimination. We know that the crowd, as has always been the case, will be fully supportive of that gesture.”

“As was also made clear last night, we ask that those opposition players taking the knee are respected, as it is their right to do so. The eyes of the world are on this football club tonight – your club – and they want us to fail.”

Millwall player Mahlon Romeo with a raised fist before kick-off. Pic: John Walton

Mahlon Romeo, who described the booing his team faced in the match against Derby as “spreading hate”, led his team out of the tunnel, and stood at kick-off with his clenched fist raised. He was clapped off the field at the end of the match, holding up his shirt which was sponsored by Kick It Out for this match.

A further gesture was made in the 51st minute, after Ilias Chair scored for QPR to put the visitors 1-0 up. He and Bright Osayi-Samuel both celebrated in front of Millwall fans by taking the knee and raising their fists.

QPR’s Bright Osayi-Samuel (left) and Ilias Chair (right) celebrate goal by ‘taking the knee’. Pic: John Walton

Following the loud booing of the anti-discrimination gesture at the weekend, Millwall had released a statement condemning the booing, claiming those involved had “marred” what was supposed to be a positive occasion. Sky Sports News also revealed that some of Millwall’s players and staff had been left in tears.

A Millwall season ticket holder who wished to stay anonymous told Eastlondonlines: “Personally, I wouldn’t have booed. The players made a statement before the game to say that taking the knee has nothing to do with BLM for them but is to show they’re against discrimination, but a lot of fans overlooked that, and I don’t really blame them.” 

“Especially when every time you watch a football game or listen to it on the radio the commentators say the players are ‘showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.’”

“It is stupid we booed and when we play tonight, we’re not taking the knee, but I’ve heard a few of the players still might take the knee. If they get booed, then I feel like we deserve all the scrutiny we can get thrown at us.”

Kick It Out logo on Millwall shirt. Pic: John Walton

Politicising the sport

The applause at The Den last night will come as momentary respite for the Millwall faithfuls – even if their famous chant, “no one likes us, we don’t care”, might suggest otherwise. 

Arguably, the row over the politicisation of the sport has – ironically – led to more politicians commenting on the issue. Conservative ministers George Eustice and James Cleverly have both made contradictory statements, with Eustice defending the boos and Cleverly condemning them. 

The Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, also published a statement after Saturday’s game, where he said: “To see this action being booed by some fans is disgraceful.” 

Nigel Farage took to Twitter seconds after the applause to declare: “At the Millwall vs QPR game tonight BLM died. United against injustice gets the nod — Marxist and violent BLM does not. Sanity is returning.”

Questions still remain about the meaning behind the original boos and the issue of football becoming ‘politicised’, which will outlive this controversy.

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