Millwall opened its stadium’s doors to a reduced crowd of 2,000 for the first time since the Coronavirus halted spectators at all professional sport in March.
But the 1-0 win for Derby was “completely overshadowed” – according to the South London club – before a ball had even been kicked, in ugly scenes which were shared all over social media.
In a scene of defiance and amid all the boos, Derby striker Colin Kazim-Richards stood to face the crowds with a clenched fist raised.
Millwall player Mahlon Romeo gave an emotional interview after the game where he accused the fans responsible of “spreading hate.” As a London-born black player, he spoke of how the reaction had affected him.
“The fans who have been let in today have personally disrespected not just me but the football club. And what the football club and the community stand for.
“What they’ve done is booed and condemned a peaceful gesture which was put in place to highlight, combat and stop any discriminatory behaviour and racism. That’s it – that’s all that gesture is.”
He added: “I don’t know how they thought that would make me feel. I don’t know what they thought taking a knee stood for. But I think I’ve explained it simply enough. I feel really low – probably the lowest I’ve felt in my time at this club.”
The practice of kneeling before kick-off began with the restart of football in June and represented a global sporting protest against racial injustice after the murder of George Floyd.
After a day of silence, Millwall released a statement on Sunday morning, where they said the club were “dismayed and saddened by events which marred Saturday’s game against Derby County at The Den.”
“The club has worked tirelessly in recent months to prepare for the return of supporters and what should have been a positive and exciting occasion was completely overshadowed, much to the immense disappointment and upset of those who have contributed to those efforts.”
Chairman of anti-racism organisation Kick It Out, Sanjay Bhandari, said that the boos had shown the players were right to continue to stand up against discrimination, “whether that is through taking the knee or speaking out.”
He added: “The fight for racial equality continues and we will continue to work closely with clubs across the country to tackle discrimination in all its forms. We applaud the players for taking a stand and defying the hate shown today.”
However, there were many prominent voices supporting the boos, seeing it as less of a rejection of anti-racism but more a protest against the ‘politicisation of the sport’.
Farage backs boos
Nigel Farage tweeted shortly after: “As football fans return it will not just be Millwall supporters who have sussed out BLM as a Marxist mob who now want to be a political party. There must be no more taking the knee.”
In his post-match interview, Millwall manager Gary Rowett drew a distinction between the political message of BLM which some fans take grievance with and the broader anti-discrimination message.
He said: “The players have come out and said they don’t support the political aspect, but they do support the anti-discrimination aspect of it and of course we all do.”
Eyes will now turn to Millwall’s next home game on Tuesday against QPR, to see how the club intends to combat another similar gesture from their fans.