PUSKAS ARENA — England’s players were booed as they took the knee before a game against Hungary that was supposed to be played behind closed doors due to fan racism.
Hungary were ordered to play three home games without supporters as punishment for fan racism at Euro 2020. The charges were due to racist and discriminatory incidents during their three group stage games against Portugal, France and Germany last summer.
However, the Hungarian Football Association used a Uefa rulebook loophole that allows free tickets to be given to under 14s — every 10 to be accompanied by one adult — to attend behind-closed-doors matches.
It meant that more than 30,000 were in attendance at the Puskas Arena for England’s Nations League opening game where they proceeded to audibly boo England’s players kneeling before kick-off, a gesture they have performed to highlight racial inequality and discrimination.
England’s players have been booed on several occasions for taking the knee since they first started making the gesture in 2020, but this is the first time they have been jeered during a game that was supposed to be played without fans to punish previous acts of racism.
Travelling Hungarian fans booed England players taking the knee at Wembley before a World Cup qualifier in October last year. And England were even booed by their own supporters in warm-up games for Euro 2020, when they faced Austria and Romania at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.
The players decided collectively that they would continue taking a knee before their Euro 2020 games and there were concerns that the booing by their own fans would persist, but as England progressed to the final any boos were drowned out by applause.
In a letter published on The Players’ Tribune last year, the England manager explained why his players continue taking the knee.
“I have never believed that we should just stick to football,” he wrote. “I know my voice carries weight, not because of who I am but because of the position that I hold. At home, I’m below the kids and the dogs in the pecking order but publicly I am the England men’s football team manager. I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players.
“It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.”