Millwall say they are dismayed and saddened by events at The Den on Saturday where some of the 2,000 home fans inside the ground booed when home and Derby players took a knee before kick-off.
Fans were back in the stadium for the first time since 29 February but their return was quickly mired in controversy. Booing from the stands was clearly heard after the referee, Darren England, blew his whistle for the players to take a knee, a gesture used to show support for the fight against discrimination following the unlawful killing of George Floyd in America.
The FA was among those to condemn the booing, saying it “supports all players and staff who wish to take a stand against discrimination in a respectful manner, which includes taking of the knee, and strongly condemns the behaviours of any spectators that actively voice their opposition to such activities”.
In a lengthy statement on Sunday morning, the Championship club insist they will use this moment as a catalyst for more rapid solutions in the fight against discrimination.
It read: “Millwall Football Club was 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.
“The impact of such incidents is felt not just by the players and management, but by those who work throughout the club and in its academy and community trust, where so many staff and volunteers continue passionate endeavours to enhance Millwall’s reputation day after day, year after year.”
The Millwall statement continued: “The club will not allow their fine work to be in vain. The players are continuing to use the biggest platform they have to support the drive for change, not just in football but in society generally.
“There is much work to be done and at Millwall everyone is committed to doing all that is possible, both individually and collectively, to be a force for good and to ensure that the club remains at the forefront of football’s anti-discrimination efforts.
“Over the coming days, club, academy and community trust staff will meet with Kick It Out and representatives from other appropriate bodies in an attempt to use Saturday’s events as a catalyst for more rapid solutions which have an impact both in the short and long-term. Further comment will be made once those meetings and discussions are concluded.”
The booing sparked outrage on Saturday, with Derby’s Colin Kazim-Richards calling it an “absolute disgrace”, and Millwall’s manager, Gary Rowett, saying: “The players have come out and said they don’t support the political aspect, but they do support the anti-discrimination aspect of it … The club does an enormous amount of work on anti-racism.”
Derby’s interim manager, Wayne Rooney, who secured his first win with a 1-0 victory at the Den, said: ”With everything that has been going on in recent months, it was very surprising. I don’t want to say much about it, but all I can say is that everyone at Derby took the knee, and no one condones that behaviour.”
Sanjay Bhandari, chair of Kick It Out, praised the players for “defying the hate shown by some fans. What this demonstrates is that players are right to continue standing up to discrimination, whether that is through taking the knee or speaking out.”