It did not take long for Russian supporters to start whistling and booing as Belgium’s players dropped to one knee ahead of their Euro 2020 match in St Petersburg.
Video footage showed what appeared to be a sizable number of the 26,264 spectators whistling and jeering as soon as the Belgian players and game officials took the knee to protest against racism.
The Russian players all remained standing.
FIFPro, the professional footballers union, said it stood with Belgium and the referees after their peaceful protest today “despite the negative reaction of the crowd”.
“Commitment and activism against discrimination and racism can’t be stopped or ignored,” it said.
England vs Croatia match in spotlight
An unsavoury crowd response to players taking the knee is not new but this was the first instance of it at this European championships.
Players from both Wales and Switzerland briefly took the knee ahead of their match in Baku without incident.
The jeers heard in Russia, however, are unlikely to be the last.
Tonight, England gets its Euro 2020 campaign underway against Croatia at Wembley.
So worried are they that booing will follow the England team to London, the Football Association has released a statement and video outlining the reasons the players will continue to take the knee.
“They are doing this as a mechanism of peacefully protesting against discrimination, injustice, and inequality,” the statement read.
“This is personally important to the players and the values the team collectively represents.”
The statement went on to say the gesture was “not new” and went back as far as the 18th century.
“English football has made it very clear that is does not view this as being aligned to a political organisation or ideology,” it said.
Scotland players to join England in kneeling at Wembley
It will not just be the match against Croatia where attention will be focused on players taking the knee.
England’s second group game is against Scotland, which will doubtless feature a super-charged atmosphere in what will be the teams’ first meeting at a major tournament since Paul Gascoigne inspired England to victory at Wembley in Euro 96.
Despite the tension, in a powerful statement of solidarity, both teams said they would kneel, despite Scotland previously saying they would stand.
Scotland players switched to standing ahead of matches after manager Steve Clarke said in March that the knee gesture had become “a little bit diluted”.
Clarke released a statement last week saying Scotland’s position was to enact “meaningful change to fight discrimination in football and wider society”.
He added that although the team would continue to stand in its other matches, they would join the England players in taking a knee at Wembley.
“We will continue to take a stand — together, as one — for our matches at Hampden Park,” he said.
‘Opportunity to unite’
While some supporters in Middlesbrough booed, a number also cheered in an attempt to drown out their counterparts.
The FA statement called on England supporters to not boo and instead support the team.
“Major tournaments don’t come around often and when they do, it’s an opportunity to unite friends, families and the country,” the statement said.