Sections of the English fans booed their own players for taking a knee prior to recent friendly wins over Austria and Romania at the Riverside Stadium, responding negatively to their support for the highly politicised Black Lives Matter movement.
Southgate will feel glad social media wasn’t around when he missed the deciding penalty against Germany at Euro 96, bringing about England’s semi-final on home soil 25 years ago.
Checking one’s social media accounts immediately after matches has become normal practice for today’s athletes.
Southgate wrote an open via The Players’ Tribune and revealed it’s a topic that concerns him, urging fans to get behind the squad after an “extremely difficult year.”
He wrote: “I see players scrolling on their phones straight after the final whistle and I think … Hmmm, is that a particularly good idea?
“Reading abusive comments on Twitter or Instagram is never going to help performance.
“There are genuine risks for our players online and I will always want to protect them, but I would never put rules on how or when they use their accounts while on England duty. I trust them and know they are mature enough to make their own decisions, to do what’s right for their mental health and to keep being a force for good as we strive for a better society.”
Players have taken the knee to express solidarity with the principles of Black Lives Matter, which protests discrimination against BAME people in sport and beyond.
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was first criticised by fans in the United States after taking the knee in protest against the American national anthem in 2016.
George Floyd‘s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last year led to worldwide protests against the discrimination of minorities.
Southgate acknowledged his responsibility in the conversation, sympathising with his players who want to show their support without being pilloried by fans: “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.
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“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.
“Social media has been a key resource in giving our players a platform and has been a positive tool in so many ways. In fact, I feel like this generation of England players is closer to the supporters than they have been for decades. Despite the polarisation we see in society, these lads are on the same wavelength as you on many issues.”
The Three Lions head into Euro 2020 as one of the favourites to lift the continental crown, having never made it as far as the final in their nine previous European Championship appearances.
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Southgate praised his squad for their stance on Black Lives Matter, encouraging his players to make their voices heard: “This is a special group. Humble, proud and liberated in being their true selves.
“Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people.
“I have never believed that we should just stick to football.”
Marcus Rashford captained England to a 1-0 victory over Romania, scoring the only goal of the game as the Three Lions sealed a sixth straight win heading into Euro 2020.
England play all three of their Group D fixtures at Wembley, with the Three Lions set to stare down Scotland and the Czech Republic after Croatia.