I went along to the Riverside last night for the England v Austria game.

It was so good to be going to a live match in person after such a long absence. I’ve so missed it!

I know these friendly games don’t have the same significance as the tournament itself but it’s still amazing to see such incredible talents on display even though the coldness of the evening after such a gloriously warm and sunny day was such a shock to the system. Serves me right for not taking a coat.

The tempo was terrific. Incredibly sharp passing and at such a pace. I was deeply impressed by those young English players as well as better known and established stars like Harry Kane. Austria were excellent and a real challenge, but on this showing- and given that is far away from Gareth Southgate’s preferred 11- I think the prospects for England are looking up.

It was so good to be back in the stadium of course even though the attendance was restricted to some 8,000 spectators.

England fans came to Middlesbrough from all over the country but sadly, there was some really horrible booing when the teams took the knee at the start of the game. It was shocking just how loud and widespread it was throughout the crowd. The only solace was that it sparked an equally voluble and perhaps even louder reaction of supportive applause from the non-booing and clearly offended spectators who spontaneously expressed themselves in solidarity with the players and the stand they were taking against racism. Nevertheless, it was deeply disturbing and really unpleasant.

I have to say it was not only ugly and saddening, it was also deeply worrying that fans felt fully empowered to express their opposition to players taking the knee. I know it’s only a couple of thousand, or perhaps only a few hundred “fans”, but it played out live on TV and was really disconcerting. Sky reported the boos as being drowned out by the applause. Whatever the proportions it was really terrible.

Of course, half the England team are black and they and their white teammates were given full throated support when they attacked the Austrian goal and the England player – Arsenal’s Saka- was cheered to the rafters when he brilliantly grabbed the winner.

On the radio this morning commenting that the booing fans were perhaps registering their objection to the Black Lives Matter demonstration having become “political”

What?? Of course, it’s “political”!! Everything is political! Life is political!

It’s as if there is some way to condone or understand such booing and horrible behaviour. Whether the boo boys have thought this through or not, their behaviour conveys hostility and pure and unadulterated racism that has no place in football or in our society and it has to be called out and driven out.

How do those who boo think those players wearing their nations shirt feel when they are subjected to booing like that? I’d hazard a guess that it deeply saddens and upsets all of those players- black and white- be they English or Austrian.

They should stop the booing and they shouldn’t fool themselves that their conduct is somehow a demonstration of patriotism or of being proud of our country. Nothing could be further from the truth and they besmirch our flag and our standing in the world every time they misbehave like this.

So, I hope when the crowd turn up this coming Sunday for the next friendly game at the Riverside that when players take the knee, they are deafened not by booing, but by universal applause.


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