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British PM Johnson calls for unity but does not condemn England boos

London (AFP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on England fans to get behind the team at Euro 2020, but stopped short of criticising supporters who have booed the taking of the knee ahead of two pre-tournament friendlies.

Audible boos were drowned out by applause ahead of 1-0 wins over Austria and Romania in Middlesbrough over the past week.

England manager Gareth Southgate insisted his squad are “more determined than ever” to continue with the gesture to promote the fight against racial injustice during the tournament.

But the debate over the issue has provided an unwelcome distraction in the build up to the Three Lions’ opening game against Croatia on June 13.

All three of England’s group games will take place at Wembley in front of a crowd of 22,000 as part of a pilot scheme for the return of supporters to matches.

“On taking the knee, specifically, the Prime Minister is more focused on action rather than gestures,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Monday.

“The Prime Minister is supporting the England football team and wants them to succeed, and he wants the whole country to get behind them in that endeavour in this tournament.”

A number of England players have spoken out at their disappointment of being booed by their own fans for taking the knee.

“It’s something that we can’t control,” said Marcus Rashford, who captainted his country for the first time in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Romania.

The Manchester United forward has earned widespread plaudits for forcing Johnson’s government into a U-turn on providing free school meals for children while schools were closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“For us we believe it is the right thing to do so we’re going to continue to do it,” added Rashford.

Tory MP Lee Anderson has said he will not watch England’s games at the Euros because of the stance, while fellow Conservative Brendan Clarke-Smith said fans are “sick and tired of being preached and spoken down to” and just want to see a game, “not to be lectured on morality”.

However, former England striker Ian Wright said those booing the gesture were being “disingenuous” with their reasons for doing so.

“”They’re taking a knee to highlight the injustices. It’s a symbolic gesture to say they stand against that,” Wright told ITV.

“The excuses that they use as to why they’re booing are disingenuous.

“The people that we’re dealing with, if they can’t understand now, with the amount of times the players have explained why they’re doing it, you don’t need to take notice of those people. They’re taking the knee for the right reasons, and that’s all that matters.”

On the field, Southgate indicated he knows all but one of his starting line-up for the game against Croatia despite a chaotic build-up.

Seven Chelsea and Manchester City players did not play a minute of the two warm-up friendlies after their participation in the Champions League final.

Southgate also chose to leave out captain Harry Kane from Sunday’s victory over Romania.

Asked if he knows what he would like his starting line-up for the Croatia match to be, the England boss said: “Yeah, we could (name them now).

“There’s probably one decision in my head. But, look, we’ve got another week to get through.”

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