Most football fans – and most voters – support the England team taking the knee

Boris Johnson’s government is on the wrong side not only of football supporters but the public at large.

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The England team have done much to excite the nation. It’s evident in the data: around 30 million people in the UK tuned in to the final on Sunday, and more than half the country claimed to have followed the tournament closely. 

But the Euro 2020 tournament was more than just football: during it the debate on “taking the knee” intensified in protestation against racism.

The trend was started in 2016 by the American football player Colin Kaepernick, who said he would not stand for the flag of a country that oppressed black people. It gained further prominence during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, and since then has been adopted by many players in the Euro 2020 matches.

Many fans booed when the England players took the knee before matches, and others posted abusive tweets. Those government ministers who did condemn such behaviour were slow to do so.

And yet British football fans actually support players taking the knee, and are even more supportive of it than the British public at large.

Most England fans support taking the knee
Ipsos Mori survey of self-described football fans, 8-9 July

That’s the key finding of a recent Ipsos Mori survey taken a few days before England lost to Italy at Wembley on 11 July. Sixty-seven per cent of football fans (compared to 63 per cent of the British public overall) told the pollster that England’s players should have the right to take the knee before kick-off.

Forty-eight per cent said taking the knee will have a positive impact on the fight against racism. This is a plurality, and is compared to just 18 per cent who say it will have a negative impact.

Furthermore, support not just for the right of players to take the knee, but for them actually doing so increased as England progressed through the tournament. Opinium found 50 per cent of Britons at the start of the Euros supported England players taking the knee, a number that has now risen to 56 per cent.

Voters support England players taking the knee
Opinium Research survey of UK adults, 8-9 July

The Ipsos Mori survey shows the typical football fan is younger than the median national age, and although they have an income on par with the national median, they are less likely to have formal qualifications, graduating with GCSE or O-level grades, or nothing at all. 

Football fans might have a reputation for hooliganism, but the poll’s findings show that racism among them, while still present, is increasingly a minority view. Thirty-two per cent of fans say they feel pride when the England team do it, compared to just 10 per cent who feel angry or embarrassed.

Like it or not, England is changing. Englishness, once the reserve of Ukip, is coming to mean something a different and more inclusive. And in a nation where millions of households plaster football posters to their bedroom walls and hang England flags in their windows, Gareth Southgate’s team can claim a lot of credit for that.

 Ben Walker is a data journalist at the New Statesman

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