Millwall's official fan club has said supporters who booed players taking a knee before their match at home to Derby County on Saturday were not motivated by racism.
Fans of the London club were condemned by the Football Association (FA), Kick it Out -- a long-running campaign to rid the English game of racism -- and many others after the incident at Saturday's Championship (second-tier) match.
Millwall said they were “dismayed and saddened” by the booing and that the club's players would continue to take a knee before matches “to support the drive for change, not just in football but in society generally”.
A statement from the Millwall Supporters' Club on Sunday, however, said the boos were aimed at the 'Black Lives Matter' (BLM) organisation, which it said held “extreme political views”.
“We fervently believe that the motives of those behind the booing were not racist,” the Supporters' club said in a statement.
“However, at a time of heightened awareness and with the country watching, the choice of those individuals was always going to damage their club and be perceived by the media as racist.
“Anyone who believes it was a racist act should read the views of those who booed and see they were doing it in reaction to the war memorials and statues of (Winston) Churchill defaced by the BLM organisation and the extreme political views they hold and for which taking the knee is associated with.”
Players in England have been taking a knee before matches since June in support of the BLM movement, which spread around the world following protests over the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis in May.
The Premier League and Football League have since linked the kneeling gesture to their own anti-racism campaigns, including “No Room for Racism”.
“These same fans have never booed the Kick It Out campaigns on our pitch or the huge work of the Millwall Community Trust and its many anti-racism campaigns,” added the supporters' club.
However, it backed calls for steps to deal with racism and said “the action needed was not to boo the gesture.”
Junior Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said on Monday that while he had “concerns and criticisms” about BLM as an organisation, he backed kneeling in support of those fighting against racism.
“It is absolutely wrong for football fans to boo players, or indeed anybody else doing so,” he told the BBC.
Kick It Out Chairman Sanjay Bhandari said the attempt to portray the booing as a “political disagreement” with BLM was “complete and utter nonsense”.
“Every time there is greater public focus on the fight against racial discrimination, there is always a backlash,” he said. “Racists rarely admit they are racists -- they try to hide their backlash under a seemingly respectable cloak.”
Fans also booed the taking of the knee at Colchester United's League Two (fourth-tier) match at home to Grimsby Town on Saturday and the Essex club's owner and chairman Robbie Cowling said those who wanted to show opposition were not welcome at games.
“Maybe those that booed on Saturday might now understand what this gesture means to our club and will at the very least remain silent during future games whilst the players continue to take the knee before each kick-off,” he wrote in a statement.
“Alternatively, they should just stay away from our club because anyone that still wants to boo now that I have explained the purpose and importance of the taking of the knee is not welcome at our club.”