The picture that shows why taking the knee is still so divisive

, The picture that shows why taking the knee is still so divisive, The Evepost News

One haunting picture illustrates why Wembley has found itself the vessel for hooliganism once more. On the left is Loïc Négo, the French-born right-back who has declared his pride at acquiring Hungarian citizenship, resisting taking the knee in favour of pointing to his Uefa “Respect” badge. On the right is Harry Kane kneeling out of a sense of duty, as has been England’s custom for the past year. And in the background lurks a cluster of malcontents belittling Kane and his team-mates, holding up a banner depicting their gesture with a line drawn through it.

There could scarcely be a more vivid encapsulation of the contradictions around kneeling. Négo stands out as a fiercely patriotic black man in a country whose supporters have repeatedly been guilty of racist behaviour.

“I will always fight for this country,” said the 30-year-old, of Guadaloupean heritage, who has played at club level in central Hungary since 2015. Understanding the backlash that would ensue if he was seen to kneel, he chooses to express his anti-racist sentiment in the one way he knows will not antagonise his home fans. Kane, by contrast, is effectively locked into reproducing a posture that the England team have found time and again to be divisive.

Gareth Southgate and his players have insisted until they are blue in the face that their anti-discrimination stance serves no political agenda. Not that this seemed to pacify many England fans attending group games at the Euros, who would claim that they resented being given a moral lecture by players copying a gesture that originated in the United States. So far in the domestic game this season, the acute sense of polarisation has receded. But the ugly scenes at Wembley are a reminder of how easily kneeling can act as a catalyst for discord.

Within moments, Hungarian ultras started spoiling for fights that led to one accusation of racial abuse of a Wembley steward and another of an emergency worker being assaulted. At the final of the Euros, the violence arose from a slow ferment, with 10 hours of lager-sculling on Wembley Way spilling over into a stadium invasion as kick-off approached. In this latest shambles, the transition from calm to chaos took place in the blink of an eye. The disturbances were contained to the first 10 minutes, before six arrests were made as police restored control. It was an uncomfortable display of the sinister forces lurking close to the surface, even as players go to unprecedented lengths to raise awareness of racism.

, The picture that shows why taking the knee is still so divisive, The Evepost News

There is one dispiriting but inescapable conclusion from the unrest: that the game can talk tough on racism, coin slogans, impose sanctions, push it to the margins, but that it can never fully eradicate the scourge. Intolerance and prejudice find ways of reasserting themselves in the face of the most well-intentioned collective action.

, The picture that shows why taking the knee is still so divisive, The Evepost News

Look at the Hungarian extremists who infiltrated what should have been Fortress Wembley. Uefa sought to punish Hungary during the summer for multiple counts of racism at Euro 2020, ordering their next three competitive matches to be held behind closed doors. This penalty did not apply for their World Cup qualifier against England in Budapest last month, which fell under Fifa jurisdiction and featured such atrocious sights as plastic cups being hurled at Raheem Sterling.

Five weeks on, and even with the Metropolitan Police on notice after their incompetence in July, strife has erupted again, with England’s united front on taking the knee incapable of deterring Hungary’s “Carpathian Brigade” of fascist hooligans.

It is little wonder that increasing numbers of black players are questioning what the endgame is. Wilfried Zaha has stopped any involvement at Crystal Palace, describing the action as a “degrading” symbol of subjugation, as has Brentford’s Ivan Toney. Tony Burnett, head of Kick It Out, acknowledges that the message has become diluted.

The pervasive sense of helplessness was neatly captured in the Wembley aftermath by John Barnes. “Football can do nothing to change racism,” he argued. “Taking the knee isn’t going to change anything.” It might appear, at first glance, an unduly fatalistic verdict. But a single telling image from a ghastly evening at Wembley, Kane’s posture framed against that grim Hungarian banner, demonstrates that taking the knee is fated to keep dividing the very audience it seeks to unify.