Southgate warns England 'hard work starts now' for World Cup
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England players were loudly booed pre-match as they took a knee before facing Hungary in a 2022 World Cup qualifier at a sold-out Puskas Arena in Budapest on Thursday evening.
The Three Lions all took to one knee before kick-off and had discussed the idea of doing so pre-match, all agreeing that they would continue to make the gesture having done so at Euro 2020 over the summer.
England’s squad are said to have been well aware that the Republic of Ireland’s players were widely jeered when they faced Hungary at the Szusza Ferenc Stadion back in June.
And Hungarian FA President Sandor Csanyi had called on the home fans to not make any racist, homophobic or discriminatory chants pre-match though fans still booed the anti-racism gesture.
He wrote in the match-day programme: “It is also important that the team’s unbeaten run so far in this FIFA qualifying campaign is not overshadowed by anything else and that the loud noises produced inside the arena is full of encouragement for our national team rather than containing any racist, discriminatory or homophobic chants, including discrimination against the Roma community.”
England players and staff have been clear in recent months that the gesture is against racial inequality within football and society as a whole and is not connected with the Black Lives Matter political movement.
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Boos and jeers were clearly audible for England fans watching the Hungary match live on TV.
Hungary supporters are banned from attending the stadium for their next UEFA matches, albeit with one of those games suspended for two years, due to racist abuse and homophobic banners during the Euro 2020 group games against Portugal and France staged in Budapest.
However the Puskas Arena was allowed to host 60,000 fans against England on Thursday because that UEFA-applied punishment does not affect games under FIFA jurisdiction.
Hungary head coach Marco Rossi said of the possibility of discriminatory behaviour pre-match: “I hope that we cannot face this kind of situation.
“What we can say is always in the past we have showed deep respect for everybody.
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“I am not afraid or worried about the fact someone could have this kind of behaviour, racist behaviour, in front of the English players. I hope this does not happen.
“In case it does, we are absolutely on the side of the English players, of course.”
Gareth Southgate refused to confirm pre-match whether or not England would walk off the pitch if their players are racially abused by Hungary supporters mid-match.
England players were racially abused by Bulgarian fans in Sofia back in October 2019 but decided to play on in that match.
But the Three Lions boss was reluctant to discuss a scenario which he felt might not occur in Budapest.
He said in a press conference: “I don’t think we should speak hypothetically. We know the experience we had before [in Bulgaria] but we’re going into Hungary preparing for a game against a crowd that will get behind their team.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge of the match and everything else is speculation really.
“We always prepare the team for everything really. We’ve done that this week, but also we know we’ve had our own issues at home.
“So we’re not really focusing on other countries, we’re focusing on ourselves and making sure we get our own things correct.”
Southgate’s players were also jeered while taking a knee by some England fans in Euro 2020 warm-up matches although in their tournament matches at Wembley there was far more applause than booing.
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