SPARE a thought for the Millwall Community Trust. This organisation was established in 1985 to develop links between Millwall Football Club and its local community, a job made much more difficult by events over the weekend when a section of the 2,000 supporters who attended their match against Derby decided to express their displeasure at players taking the knee to show support for racial justice by booing.

Just last year Millwall were fined £10,000 by the FA after racist chanting was heard from fans during an FA Cup tie against Everton.

It must be challenging, to say the least, to promote community cohesion with a club whose most notorious chant is “nobody likes us and we don’t care”.

The difficulties must be especially acute for Player Ambassadors of the Community Trust such as Mahlon Romeo, a first team defender for Millwall who was one of the players booed for taking the knee.

After the game, Romeo said: "What they've done is booed and condemned a peaceful gesture which was put in place to highlight, combat and stop any discriminatory behaviour and racism. That's it – that's all that gesture is...

“I'm almost lost for words. I don't know how they thought that would make me feel. I don't know what they thought taking a knee stood for. But I think I've explained it simply enough. I feel really low – probably the lowest I've felt in my time at this club."

In light of the reaction of Romeo and of Millwall FC, who described themselves as “dismayed and saddened” by the events, it was at the very least surprising to find the Secretary of State for the Environment apparently offering support for those who booed the players.

Defending those who booed as expressing legitimate freedom of speech, George Eustice said: “If people choose to express their view in a particular way that should always be respected.”

This comment was described by the football campaign group Kick it Out as “providing shelter to racists”.

Eustice’s comments were supported on Twitter by Teesside MP Simon Clarke who was accused by one Twitter user of “stirring the pot on racism”.

The former Redcar MP Anna Turley also took Clarke to task pointing out that “taking the side of a minority of hardline Millwall fans is not the way to help tackle racism”.

The approach of George Eustice and Simon Clarke is in stark contrast to that of Mahlon Romeo and also Robbie Cowling, the owner of Colchester United FC where boos also accompanied those taking the knee at their match on Saturday. Speaking about how such acts undermined the community work of the club Romeo’s solution was clear: “If your beliefs and views oppose a positive change in society then don't come to a football ground and spread them around.” Cowling agreed, offering to buy back the season tickets of those who booed, saying: “They should just stay away from our club because anyone that still wants to boo is not welcome. I will be happy to refund anyone for the remaining value of their season permit if that is the reason they feel they can no longer attend our games.”

In the light of Cowling’s gracious offer and Romeo’s impassioned plea, it is bewildering to consider how our elected leaders could find themselves so far offside in the ongoing battle to kick racism out of football.

  • Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas’ Church in Durham.