Gareth Southgate was “very surprised” to hear England’s players booed by a crowd largely composed of children when they took the knee before kick-off against Hungary and suggested the youngsters’ actions were a result of “inherited thinking” from their elders.
The 1-0 Nations League defeat in Budapest was played in front of more than 35,000 fans, with one adult allowed to join every 10 children under 14, despite nominally being a closed-doors fixture after Hungary were handed a Uefa ban last year. There was no mistaking the jeers from around the stadium when England made their now-traditional gesture and Southgate made no secret of his disappointment.
“Very surprised, but I think that’s why we do it,” he said. “We do it to try and educate and I think young people can only be influenced by older people.”
Southgate did not want to deflect from a below-par England performance in which Hungary were deserving winners through Dominik Szoboszlai’s second-half penalty. Nor did he want to universally condemn England’s hosts, who were handed a separate stadium ban by Fifa after racism in the stands when the sides met in a World Cup qualifier in September, or the decision to let supporters in. England had been heavily booed when taking the knee on that occasion. “From a development perspective I want and need the team to be playing in front of supporters,” he said. “But that isn’t the point in this instance, so I’m torn on what we actually got from that and what the reality should have been.
“In fact the atmosphere when we arrived at the stadium, there were kids lining the streets, it was really friendly. I thought there were pantomime boos when our team came out to warm up, but that was different with the taking of the knee – but that felt like inherited thinking to me. What I would say is I hear that still in our stadiums as well.”
England were lethargic for long periods of the game and Southgate felt the early summer heat, rather than fatigue at the end of the domestic season, was a cause. “The other factor is we haven’t played together for three months and have had two games in six months,” he said. “Across these four games we’re trying to balance having a look at things, finding out about players and trying to win. Maybe I didn’t quite get the balance of that right today but we’ve learned a lot from it.
“You’ve got to ride the criticism that comes with it for the learning that should help us further down the line. But we are disappointed because if we’re going to be a team that gets to the final stages of a World Cup then these are the types of game we have to win.”