Before the start of their League of Nations match against Hungary on Saturday, the English were whistled by the Budapest public when they kneeled. The supporters, who were mostly children, were defended by their government.
Very, very special atmosphere on Saturday evening at the Puskas Arena in Budapest. Yet supposed to be behind closed doors following racist and homophobic slogans launched during Euro 2021, the League of Nations meeting between Hungary and England (1-0) was played in front of… 35,000 people. At least.
To partially circumvent the sanction imposed by UEFA, the Hungarian Football Federation exploited a specific point in the rules of the European body allowing, in the event of closed stands, to invite children under the age of 14 who are licensed in football clubs provided they are accompanied by an adult. This is provided for in article 73 of the disciplinary code. Thousands of children (and their companions) therefore took their places in the stands, where they witnessed the unexpected victory of their selection (1-0). This success is the first of the Hungarians against the Three Lions since the 1962 World Cup. In the meantime, the two teams had faced each other fifteen times for twelve English victories and three draws.
Children defended by the government
In the Hungarian capital, the evening was also marked by the attitude of the public before kick-off. When Gareth Southgate’s players knelt down, in support of the fight against racism, they were whistled by the spectators and… therefore by the children invited to the stadium. A behavior that the English did not understand at all. “The reason we do it is to try to educate people around the world, commented Gareth Southgate after the game. I have no idea why people choose to boo this gesture and very often young people cannot know why they are doing it, so they are influenced by older adults.” “It is extremely disappointing. But we are not going to stop. It is important to continue to take a stand, we would like people to understand,” said England central defender Conor Coady.
Faced with this controversy, the Hungarian government unsurprisingly decided to support its supporters. “Those who think that children attending a football match in Budapest can be blamed for any type of political statement are really idiots. Congratulations to our national team. Applause for the 35,000 children”, reacted on Twitter the country’s Secretary of State for Communication and International Relations, Zoltan Kovacs. A speech which is not surprising, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban being clearly opposed to the knee on the ground. “I have no sympathy for this kneeling business, he said in 2021. I don’t think these things have their place on the field. Sport is something else. Athletes fight upright.”