6 times that footballers made political protests

Luke Bradshaw
Sports Writer
Marcus Thuram of Borussia Moenchengladbach. (Photo: Christian Verheyen/ Getty Images)

On Tuesday Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari said that footballers “should feel free to protest”.

With the sport’s governing bodies informing players that they would take a “common sense approach” to any protests, Bhandari was keen to stress the “powerful image” such protests would make when speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

Bhandari said: "It's a fundamental human right to express your beliefs. My suggestion is that they should take a knee.”

It would not be the first time that footballers have much such protests.

Jadon Sancho & Marcus Thuram

Jadon Sancho of Dortmund celebrates after scoring. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Although a number of clubs have posted messages in support of Black Lives Matter since the death of George Floyd, Sancho and Thuram were the first players to explicitly show their support, after both scored goals last weekend.

Sancho lifted his shirt to reveal the message “Justice for George Floyd”, while Thuram kneeled and bowed his head instead of celebrating.

Robbie Fowler

Robbie Fowler, displays t shirt in support of Liverpool Dockers' Strike. (Photo by Andrew Teebay/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

In 1997 500 dockers went on strike and refused to cross the picket line in a show of solidarity with a group of workers who had been sacked, their own employer – Mersey Docks and Harbour Company – sacked them, also.

Just days later, after scoring a goal at Anfield, Fowler lifted his shirt to show a message of support to the city’s dock workers. Fowler and teammate Steve McManaman both wore the shirts and the plan was to reveal them at the final whistle, but Fowler forgot when scoring and lifted his shirt.

The striker was fined for the gesture, and his club banned him from discussing about the fine, but it cemented his hero status among Liverpool fans.

James McLean

James McLean of Ireland. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Since making his professional debut in 2012, James McLean has refused to wear a poppy on his shirt for Remembrance Day (as is custom for English football clubs).

Born in Derry, McLean objects to the poppy because of the role that the British Army had during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, with six people killed on Bloody Sunday on the estate that he grew up on. He has consistently said that if the poppy was restricted to those that died in the World Wars he would wear one.

In an open letter McLean wrote: “I am not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past. I am a peaceful guy, I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs which I respect and ask for people to respect mine in return.”

Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe kneels in September 18, 2016. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Arguably the most recognised face in women’s football, American Megan Rapinoe has consistently spoken out, and protested against, homophobia, racism and gender equality.

In 2016 she he kneeled during the national anthem in matches to show solidarity with NFL player Colin Kaepernick. At the time she said: “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.”

In March 2019 she was a key figure in the lawsuit that the US women’s team filed against United States Soccer Federation on the basis of gender discrimination. It asked for $67 million (£53 million) in back pay, claiming the difference in pay between them and their male counterparts was a violation of the Equal Pay Act in the US. The lawsuit was unsuccessful.

Raheem Sterling

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling. (Photo by Tom Flathers/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

On December 18 Manchester City forward Sterling was racially bused by a fan during a match with Chelsea. Sterling subsequently accused the media of “fuelling racism” based on how they cover black footballers in the UK.

He then compared coverage in two almost identical stories in which young footballers (one black, one white) bought houses for their parents.

He said: “The young black kid is looked at in a bad light. Which helps fuel racism and aggressive behaviour. So for all the newspapers that don’t understand why people are racist in this day and age all I have to say is have a second thought about fair publicity and give all players an equal chance.”

Liverpool FC

Steven Gerrard wearing a T-shirt in support of Michael Shields (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

When warming up for a Premier League match in 2008, Liverpool players wore t-shirts that read “FREE MICHAEL NOW” in reference to Liverpool fan Michael Shields.

Shields had been convicted of attempted murder while on holiday in Bulgaria, having watched a Liverpool match just before. In September 2009, Shields was released from prison and given a royal pardon.