Black Lives Matter: Players and referee 'take a knee' before kick-off as Premier League returns

June 17, 2020

All 22 players and the referee "took a knee" in support of the Black Lives Matter movement as the first Premier League match since lockdown got under way at Villa Park.

Referee Michael Oliver blew the whistle for kick-off, before he and his officials joined all Aston Villa and Sheffield United's starting line-up in kneeling for around 10 seconds.

As the scene unfolded, Sky Sports' commentator Rob Hawthorne said: "Look at this.

"A powerful image to show football's social conscience as all of the players take the knee. The referee did as well."

The players all warmed up in Black Lives Matters t-shirts with names on the back of their match shirts replaced with the same message, as will be the case across the league.

Manchester City and Arsenal players also took the knee before the second match of the evening, and both squads had the movement emblazoned on the back of their shirts.

It marked the league's endorsement of the international protest campaign sparked by the death last month of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

The gestures at Villa Park and the Etihad Stadium followed a moment's silence at both grounds in memory of those who died in the coronavirus pandemic.

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It prompted widespread praise on social media, including from former England and Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand, who tweeted a photo of the players alongside a message simply saying: "Respect".

Aston Villa released a statement, which read: "Aston Villa and Sheffield United were proud to stand in solidarity with the actions of the players and coaching staff of both football clubs during the first ten seconds of tonight's Premier League fixture, expressing our collective support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

"In the first Premier League fixture of Project Restart both clubs hope that the act of 'taking a knee' will send a strong message of unity and amplify the many messages of support from Premier League players and the wider football family.

"The directors of both clubs, Dean Smith, Chris Wilder, Jack Grealish and Billy Sharp and the players of United and Villa are in full support of this action.

"We believe that 'taking a knee' at the start of the fixture and after the pre-match minute's silence, allowed both clubs to pay their respects to COVID-19 victims and to show the deep gratitude we all feel for our brave and selfless front-line workers."

The match, which ended 0-0, was the first of the Premier League's remaining 92 fixtures to be played since the competition was suspended in March.

In the later kick-off at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City beat Arsenal 3-0.

All will be played behind closed doors, although the culture secretary said today that football fans could start returning to stadiums at the start of next season.

Oliver Dowden said there had been "productive discussions" over plans for supporters to begin attending matches again.

The match also saw a variety of cleanliness measures in place to protect against coronavirus such as balls, goal posts and corner flags being wiped down.

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