Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Leyton Orient weigh up taking the knee

Posted on 15 October 2021 by Roberto Petrucco

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Taking the knee before kick off has been part of football since June 2020. It began as the game returned under ‘Project Restart’. The powerful image that football won’t stand for racial inequality will have been seen by every fan across the country, but is the message becoming lost?

Leyton Orient are the latest team to make the decision to stop. The change came after an Orient player suffered racial abuse online following their game against Port Vale on October 2nd.

Why have the players made the decision?

The decision to stand came just a week after Leyton Orient’s goalkeeper, Lawrence Vigouroux, suffered online abuse by two individuals. The racially abusive messages came within hours of Orient’s defeat to Port Vale. Both Leyton Orient and Port Vale condemned the actions of the two individuals, and reiterated messages that both clubs will not tolerate any form of abuse.

Port Vale have acted quickly, and indefinitely banned one of the two individuals, with the matter now being dealt with by the police. The second individual has been confirmed as a juvenile.

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Lawrence Vigouroux, the victim of the abuse, stated that the players will be assessing whether to continue to make a stand, or to take the knee on a match by match basis. In an interview with the club’s media, Vigouroux explained that the decision to stand in the match against Barrow was made by the team as a whole:

We spoke in the changing room before the game, and we decided on that occasion that we [weren’t] going to take the knee. We just felt that it wasn’t sending a big enough message

The decision to make a stand instead of taking the knee has brought the topic back to the forefront of people’s conversations, and many could argue that it is the best way to highlight the issue if it has begun to lose its impact.

Vigouroux did confirm that the players will consider before each game whether to continue making a stand:

We’re going to have another chat before the game on the weekend about what we do going forwards. I feel like we have to think deeply about it, we don’t want it to seem like it’s just a gesture where we just stand up and we don’t care.”

Reaction from fans

The decision has been met with a mixed reaction on social media. Brendan Pitcher of the ‘LO Down’ Podcast was surprised, but supports the players with whatever they feel is best:

“I know that there are some fans who believe that the players should continue to take the knee, however as a white male I don’t think I’m best placed to tell a team full of black players what is the correct gesture to take in order to combat racism. If the likes of Lawrence Vigouroux, Omar Beckles and Darren Pratley feel that taking the knee has lost its meaning then I support them in choosing to stand”

Credit – Dwayne Bingham

There was a contrasting view from Dwayne Bingham, who felt let down by the players decision to make a stand:

“I have to admit, when I heard the players decided against the taking the knee before the game my heart sank. Orient certainly aren’t the first club to take such a stance but given the events of what happened just one week earlier it just came across as the wrong message.

With Orient under the spotlight due to the Port Vale news it was the perfect opportunity to show solidarity. I understand the players themselves did have a discussion and thought it best to make a stand and show their solidarity in this way but in a way, it almost produced the opposite expected outcome from the players expected intentions.  

Season ticket holder Paul Levy called into question the social media companies themselves, and challenged them in helping to put an end to online abuse:

“The social media companies can and should do more to help combat it and I don’t know why they’re sat on their hands”

The debate will continue as to whether players should take the knee, or make a stand like Leyton Orient, but one thing remains clear, more must be done to stop these types of racially abusive messages from being sent.