Like many Black football fans, I have been all too aware that while professional players have made great strides this year in raising awareness of racism in the UK and beyond, the divisive act of taking a knee has, up until this weekend, been done in empty stadiums.
This past week, fans in Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas returned to their home grounds for the first time in limited numbers. As a result, we saw players take the knee in front of fans for the first time. Consequently, we had to witness fans of Millwall and Colchester shamefully boo that act of solidarity.
While regretful, this should come as no surprise. Although not always communicated publicly, my Black friends and I have had little faith that even amongst our liberal-leaning white friends, colleagues and acquaintances, long-term behavioural change would materialise on the back of a largely “social media civil rights movement.”
If we lacked the belief in self-titled liberals, what did we really expect of the fans within a sport that has seen regular hate-crime increases and an extremely vocal opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?
I wrote a piece back in June describing my fear of being unable to return to live football when fans return. This is exactly why. Many black football fans will be questioning whether they can return to clubs like Millwall and Colchester United.
At least as fans we have a choice.
We must also spare a thought for the players of these clubs. Whilst Derby's Colin Kazim-Richards stood proud during the boos from the Millwall fans, with a Black power salute raised in defiance, we can only imagine the sorts of questions players are asking themselves following Saturday's events. Can they continue pulling on the shirts of these clubs when they know there is a vocal part of the fanbase that strongly opposes their fight for equality? Ultimately, contracts and economics will dictate that – but it is a position I do not envy.
But if you're looking back on this weekend with anxiety and sadness, not all hope is lost. We are still making progress. The widespread condemnation of the booing is on a new level and some clubs are already taking action.
Wayne Rooney – a former England captain – spoke out against what he saw at the weekend. QPR have announced that they will return to taking a knee when they visit the Den to play Millwall on Tuesday. Deciding to stop in the first place felt like poor judgement but it's funny how these things can work out - QPR returning to the gesture against Millwall sends a powerful message.
Similarly, Colchester United's chairman Robbie Cowling, not only did an amazing job of explaining why taking the knee is a necessary and relevant action, but also offered to refund any season ticket holders who don't agree. Football clubs and those who work for them are finally getting it.
The level of depth in the discussion around these issues is almost unrecognisable from a year ago - and that's largely thanks to Black talent finally being given a fair chance in broadcasting. Whether it's Micah Richards or Alex Scott, the media is at long last beginning to platform diverse voices who can speak on these issues in an influential way.
Make no mistake about it, the reason these fans feel the need to express their discontent at players taking the knee is because they are losing this fight. As we move slowly closer to a place where issues of race and equality are given their fair attention and time, these people will become louder. We only need to look back at civil rights movements of decades gone-by to know this. They will never be eradicated completely from society but is our collective responsibility to eradicate them from football.
The road to wiping out racism from our sport is a long one and Saturday makes us realise just how far we have to go. However, we are moving down that road. Slowly at times – but progress is coming.