Gary Neville trolls Priti Patel over England Euro 2020 boos as he demands Man Utd action

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Gary Neville has taken aim at Home Secretary Priti Patel and told her to stop focusing on England players taking a knee at Euro 2020 and instead work on ensuring Manchester United fans can get back to the 75,000-seater Old Trafford in their droves for the first weekend of the new Premier League season.

A mixture of boos and applause have greeted the Three Lions when kneeling in protest against racial discrimination pre-match in friendlies against Austria and Romania and also their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia at Wembley.

England manager Gareth Southgate wrote a lengthy open letter insisting his players would not simply be “sticking to football” this summer and also called for fans to all come together as society in the country as a whole, not just football, continues to combat racism.

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Patel this week told GB News that she does not agree with the actions of the England squad, however, saying: “I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture – gesture politics, to a certain extent, as well.”

While House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the booing fans as he said: “I think calling them [fans] racists is unfairly attributing views to people who have been part of a movement – football – that has taken huge strides to reduce racism.

“I think the objection to it [taking the knee] is the politicalisation through the BLM [Black Lives Matter] movement rather than [the] huge hinterland of racism in football.”

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Neville, who has demanded compulsory education programmes to tackle such societal issues as racism, insists rather than criticising the players for kneeling, Patel should instead be focused on ensuring Premier League clubs can welcome back full-capacity crowds in mid-August.

The United legend has been critical of the government’s decision to allow increased capacities at Wimbledon despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirming that the full lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in England would be delayed by another four weeks.

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The former Red Devils and England right-back tweeted after the news: “Can’t dance at a wedding but can stuff strawberries and champagne down your neck at The All England Club packed with tens of thousands crammed like sardines in a tin.”

By contrast, United’s Old Trafford ground hasn’t welcomed any more than 10,000 fans since 8 March 2020, with the draw over Fulham in mid-May the only time spectators have returned to the ground at all since the Covid pandemic began almost 18 months ago.

And after it was confirmed on Wednesday morning that United would face bitter rivals Leeds at home on the opening weekend of the 2021-22 Premier League season, which gets underway August 14, Neville called upon the government to do their all to ensure a full house can watch United host Leeds.

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Speaking on Sky Sports News’ Euro Football Show, Neville said: “I just hope that Priti Patel and her ministers, rather than concentrating on sort of booing England players, actually allow fans back in the stadium for that game so we can actually get a proper atmosphere.

“It will be a fantastic game. Leeds United being back in the Premier League last season, they were an absolute joy to watch every single game. Manchester United had a good Premier League season.

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“If we can get close to a full house in that particular match it will just be an incredible welcome back to fans in the stadium in terms of capacities. It’s something that’s much needed.

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“We’ve seen the announcement in the last few days that they’re going to be full at Ascot and full at Wimbledon, I’ve not got any reason to think why Old Trafford shouldn’t be full for the first game of the season.”

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Despite the comments of Patel and Rees-Mogg, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC it was “totally wrong” to boo the England national team.

In another interview with Channel 5, he said: “I support England’s players. When it comes to gestures and symbols I’m more on the side of practical action to combat racism and make life better for everybody in this country. I disapprove of people booing the England team… I see no reason to do that.”

While England centre-back Tyrone Mings addressed Patel’s refusal to defend the players this week and responded: “To the Home Secretary, I don’t really have a direct message.

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“I mean we spoke, actually she invited me onto a Zoom call once, where she seemed so interested and engrossed in the players’ point of view and what we could do more to tackle these sort of issues.

“But at the same time, everybody’s entitled to their own opinion and the Home Secretary is one of many, many people that oppose us taking the knee or refuse to defend it.

“So, we have our own set of beliefs and what we think we can do to help and there will be players that can be influential and can stand up for what we believe in.”

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UEFA has urged fans to “show respect for teams and players taking the knee” but admitted they cannot and will not punish any nations whose supporters do boo.

The governing body said: “UEFA will not take disciplinary action against the national association for their fans’ reaction to this initiative as there are no legal grounds to do so in the current competition and disciplinary regulations and to do so would be to punish a national association whose players have taken a stand against racism.”

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