LGBT+ England fans could turn their backs on Jordan Henderson when he plays for his country in a symbolic response to the midfielder’s move to Saudi Arabia.
Henderson was included in the 26-man squad for the upcoming games with Ukraine and Scotland as England manager Southgate stuck with the 33-year-old despite his move to Saudi Pro League side Al-Ettifaq.
Southgate does not believe Henderson will be jeered when he next turns out for England, despite the criticism he has faced for moving to Saudi Arabia after being a keen and vocal supporter of the Premier League’s ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign and also working alongside Liverpool’s official LGBT+ fan group.
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And while Joe White, the co-chair of Pride in Football and founder of Three Lions Pride believes Henderson will not receive a hostile reception, his presence on the pitch could be greeted with a symbolic gesture “in the same way he turned his back on us”.
“It definitely will be a very muted atmosphere and, whilst he’s got presence in the squad, he will not have a presence in our banners that we take to games any more,” White told the PA news agency.
“I don’t think it will go hostile because ultimately we want England to do as well as possible but I do think that, say he came on as a substitute, where before there would be a lot of cheering, particularly from our group at Three Lions Pride, I think there will just be silence now .
“It may well be that there comes a joint message from the LGBT fans in the stadium who may well turn their backs on him coming onto the pitch in the same way he turned his back on us by going to Saudi.”
Speaking after announcing his squad, Southgate said: “We are picking a team for football reasons.”
“There are lots of different ownership models of clubs in England, there are lots of players playing in countries where there are different religious beliefs, I don’t really know why a player would receive an adverse reaction because of where he plays his football.
“That of course is a personal choice.
“It is really difficult to… I’m a bit lost really with some of the questioning because you walk in to try and talk about a squad announcement based on football decisions and increasingly we are navigating such complex political aspects that I’m not really trained to do.
“Forgive me if I am stumbling a little bit but I find it a really difficult scenario to try and get right.
“We’ll do the best we can and we try to make decisions for any number of reasons but I have to pick a squad based on the players that I think can get us qualified for a European Championship and that’s why we’ve picked the players we have.”
England had previously been criticised by LGBT+ groups after they opted against wearing the ‘One Love’ armband during the World Cup in Qatar last year.
Southgate, though, reaffirmed his commitment to inclusivity, adding: “We are supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.
“A large number of the team and staff have either relatives or friends from that community.
“It is something that we are very conscious of and a situation we are very conscious of.
“We have tried to be very supportive but I also accept members of the community felt let down around the World Cup.
“These are all very complex situations that we are trying to do our best to navigate.”
Southgate told BBC Radio 5Live that it had been a straightforward decision to pick Henderson, while adding it was up to the player himself when he would address the issue.
“It’s for him to decide when he’s going to speak and how he speaks,” he said.
The PA news agency understands media plans for which England players will be put forward to speak at St George’s Park next week are still to be confirmed.
Asked if there was anything Henderson could do to win back support of the LGBT+ community, White added: “I don’t think he can regain the trust purely because he’s now living in a country where it’s illegal to be LGBT, where the local LGBT community have to hide and live in fear of arrest, of state-sanctioned abuse.
“He can’t just suddenly start going ‘Oh well, I’m engaging on LGBT rights’ because he doesn’t have the influence in the country and if he does things without listening to the likes of Amnesty International and people who know what it’s like to have to protect local LGBT people, all he’ll do is end up damaging those who are most affected by that regime.”
Former Manchester United captain Harry Maguire and Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips were both included in Southgate’s squad despite being yet to play a minute of club football this season.
Under-21 European Championship winner Levi Colwill received his maiden formal call-up and uncapped Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah has also got the nod for the first time, although there is no place for Chelsea forward Raheem Sterling despite a strong start to the campaign.