Booing at the FA Cup – Eye Don’t See Colour

“What is at issue here is not simply that different readers produce contradictory readings of the same cultural texts or that an ethnically diverse society throws up conflicting ideological viewpoints. More fundamentally, this critical exchange highlights the way image-making has become an important arena of cultural contestation – contestation over what it means to be British today; contestation over what Britishness itself means as a national or cultural identity; and contestation over the values that underpin the Britishness of British cinema as a national film-culture.” – (Kobena Mercer, 1988)




It’s been close to 4 weeks since the controversy that marred the opening ceremony of the 150th FA Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea on Saturday the 14th of May. For those football supporters who watched the events either as live spectators or on the screen as it was broadcast, what was witnessed and then spoken about on countless news media platforms, was the booing of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. Multiple TV debates on the incident and caption headings, sang to the tune of; “Booing Prince William shows the monarchy’s days are numbered, says GRAHAM SMITH” (1), “You’ve got to be a special brand of moron to boo the national anthem’ – Simon Jordan criticises Liverpool fans who jeered Prince William and God Save The Queen ahead of FA Cup final” (2), as well as references to the Liverpool Manager and his response to the events, “Jurgen Klopp defends Liverpool fans booing national anthem.” (3)


What was noticeable however, was that in most of these accounts, Prince William and the royal establishment, became the sole reason behind the booing. In one article for example, written by Graham Smith, it opens with, ‘You might not like it, it might make some people uncomfortable, but that’s tough,’ (4) and then goes into the reasons why this was all about the royal family, what they stood for and why fans were disillusioned by them, given historical and recent controversies that have graced our screens in recent years. It is not surprising Smith’s stance, given that he is the Chief Executive Officer at Republic, the campaign group set up to abolish the monarchy. With such a promising opening statement, this article offers other reasons why there was booing and indeed suggests that Prince William wasn’t the sole target. This might make some uncomfortable, yet at the same time, this insight offering will make us more conscious to facing up to what is ultimately a difficult conversation. One that needs to be recognised, especially when not all of us will see in the same way.


“What I could see”: A view from the stands when watching Liverpool verses Fulham in 2013

And so, this is where we must begin, with that very notion of seeing. As part of the seminal Black Film British Cinema conference, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 1988, cultural theorist Kobena Mercer stated that as ethnically diverse groups of people, we will not only see things differently, but we will also contest the meanings attached to looking at the same image. In this instance it would be looking at the same event. Watching the opening on live TV, I was already apprehensive of what was to come, when I saw that the predominantly all-black group, B Positive Choir and the singer Raye of mixed heritage, were to open the ceremony, by singing “Abide With Me” and the British national anthem – “God Save the Queen”, respectively. As a black female viewer, it was the same trepidation as what I remembered feeling growing up and watching films where I was all too aware of the tragic demise of black characters, especially in mainstream films, where they were either the first to die or would die in the most dramatic way. It was the same feeling then that was felt as this group and solo singer walked into the stadium and the booing began. As with most of the articles, they fail to address this point, that the booing began before Prince William carried out his duty.

What then happened reminded me of two key texts, by Malian writer, filmmaker, and cultural theorist, Manthia Diawara and bell hooks, the US black feminist and cultural and film theorist, who sadly passed away last year, when they both wrote about spectatorship: essentially on the looking practices within film. It is those same looking practices that can be applied to the realm of spectator sports or any instance, where there are spectators. Reminding ourselves on what they have written, will prove useful in understanding what took place.


English Man, 2008 Ope Lori

For Diawara in Black Spectatorship: Problems of Identification and Resistance, written in 1997, he coins a term called the ‘resisting spectator’, described as any person who resists making racial identifications with the dominant readings of race in representations, as a term which is inclusive of black and white viewers. We resist in different ways, in accordance with the concept of difference, which intersects across race, sex, class and other identity categories. It is difference that enables different readings of the same text, and it is difference that makes our looking experiences as individual to the person doing the looking. As a black man, this is the perspective in which Diawara is doing the looking and this becomes a point of departure for hooks, when she writes in The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators in 1996, that black men and women resist images differently. Black women not only resist in terms of the patriarchal system that they are implicated in, but also resist in regards to white supremacist notions of racialized others.

It is with this, that we return to unravelling what happened at the 150th FA Cup opening ceremony. The aim is not to suggest that distain for the royal family was not a factor in why some supporters booed, and Prince William was not the sole focus, but I would suggest that he was one of many. Indeed, those who have commented in the media, have predominantly been white men, either those in the football and sports arena or who are in the political arena and are spokespersons for the royal family, or as one male caller stated on White & Jordan on Talksport, from the working-class community. (5) Focusing on Prince William and thereby the royal family, set in front of the backdrop of two national songs, communicates that part of this discussion relates to ideas around notions of Britishness and belonging, as well as class:

“And there’s good reason to boo royals, because they represent something that a lot of people object to. Not Britain, but elitism, unearned wealth, limits on democracy and hereditary privilege. At a time when millions are suffering from the cost-of-living crisis, they also represent a deeply unequal and unfair society.” (6)

It is then, hardly surprising that mention of B Positive Choir and of Raye have been abysmal, for reasons related to who in fact is giving the commentary. The B Positive Choir actually performed “Abide With Me” last year in the 2021 FA Cup opening ceremony, when Chelsea played Leicester City. The national anthem then, was sung by the white British artist, Becky Hill. Prince William as with tradition, was there carrying out his duties, by greeting the players, however given that the nation was still within the woes of the pandemic, he was unable to physically handshake any of them. On this occasion, as a viewer reflecting on the social media uploads of the event, there was chanting, but it was indistinguishable, unlike the obvious booing in this year’s ceremony. However, the booing was not completely absent, it emerged in full force, when the players from both sides took a knee just before kick-off.

Football Chant, 2008, Ope Lori

Booing whilst taking the knee, which is an anti-racism gesture that has become customary in all Premiership football matches, since it was evoked shortly after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and as a result of the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, has in the early days, often been met with booing. In an article written in The Athletic, the journalist Ryan Conway, speaks to former English Premier League striker Marvin Sordell, the black player who has spoken extensively about his battles with depression, on the reasons why some supporters show distain for taking the knee. By replying to these responders on social media and on their app, he tries to offer them some reasoning behind their resistance. The reasons varied from a respondent who believed that Black Lives Matter was a ‘Marxist, racist and violent movement’, to another who felt that football should just be about football, without including the element of protest and finally, with one responder questioning how taking a knee would affect racism. (7)

All points are therefore valid, in the sense that, this is what these fans had suggested were ‘their’ reasons for such gestures. This was their way of seeing. For me, as a black viewer of the same anti-racist gesture, it is perhaps the latter point in which there is a shared way of seeing where the premise of the resisting spectator comes to the fore. For example, since the practice of taking the knee has become customary, there have been individual footballers and clubs who have stopped doing so, because they feel it has lost meaning. As Crystal Palace striker and Ivorian player Wilfred Zaha stated last year, “there is no right or wrong decision, but, personally, I feel kneeling has just become a part of the pre-match routine. At the moment it doesn’t matter whether we kneel or stand, some of us still continue to receive abuse.” (8). Perhaps it is the same resistance that is felt by some, when seeing a group of black bodies, patriotically singing “Abide With Me”, not because of their blackness, but because of the empty gesture that their presence invokes.

Another dimension to this question on spectatorship, is also related to what and whom the B Positive Choir represent. They are in fact ‘a choir made up of people from across the UK, some of whom have Sickle Cell or family and friends with it,’ as is their description given on their Facebook page. Therefore, this is also about disability and access. Even though Sickle Cell Disease/Sickle Cell Disorder (SCD) is not automatically classed as a disability, based on The Equality Act 2010, it does meet several of its requirements, where a person may be described as having a disability (9). Unless spectators were aware of this hidden factor related to the B Positive Choir, then the prospect of the booing being related to it, would be hardly likely, but possible, depending on who’s looking. Regardless however, whether it was about any of these identity constructs, race or disability, the question then comes back to optics. Optics in the sense of, what must have it looked like and felt like for the members of the B Positive Choir and Raye the singer to be hearing the booing, when it “allegedly” was not directed at them but at the Prince?

When the common adage “I don’t see colour’ is used, it normally references living in a colour-blind world, where race and skin colour is not a factor. As Lewis Gordon, the Afro-Jewish American philosopher writes in his recently published Fear of Black Consciousness (2022) under the paradoxical heading “Erased; Or, “I Don’t See Race”, I don’t see colour often translates as:

“I cannot be racist, because I would first have to see race.” And another: “Because I don’t see color, I cannot see race; therefore, I am incapable of being racist.” There is more: “I can see beyond what others see. I see that they see color and race; I’m better than them, because I see that what they see is wrong. And since racism relies on believing what is false, my seeing the true form of my fellow human being – no color, no race – means that I am beyond racism. I am good.” (10)

So here in lies the problem and the issue with optics and how we see. Is it possible to live in a world without colour and if so, who then does it best serve? On the one hand it suggests that we are all equal and that race and skin colour difference should not be factors in how we operate in the world. On the other hand, it is by investing in this colour-blind aesthetic, that these inequalities go under the radar and as I have written about in this article, that it was possible for the colour of the choir, the singer and of those fans who booed, to have been eradicated from the discussion. How can you tackle a problem, if that problem hasn’t been recognised, or seen as such, given the identities of those doing the looking and then making value judgments? This essentially is the paradox of race and racism, and until we start asking other questions, by acknowledging multiple ways of seeing, from a range of differences and vantage points, we will forever be in confusion, and be unable to see the wood for the trees.




(1) Smith, Graham (2022) ‘Booing Prince William shows the monarchy’s days are numbered, says GRAHAM SMITH.’ Express,
(2) talkSPORT (2022) Simon Jordan: ‘You’ve got to be a special brand of moron to boo the national anthem’.
(3) Sports Mole (2022) Jurgen Klopp defends Liverpool fans booing national anthem.
(4) Mercer, K, Carter, E & Appignanesi, L (1988) Black Film British Cinema, ICA documents, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London.
(5) ibid 2.
(6) Ibid 1.
(7) Conway, Ryan (2021) ‘Why should I support violence?’ Busting myths on taking a knee. The Athletic.
(8) Mcevoy, Sam (2022), Fans BOO Leicester and Chelsea players taking the knee before kick-off. Mail Online.
(9) See Sickle Cell Work and Employment a research informed policy document by OSCAR Sandwell –
(10) Gordon, Lewis (2022) The Fear of Black Consciousness. Penguin Random House, UK.



(1) Baker, Jr. H.A., Diawara, M. and Lindeborg R.H. 1996. Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader, Chicago; London: The University Of Chicago Press.

(2) hooks, b. 1996. Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies, New York: Routledge.

*All images in this article are reserved to PILAA.