LGBT+ England fans could turn their backs on Jordan Henderson when he plays for his country in a symbolic response to his transfer to Saudi Arabia as manager Gareth Southgate played down a “morality argument” against the move.
Henderson was included in the 26-man squad for the upcoming games with Ukraine and Scotland as England manager Southgate stuck with the former Liverpool skipper 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.
Joe White, the co-chair of Pride in Football and founder of Three Lions Pride, believes Henderson will not receive a hostile reception but warned that 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 questioned why Henderson was coming in for so much criticism.
“We are picking a team for football reasons,” he said.
“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.
“I don’t really know what the morality argument is because so many of our industries are wrapped up with Saudi investment. Given the situation with Russia we are reliant on Saudi Arabia for a lot of our oil.
“They’re invested in so many British industries but I don’t hear any noises about that. It’s only the football that’s highlighted.
“The LGBT+ stance is a religious belief in that country and there are lots of other countries in the world that we trade with and operate in that have those beliefs so it is very difficult to work through all of that.
“Until somebody tells me differently on whether I can or can’t pick players if they’re playing in different countries is one thing.
“My job is to pick a football team. I don’t think you can pick a football team based on any prejudice where they might be playing their football.”
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 – who said he and his staff “should” at some point travel to Saudi Arabia to watch Henderson – also 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 was up to Henderson 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.”
Meanwhile, Southgate was non-committal when asked if he would ever consider a job in Saudi Arabia.
But the 52-year-old said he would not ever walk out on England for such an opportunity, just a week on from Roberto Mancini taking the job as Saudi Arabia head coach shortly after resigning from the Italy post.
“I can easily say no and look like the big guy,” he replied when asked if he would take a job in the country.
“But can you answer that question until it is there in front of you? I’m not looking to leave the job I’m in. I’m very happy.
“I certainly wouldn’t leave managing my country during my contract.”
Levi Colwill and Eddie Nketiah were given maiden senior call-ups but Raheem Sterling has been left out of Southgate’s squad.