Wilfried Zaha (Getty Images)
Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic has given his support to team-mate Wilfried Zaha who on Saturday became the first Premier League player not to take the knee.
The Eagles top goalscorer stood ahead of kick-off in the 1-0 victory against West Brom while the 21 other players on the Selhurst Park pitch took the knee.
Last month Zaha stated he would no longer do the gesture, which players, officials and staff have done in the Premier League since Project Restart in June.
A statement from Zaha insisted: “There is no right or wrong decision, but for me personally, I feel kneeling has just become a part of the pre-match routine and at the moment it doesn’t matter whether we kneel or stand, some of us still continue to receive abuse.”
Milivojevic, who scored the only goal of the game against West Brom, said: “We spoke Friday a little about it and I support him 100 per cent.
“I want to say that we are taking the knee to show an example to people that we are against racism and that example can be maybe when kids watch football with their families and you know kids are always asking questions.
“They can ask ‘why are those players doing that?’ So it’s a perfect time to explain. Wilfried’s gone a little bit further – he did it in the other way and, me as his team-mate, I respect him 100 per cent because I know what he’s fighting for.”
Zaha was on the receiving end of racist abuse from a 12-year-old on social media in July and several footballers have recently suffered racism on sites like Twitter and Instagram.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters this week confirmed teams would continue to take the knee for the rest of the season, but revealed it would be reviewed in the summer after discussions with players.
Eagles boss Roy Hodgson backed Zaha ahead of the game and after the 1-0 win which moved them onto 37 points.
That total has been enough to secure top-flight status in each of the last four seasons and Milivojevic reflected on how tough it was with his penalty in the 37th minute the difference between the sides.
He told Sky Sports: “We knew that they are fighting for their lives and trying to stay in the league. It is not easy, we know.
“They’re not bad opponents. Their last five games they picked up many points so we knew it would not be easy, but I think we dealt with them well.
“With a different style, everything they put in the box like throw-ins, corners, every free-kick – it’s very hard, especially when it’s very windy. That’s not easy for our defenders but all credit to them.”
Both Palace and West Brom now have an extended break after their fixtures scheduled for March 21 against Manchester United and Everton respectively were brought forward to earlier this month due to those clubs being in FA Cup action next weekend.
The Baggies only have nine games left to prevent an instant return to the Sky Bet Championship.