‘I don’t know why I was booed but I do understand fans’ view,’ says Henderson

Jordan Henderson has said he does not understand why he was booed by the Wembley crowd during England’s win against Australia last Friday, but the midfielder did say that moving to Saudi Arabia has left him open to accusations of betraying the LGBTQ+ community.

Henderson, who was playing at the national stadium for the first time since his move to Al-Ettifaq last summer, said it was not nice to be jeered off after being substituted in the 62nd minute. The reaction led to Gareth Southgate and Kieran Trippier voicing support for the former Liverpool captain, who wore the captain’s armband against Australia, but the 33-year-old faces a fight to win back public approval.

Related: ‘We stick together’: Trippier backs Henderson before England face Italy

Denials that moving to the Saudi Pro League was down to financial reasons is yet to stop the criticism of Henderson. There is a sense that the PR battle is lost. Henderson has been a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights but his decision to play in a country where homosexuality is illegal has drawn widespread condemnation.

It was notable that Henderson, who once again backed Saudi Arabia hosting the 2034 World Cup, spoke after collecting his 79th cap against Australia. He initially said he had not heard the boos and delivered a surprising response after being asked if he understood the cause of the reaction. “Not really,” he said. “I don’t know. Do you?”

Told that it was probably because of where he is playing, Henderson said: “If people want to boo if I’m playing in a different country, that’s fine. Everyone is going to have an opinion over playing over in Saudi.

“I’ve spoken in the past about the reasons for that. Whether people believe us or not is up to them. But when I’m here with England, it doesn’t change anything. I give absolutely everything. Of course it’s disappointing, but it won’t change what I do here. I want to keep playing and help the team become successful.”

The issue of letting down LGBTQ+ people came up. “I haven’t been surprised by that because I can understand the reasons in what they’re saying,” Henderson said. “I look at it from a different point of view. But I can understand it and I’ve got to take that on the chin. But it doesn’t change the person that I am. I’m playing football in a different country where I want to try to improve the game on the pitch but also things off the pitch as well.

“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I’m not going to get into politics. All I’ve ever done is concentrate on my football and try to help people that have asked for my help. When I’m going out there, I’m just playing football, trying to improve the league, trying to improve my own team and trying to win games. I do the same when I come here.”

The booing hurts. “It’s not nice, your own fans, if they were booing,” Henderson said. “But people have their own opinions. Whenever I bump into anyone on the street it’s always been positive.”

It is likely that Southgate will name Henderson in his squad at Euro 2024 next summer. Southgate, whose side are on the verge of qualifying before hosting Italy on Tuesday, values the veteran’s leadership.

However, Henderson looked off the pace against Australia and there will be questions over whether the lack of intensity in the SPL will affect his performances at international level. But he said he has not struggled during England training.

“I feel as fit as I ever have,” Henderson said. “Probably because over there the conditions are quite hard at times with the weather and the humidity and the warm. When I’ve come here, I’ve felt pretty good and in training and the games I have felt really good. So hopefully that can continue.

“Physically, I don’t think it’s an issue. Look at my numbers physically and my output in a game, whether that’s in Saudi, whether that’s here for England, I don’t see that as an issue.”

Henderson, who described the human rights situation in Qatar as “shocking and disappointing” before the World Cup was held there last year, believes Saudi Arabia deserve a chance to host the tournament. He thinks fans will have a good time, saying “2034, I think by that time I think they will put on a pretty good World Cup”.

“That’s exciting times for them as a country and I think it will be a special tournament if they ended up getting it. I’ve been there for two months and there’s been no issues in terms of fans or anything like that. I think they’ll enjoy the experience there.

“When we look at Qatar it was a good tournament. I think the fans enjoyed the tournament and I think Saudi would be no different.”


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