Millwall defender Mahlon Romeo has accused the club's supporters of "spreading hatred" after a section of fans booed when the players took a knee in support of the fight against racial injustice at the start of their match with Derby.
Saturday's match at The Den, which Derby won 1-0, represented the first time Millwall supporters had been able to attend a home game since the coronavirus pandemic saw the Championship halted in March.
Players in England's top divisions have been taking a knee at the start of matches since football resumed in June as part of global sporting protests against racial injustice.
In an impassioned interview after the game, Romeo, a London-born black player who has represented Antigua and Barbuda at international level, explained how the reaction of the club's supporters had affected him.
Romeo told the South London Press: "Today's game, to me now, has become irrelevant. The fans have been let back in - which the whole team was looking forward to. But in society there is a problem - and that problem is racism.
"The fans who have been let in today have personally disrespected not just me but the football club. And what the football club and the community stand for. What they've done is booed and condemned a peaceful gesture which was put in place to highlight, combat and stop any discriminatory behaviour and racism. That's it - that's all that gesture is.
"And the fans have chosen to boo that, which for the life of me I can't understand. It has offended me and everyone who works for this club - the players and the staff.
"I'm speaking on behalf of myself here - not any of the other players - I want to make that very clear. This is the first time I feel disrespected. Because you have booed and condemned a peaceful gesture which - and it needs repeating - was put in place to highlight, combat and tackle any discriminatory behaviour and racism in general."
The incident occurred a day after Millwall's first-team squad had released a statement signalling their intent to continue taking a knee before matches until the new year, at which point "a new and comprehensive anti-discrimination strategy" is to be announced by the club.
Romeo was keen to stress his anger was exacerbated due to the possibility that the booing could undo some of the "vital" work the club does in the community on social issues.
"I'm almost lost for words," he added. "I don't know how they thought that would make me feel. I don't know what they thought taking a knee stood for. But I think I've explained it simply enough. I feel really low - probably the lowest I've felt in my time at this club.
"It's something I can't wrap my head around. People will have their beliefs and views, which everyone is entitled to. I'm not trying to stop or contain - but if your beliefs and views oppose a positive change in society then don't come to a football ground and spread them around.
"If it's negative, don't think you can come to a football ground and this is the place where you can spread hatred essentially.
"When fans are booing a peaceful gesture to highlight racism, it naturally makes you ask yourself 'why am I putting myself through this?'. I'm sure not all Millwall fans share the same opinion - it's a small collection. But if we're being realistic it made me feel very small and it made me feel personally disrespected."
The incident was condemned by Derby forward Colin Kazim-Richards and interim boss Wayne Rooney following the match, while the English Football League (EFL), Football Association (FA) and anti-racism charity Kick It Out all released statements following the game.
Several hours after the match on Saturday night Millwall had not offered an official response to the incident, but boss Gary Rowett said he was left frustrated that the return of fans had been overshadowed.
He told Sky Sports: "I'm disappointed that we are talking about that when we should be talking about the fact we are all back and we want to enjoy the football match again.
"The club do an enormous amount of work on anti-racism and the club do a lot of work in the community and there is some really positive stuff, so of course I am disappointed."
On players taking a knee, Rowett added: "Is it a political message, is it an anti-discrimination message? The players have come out and said they don't support the political aspect, but they do support the anti-discrimination aspect of it and of course we all do."