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The inside story of Liverpool's powerful response to George Floyd killing

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An angry Virgil van Dijk could only watch on from afar when it all happened.

The killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer, in Minnesota, had a profound effect on the Liverpool defender.



So too did the subsequent fallout from George Floyd's murder, thousands of miles away from the Dutchman's home on Merseyside.



Mr Floyd was in police custody on May 25, 2020 when Derek Chauvin killed him.



For the final nine minutes and 29 seconds of his life, the father-of-four was held down by a knee on his neck.

His last moments were spent pleading for help, gasping for breath.

It was an incident that shocked the world.

As the groundswell of public anger spilled out on to the streets of Minneapolis, Memphis and beyond in response to the killing, Van Dijk too wanted to take a stand.

His Liverpool colleague, Gini Wijnaldum, felt exactly the same.

Liverpool were preparing for the resumption of Premier League football when Van Dijk and Wijnaldum organised a meeting with James Milner and club captain Jordan Henderson.

The four players are known as the leadership committee inside the Reds' squad, Jurgen Klopp's quartet of captains.

With 'Project Restart' on the horizon and a title to be won, the Liverpool squad were firmly focused on a first championship in three decades at the beginning of June last year.

Some things, however, are more important.

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It was decided that a training game at Anfield would be the perfect opportunity to send one powerful, unified message about where they stood in the wake of Mr Floyd's death.

"The four players finessed an idea between them and then brought it to the rest of the team," says one senior Anfield source.

"It was very much driven by the players and it was arranged and executed by them as well."

It was decreed that if the entire team felt the same, a collective stance should be taken.

After all, as the subsequent message would state, unity is strength.

So before the inter-squad, behind-closed-doors game would take place at Anfield on June 1, the Liverpool team would make a stand.

They would take the knee.

It is understood that Henderson went to Klopp to inform of the players' decision to go public with their viewpoint.

The manager held no objections or reservations. On the contrary.

It was one year to the day since they had become champions of Europe, but thoughts of that special night in Madrid's Wanda Metropolitano were nowhere near the forefront of the collective mind.

Instead, Van Dijk, Wijnaldum and co were concerned only about their response to what was unfolding on the other side of the Atlantic.

As sports stars across the planet began to speak out against racial inequality in society, this was Liverpool's time to do so.

The 29-man squad gathered around the centre circle and posed for the snap with the caption: "Unity is strength #BlackLives Matter".

The team asked the coaching staff and others to stay out of the picture in an effort to position the coverage purely on the belief of the athletes.

"Jurgen supported it entirely," says one insider. "It was left to the players to do it with a club photographer taking the picture.

"That way it would be viewed as cleaner and more powerful."

The image arrived in front of the eyes of the squad's millions of followers at around 3pm, delivering a strong message of support to those protesting against injustice in the process.

The move caught the attention of media from across the UK, the United States and the Middle East.

The image also reached iconic basketballer LeBron James who sent back a simple reply that made clear that he backed the move.

"I have been very proud of the boys for a long time, but this was another extraordinary moment," said Klopp.

"When I saw them there and this photo was taken, I was really proud, because it is also an important message. No question about it."

Such speaking out quickly became commonplace as the Liverpool squad were followed by the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham.

Later that month, it was Henderson who had the idea to place the Black Lives Matter emblem on the shirts of all kits following the restart of the Premier League season.

The Reds skipper, alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, would then act as Liverpool's ambassadors for an anti-racism campaign powered by Manchester City's Raheem Sterling.

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"Whether I'm at the front or the back, I just want to be part of change," Trent Alexander-Arnold said that month.

"I want to see some change, I want to use my platform in any way that is needed.

"Whether that is posting pictures, getting involved with things, who knows what it will be?

"I'm sure when people think of the ideas or the things that need to happen, I'll definitely be a part of it.

"It's something I believe in, it's something I've been educated in a way to know what is right and wrong.

"People who want to be us, the children, who look up to us, we have a responsibility to teach them to be better people and understand what is right and wrong."


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