WILFRIED ZAHA has become the first Premier League player not to take the knee before a game.
Last month, the Ivorian, 28, revealed how he felt the gesture to promote anti-racism and anti-discrimination was degrading to him as a black man.
And the Crystal Palace star vowed he would not be taking part in the pre-match symbol which has been in place since last summer.
Since then, Zaha had been sidelined through injury so had been unable to make his own personal stand.
But he returned to the starting line-up for the Premier League clash with West Brom on Saturday.
And when ref Simon Hooper blew the whistle before kick-off, Zaha stayed standing while the rest of the players on the pitch took the knee.
In a statement released just minutes later, Zaha wrote: “My decision to stand at kick-off has been public knowledge for a couple of weeks now.
“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.
“I know there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes at the Premier League and other authorities to make change, and I fully respect that, and everyone involved.
“I also fully respect my team-mates and players at other clubs who continue to take the knee.
“As a society, I feel we should be encouraging better education in schools, and social media companies should be taking stronger action against people who abuse others online – not just footballers.
“I now just want to focus on football and enjoy being back playing on the pitch.
“I will continue to stand tall.”
Last month, Zaha had vowed to remain on his feet before games.
He roared: “The whole kneeling down – why must I kneel down for you to show that we matter?
“Why must I even wear black lives matter on the back of my top to show you that we matter?
“This is all degrading stuff.”
Footballers, managers and officials started to take the knee in the aftermath of the shocking murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020.
What is ‘taking a knee’ and how did it start?
Taking the knee began as a protest against the unfair treatment of black Americans.
It started during the American football pre-season in 2016 when the San Francisco 49ers’ black quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat instead of standing during the national anthem.
By the fourth game, the gesture, which he said was intended to raise awareness of police brutality towards African Americans, had become a national talking point.
That was when Kaepernick, seeking a dignified way to protest without offending military personnel, tried something else – he knelt.
The poignant stance has been adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement.
On June 2, 2020 over 60 cops knelt before George Floyd protesters as a mark of ‘dignity and respect’ in North Carolina.
Stunned witnesses say the moment in Fayetteville brought protesters and officers to tears.
Floyd died on May 25, 2020, in police custody after getting arrested for apparently trying to use a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes.
Footballers in England began taking the knee before games following the Premier League’s restart last year.
And earlier this year, Zaha spoke out passionately on the abuse he has suffered as a footballer and how tiring it is when he, and others, are called on to speak out when there is no real change to combat the problem.
In an interview with the On the Judy podcast, the brilliant winger gave a glimpse at how painful and frustrating it is to see little real progress being made.
He added: “When people constantly want to get me to do Black Lives Matter talks and racial talks and I’m like, I’m not doing it just so you can put ‘Zaha spoke for us’. Like a tick box basically.
“I’m not doing any more, because unless things change, I’m not coming to chat to you just for the sake of it, like all the interviews I’ve done.
“All these platforms – you see what’s happening, you see people making fake accounts to abuse black people constantly, but you don’t change it.
“So don’t tell me to come and chat about stuff that’s not going to change. Change it.
“All that stuff that you lot are doing, all these charades mean nothing.”