John Barnes: Racism rife in society not just football

Liverpool and England football legend John Barnes
Liverpool and England football legend John Barnes

England legend John Barnes today claimed racism remains rife within British society and abuse at football matches is only the tip of the iceberg.

The former Liverpool star, 55, warned racism must be tackled as an issue within society before there can be any hope of wiping it out from football.

Barnes was reacting to Aberdeen’s Shay Logan recently revealing his despair at racism in football and his fears that it will never be eradicated from the game.

Dons defender Logan, 31, was the victim of racial abuse on the pitch from Celtic’s Aleksander Tonev in 2014, with the Bulgarian receiving a seven-game ban.

Earlier this week, Logan was trolled on social media when a Twitter user suggested that “Tonev was right about you”.

Logan admitted he was saddened to see racism creeping back into football and society.

However, Barnes, who famously back-heeled a banana skin thrown at him during a game against Everton in 1988, insists the depressing reality is racism never really went away.

On the surface maybe, but that institutionalised hatred has been festering below the surface, and is beginning to resurface through divisive politics.

Barnes, who signed Logan for Tranmere Rovers on loan in 2009, said: “In terms of hearing racism regularly at football matches – yes we have moved on.

“But it hasn’t changed in people’s heads.

“And of course because of Brexit and Donald Trump people feel emboldened to come out and show their true colours.

“So of course the far right is now rearing its ugly head once again.

“It never went away – it just kept quiet.”

Manchester City and England star Raheem Sterling spoke out against racism after being targeted in a game against Chelsea last December.

Tottenham defender Danny Rose recently claimed he “can’t wait to see the back of football” due to the lack of action taken against fans’ racism.

Racist chanting was directed at several England players, including Rose, during the Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro.

Racism has also blighted Scottish football with footage emerging last season of an Aberdeen “fan” shouting vile abuse at Celtic’s Scott Sinclair in the Betfred Cup final.

Hearts gave lifetime bans to two fans arrested after Motherwell star Christian Mbulu was allegedly racially abused at Tynecastle.

Barnes said: “Racism is a problem in society and as long as it goes on in society it will go on in all walks in life, of which football is one.

“Until we start to take responsibility as a society about racism rather than just looking it as a football problem, it will continue.

“Before anyone is a racist football fan, they are a racist member of society who happens to be a football fan, not the other way around.

“While society says it is not our problem, it is football’s problem nothing will change.

“People feel they can do these things at football stadiums.

“They are not different people when they are not at matches.

“They are members of society who happen to go to football but feel they can get away with it there. However, those same people who are racist at football matches, you may think they may not do it in society.

“However, say if you own a shop and are a football fan who racially abuses someone at a football stadium.

“Well you wouldn’t do it in the shop.

“But when that person is working in that shop and a black man comes in, I bet he is watching thinking he is going to steal something.

“Because that is the perception they have.

“You are not able to physically or verbally do anything, but you still have that misconception.

“That is what has to change. Not necessarily stopping hearing it – you have to stop people thinking it.”

Logan recently admitted he is resigned to the depressing situation of racism always being prevalent in not just football, but society.

The 31-year-old believes racism will never be eradicated.

Barnes said: “I would like to think that it can change and I am sorry that Shay feels that way.

“I signed Shay for Tranmere on loan when I was manager of Tranmere.

“People in society have to stand up to racism – not Shay.

“I am sure there are many more racist incidents in society where people don’t hear about it.

“If it is football then we hear about it.

“If we do not get rid of racism in society then it will exist in football – so we are doing it the wrong way round.

“Forget football – let’s target society.

“Those members of society, if they change their perceptions then when they come to football matches they will no longer do it.

“Football is not going to change a man’s perception, society will.”

John Barnes was speaking at the Fearnley International Open 2019, held at Newmachar Golf Club to raise money for Clan Cancer Support. The event is part of the DHL Swing Against Cancer Golf Series.