There’s nothing wrong with John Barnes

Football legend clears up misconstrued comments attributed to him in regards to racism in football


WHAT’S HAPPENED to John Barnes is becoming a popular question. But there is nothing wrong with me.

Six months ago I was the voice of reason, a man with well thought out clear messages and perceptions and a champion in the fight against racism. Now I’m perceived as an apologist for racism!

John Barnes is the exact same person, with the exact same messages, delivered in the exact same way. The difference now is the way in which my words are reported.

So many elite organisations and establishments have approached me to be one of the main spokesmen and advocates for them.

I engaged with them, asked them whether I’d be able to drive my own agenda through them.

Football is bad, but what’s much worse is the socio-economic, as well as vocational and educational climate black people in the inner cities find themselves, and we need to highlight it and try to affect change there for future generations.

While that was on the cards, reporting of my thoughts and words were fairly representative of my intentions.

When it became apparent to them that I wouldn’t be going along with their narrative that the evils of racism is because of football – or the police, or anyone who happened to get caught and we can use as a scapegoat and crucify – their interest in me waned, and the reporting of my true words and thoughts changed.

That’s when I started to see headlines like ‘Barnes says Beardsley is right about African players,’ ‘Barnes says it’s just banter’ and ‘Bernardo Silva incident is just banter.’

Then there’s ‘Liam Neeson deserves a medal for wanting to kill a black man,’ ‘Barnes says Jadon Sancho should get on with it’ and ‘Barnes criticises Sterling.’

Let’s start with Peter Beardsley, my own teammate.

The truth is Peter Beardsley is no more unconsciously racist than any one of my ex teammates, myself, you or anyone else in society, as we are all racially biased based on the way we were conditioned to think and the environment we were brought up in.

People accused me of letting him or letting football off the hook, but in fact I’m doing the opposite… I’m putting everyone on the hook!

I said that I understand why Peter has to go through what he is, because what was considered banter back in the day is unacceptable now.

I also said if Peter – in response to an African player criticising the pitches in Newcastle – says ‘the pitches in Africa are/must be worse than this’ he is absolutely right, and that is not a racist stereotype, that’s a fact.

If he said “The sun in Africa must be brighter, hotter, and longer for you to be blacker than me,” that’s a fact, but he would get called racist for that.

Then Peter questioned the ages of the African players. Once again, unacceptable banter by today’s standards, so he’s been sacked. But what was his intention – was it to offend?

I’ve been working all over Africa for the last eight years, and been into the offices of presidents, and government officials, and when the discussion of some well known African players arise, and I innocently with no agenda, ask their age, the response, often with irony or jocularity with a dead straight face has been ”football age or real age?”

After I laugh, thinking they are joking, and see that they are deadly serious, it’s explained to me that their love for their players and their recognition is an opportunity for one of their own to get himself and his family out of poverty and to give him a good life and possibly help his village build a school or well. If it means giving him a different age, so be it… which is fine by me, but a fact.

So responses regarding the age is sometimes… “Football age 26…. real age 32.” This is not a judgement.

As to Peter saying a player after scoring was jumping around like a monkey, is unacceptable, only because of the historical connotations of black people being linked to monkeys, and not because a black man can’t jump around like a monkey.

If Jamie Redknapp and I went to the zoo, and in the monkey house we were asked to have a competition as to who could mimic a monkey’s jump, and I won it wouldn’t have to be because I was black, it could easily be because I jumped like a monkey better than he could!

Every time we as black people hear what is considered to be historical racial stereotypes, we have to understand that, while we are aware of it, white society is not always, so there are times when things are done/said (not often) without any racial meanings behind them, and each episode has to be judged individually on its own merits, rather than generalising.

I generally use Piers Morgan as my moral compass. When I wake up and turn on Good Morning Britain with blurry vision and tired eyes, whatever his opinion is on something, I just go with the opposite.

That’s not a good indicator of the way one should think, but even after waking up properly and analysing the situation, I don’t think I’ve once changed my mind.

So when the Liam Neeson thing came up, it was no different. I was horrified at Neeson by what I thought he had said, but thankfully Piers insistence on him being hung, drawn and quartered, and knowing my thoughts on Piers, made me think ‘Don’t judge him yet, let me hear what he said, and think about what he means, rather than looking at edited versions of his words. Sounds familiar?

What I heard was, when he was asked the question as to whether revenge played a negative part in his life, he gave an example.

This is what I heard from Mr Neeson: “For one week in my 70 odd years, 45 years ago, my cousin was horrifically raped.

“When I found out it was a black man, for one week, I went around looking for any black man to kill.

“I didn’t come across anyone, then I suddenly caught myself and felt disgusted horrified and ashamed of myself, went to the priest who counselled me, realised the hurt and devastation I was causing myself and am so grateful that I didn’t come across anyone because of how I was feeling at that time.”

Who else heard: ”I wanted to kill any black person,” and nothing else?

Piers was horrified and full of righteous indignation demanded his imprisonment, beheading etc.

So when I said Liam deserved a medal, it wasn’t for wanting to kill black people, it was for a man who had no (conscious) ill feelings towards black people.

I’m sure he is as unconsciously racially biased as everyone else. For one week in his 70 years he was consciously aware of his prejudice, which was towards an enemy who happened to be black, not because they were black, and could easily have been Chinese, Indian.

Not white, but white English or white Scottish or white Welsh. After that week he acknowledged and owned his prejudice, felt ashamed and disgusted and changed.

Wouldn’t that be great if society did the same?

What has happened to black people for hundreds of years hasn’t been acknowledged, owned or dealt with and we try to convince people we are doing that by condemning Peter Beardsley, Liam Neeson, a couple of Chelsea fans, and now Bernardo Silva of Manchester City.

In terms of Silva, well done Raheem Sterling for telling it as it is, and I’m sure that he’s not saying it just because he’s his teammate, as he’s not my teammate, but I agree that “this” incident is not racist.

Talking of Sterling and Jadon Sancho, snippets have been taken from my comments to misconstrue the true meaning of my thoughts, the point about Sancho and Sterling, is for them to speak about their brothers and sisters in Stonebridge Park and Camberwell and highlight the injustices and inequalities they face everyday and bring the discussion to the mainstream AS WELL as how racist football is.”

There are hundreds of good people working in the black community who strive everyday for better schools, funding, opportunities etc, but they are voiceless.

While the elite push for themselves to be elevated into better positions….then say they will pull the masses up the ladder…. what would be better is an environment created in the communities to enable the masses to climb up the ladder themselves!

My view on the Bernardo Silva furore?

An image has no meaning in and of itself… it’s the meaning we put on it.

Up until the 1930’s, the swastika was a Hindu symbol meaning “wellbeing”. Coca Cola, Carlsburg and others used it to promote their products as well as it being on some RAF planes up until to the late 1930’s before it was adopted by the Nazis… what does it stand for?? What we say it stands for.

The image of a black man with big lips didn’t symbolise anything! Then 200 odd years ago, our colonial masters created this myth that it stood for inferiority, immorality, ugliness, vulgarity and obscenity, 200 years later we still see the dark black man with big lips in that way. We have to stop. An image or cartoon of a dark black man with big lips is not offensive!

There are dark black men with big lips and they are as beautiful as light skinned black men with thin lips, but we don’t complain about that image in any form cartoon or otherwise!

Most white journalists and commentators etc DON’T CARE about what’s happening on or off the field, because they are not negatively affected by it!

This is not a criticism, it’s a fact.

People generally are invested in things that affect them, they may have an opinion every now and then when asked about certain incidents and they dip in and out of debates every now and then when they arise.

So I say to people: When you see someone who is full of righteous indignation on your behalf… don’t be fooled that they care.


A man that does care is a young, dynamic black leader who I admire, and it would be an honour and privilege for me to be involved with, and that’s Akala.

Here is a young man who truly represents the community and he’s doing his best to affect change by highlighting the tangible injustices and problems in our society.

I may be wrong, but I don’t see him talking too much about Peter Beardsley and Bernardo Silva, and demanding something be done.

He knows the problem and possible solution, but he’s not powerful enough by himself.

What’s happened to John Barnes? Nothing.

But I do care.

Comments Form


  1. | Paul

    You’re an absolute gent. You just gave a talk at my workplace in Plymouth and I’m sorry I missed it. Would have loved to have shaken your hand for being a voice of reason amongst all the noise.

    And I agree, Akala does an awful lot to try and address the biases we hold as a society, and where they stem from.

    I like to think we’re at least steadily chipping away at it one generation at a time but more does need to be done.

    All the best with your future endeavours and hopefully the media misrepresentation doesn’t get you down too much.


  2. | Laurie

    Well said Barnsley!


  3. | John Dyer

    Barnesy is right about one thing- Akala is absolutely brilliant. What’s happened to John Barnes? ‘black icon fatigue’ that’s what. Media outlets generally pass the buck for dealing with racism onto black people. An incident of racism occurs on a football pitch, then suddenly it’s “here’s some air time Barnesy sort it out”. Really, they are saying you’re black it’s your responsibility to deal with it. Racism is a problem for all of us and reasonable white voices should be shouting the disgust loud and clear as well. Real change will only come about when we all take responsibility for dealing with racism.


  4. | Andrew Palmer

    John Barnes is an uncle Tom ,He is the first call any racist makes when in trouble so Barnes can defend their racist comments( Liam Neeson now the scrawny wimp Beardsley ) ,Why is he an understanding Negro for racists ,His voice is such a wear on your ears and when challenged goes off on a psycho rant ,a man with unresolved demons ,It is hard for him ,as he ultimately sees himself as inferior .These uneducated washed up footballers is how the racist media view black people and believe the mealy mouthed deliveries are what black people listen too,These are the allies of old racist media agents and its where Barnes makes his money and for a meal or there good grace he will betray anybody anytime apart from his masters ,Think Samuel Jackson in Django Unchained that is the ancestral John Barnes .With a Big Mouth and no education he is the ideal candidate to be paraded out as a spokes person by racists for black people ,and he is just to retarded or pig headed to care ,he lacks any self worth and just scratch below the surface with intelligent probing and the madness will explode. He is in the voice paper only because the owners believe if they show there willingness to air his cowardly views they may get some advertisements . Count your blessing you are not related to him .


    • | Lisa McLean

      I think your comments on JB are unnecessarily harsh. Uncle Tom? Not so. Uneducated? Not so


      • | Dr S Mann

        John Barnes is a man I used to have much respect for. Lots of respect for what he achieved in football and later on, for his willingness to speak out on certain issues. Now, he comes across as an arrogant know-it-all who ends up tying himself up in a thousand knots. I’ve watched his interviews and read his many write-ups; they increasingly get worse with each one. If only he’d apply a bit of thought before launching into those reckless rants.

        In some of his interviews, he raises important points but very quickly, these get diluted with his incoherent verbal diarrhoea. There’s an arrogance that says “I’m John Barnes and I know all about racism”. No, you do NOT. Racism for John Barnes of Caribbean origin can feel somewhat different for, say a black person of African origin, with a non-British/thick African accent.

        By doubling down in this article, Barnes confirms exactly what I initially suspected. That he’s an arrogant man with no inclination to listen to the views of others. I’m sorry but we’ve had enough of your being the “voice of reason” representing black people. The ability of listen is just as important as it is to be eloquent. Perhaps, he could learn some listening skills.

        The moment white folks start to like a particular black person, that’s a signal for the rest of us to be concerned; indeed to be very concerned. No, John Barnes does NOT know it all. He raises important points for debate/discussion but does he have all the answers. And certainly does not represent me nor speak for me.


    • | Anthony O

      How utterly ignorant is the response by Mr Palmer…so lazy and judgemental yet nothing constructive offered…shame on you Sir.


  5. | Spesh

    Cartoon images of black men with overly huge red lips were created to mock and belittle blacks and have them feel they were inferior to whites (literal racism) we still deal with these issues today, bleaching is still an issue, self hate ahem is still an issue. The Swastika comparison isn’t a worthy one regardless, go around wearing one now saying you still interpret it as a sign of peace and see where it gets you, we can’t change the past both symbols and images you’ve compared represent arguably the two worst atrocities in mankind, should be ashamed of yourself for telling people to simply not take offence.


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