Ex-England star John Barnes says 'football can't solve racism'

‘Football CAN’T solve racism’: John Barnes hits out at England team taking the knee again – arguing ‘practical action’ on ‘knife crime and education for young black kids’ is more important

  • John Barnes questioned what ‘practical action’ had resulted from taking a knee
  • Ex-Liverpool forward called for focus on improving education for black children
  • Comes amid row between national team and some fans over pre-match gesture
  • A section of Wembley crowd have booed players as they take the knee at games 

Former England forward John Barnes says ‘football can’t solve racism’, as he today threw himself into the row over Three Lions stars taking the knee.

The ex-Liverpool winger questioned ‘what practical action had been taken’ as a result of footballers making the anti-racism gesture.

Barnes, 57, instead urged a focus on tackling knife crime and improving education for young black children.

Speaking to Good Morning Britain today, he said: ‘What practical action has been taken in the last year?

‘None, apart from whether or not to keep taking the knee to highlight the problem.

‘Football cannot solve racism, society can, councils can, governments can, depending on what your interpretation of racism is.’

Former England star John Barnes, speaking on Good Morning Britain (pictured) today, said ‘football can’t solve racism’

The ex-Liverpool striker questioned ‘what practical action had been taken’ as a result of footballers making the anti-racism gesture of taking the knee ahead of kick-off (pictured)

Speaking to Good Morning Britain, today hosted by Ben Shephard and Susanna Reid (pictured), Barnes said: ‘What practical action has been taken in the last year?

UEFA back the FA and demand fans show respect to teams taking the knee at the European Championships 

The FA have received significant backing from UEFA in their battle to ensure that England’s players can take the knee without being booed, with the organisers of the European Championship urging fans to show respect.

In a statement released to Sportsmail, UEFA insisted they have zero tolerance of racism and players should be free to express their support for greater equality by taking the knee before matches during the tournament.

As Sportsmail reported on Wednesday, the FA have been frustrated by the Government’s refusal to condemn fans who booed England players before their warm-up games against Austria and Romania last week, or even encourage them not to do so, so UEFA’s backing is welcome.

In addition to UEFA’s plea to fans, there will be a series of messages displayed on the big screen at Wembley on Sunday condemning discrimination and asking for the players to be treated with respect.

‘UEFA has a zero tolerance against racism and any player who wants to demand equality among human beings by taking the knee will be allowed to do so,’ a UEFA spokesperson said.

‘We urge spectators to show respect for teams and players taking the knee.’

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said on Wednesday the booing of England’s players for taking a knee was ‘incredibly disappointing’.

Speaking about black footballers such as himself being given statues, he said: ‘ I would much rather give up this honour for us to deal with the problem of knife crime, jobs, housing, education for young black kids, rather than giving me, or giving footballers or black managers an opportunity to raise themselves up into the upper echelons of society while neglecting 90 per cent of people who are being under-represented.’  

It comes as Barnes, a star of England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals in 1990, yesterday took to Twitter to share his views on the row – which threatens to overshadow the start of the Three Lions Euro 2020 campaign which begins on Sunday.

Yesterday, the former footballer took a swipe at England manager Gareth Southgate over his insistence that his players will continue to take the knee as they have a duty to ‘raise awareness’ over racism and inequality.

Southgate had asked for supporters not to boo the stance on the eve of his side’s final Euro 2020 warm-up game against Romania at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday, but a minority ignored the manager’s pleas.

It comes after Croatia, the team’s opponents on Sunday, announced they would not take the knee before the game at Wembley.

Responding to one follower, who praised Southgate’s position, Barnes wrote: ‘Of course he should support his players… but what does HE think… forget the players… that’s what an ally is… someone who believes HE’S doing the right thing, not one who follows the crowd, as the crowd may change direction.’

In another comment, he said: ‘I’m 100% behind Gareth to try to win the euros but he doesn’t understand how complex racism is and solutions are even more complicated and he and the team are being used by the system to DEFLECT from REAL inequality in the inner cities by SOLELY focusing and concentrating on football.’

He also reiterated his support for Wilfried Zaha, the Crystal Palace and Ivory Coast winger, who was the first in the Premier League not to make the gesture, insisting it had become ‘degrading’ and had lost all meaning.

Barnes added: ‘If Wilfried Zaha played for England and decided not to take the knee, would Southgate then say we won’t take the knee and we’ll support him? 

‘What does GARETH think is the right thing to do? Take the knee, don’t take the knee, or just support what the players want?’ 

Football legend John Barnes (pictured) today claimed England manager Gareth Southgate ‘does not understand how complex racism is’ in a furious Twitter rant over taking the knee

Southgate strengthened his stance on the issue by penning an open letter to England fans on Wednesday, insisting his players have a duty to ‘raise awareness and educate’ both on and off the field, amid the ongoing row

Gareth Southgate insists players have a duty to ‘raise awareness and educate’ in open letter to England fans 

England manager Gareth Southgate has insisted his players have a duty to ‘raise awareness and educate’ both on and off the field, amid the ongoing row over footballers taking the knee.

In an open letter penned to Three Lions fans ahead of Euro 2020, the England boss said he has ‘never believed’ sports stars ‘should just stick to football’ and insisted his team ‘are role models’.

Writing after a section of England fans booed stars for taking the knee in Sunday’s friendly against Romania, he said it was a ‘duty’ for stars to ‘interact with the public on matters such as equality and racial injustice’.

And he urged that supporters ‘must recognise the impact’ England stars ‘can have on society’. 

In an impassioned open letter, published on Players’ Tribune, The Three Lions boss said: ‘Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society.

‘We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people.

‘I have never believed that we should just stick to football.’

The row follows the revelation earlier today that Croatia’s national football team will not take a knee ahead of Sunday’s clash with England.

The sides will meet at Wembley Stadium, but Croatia will remain standing prior to kick off, as reported by the Athletic, with the country’s spokesman Tomislav Pacak indicating that it is not required by UEFA’s protocols.

Croatia have never taken the knee in a senior match to date, although their Under-21 side did adopt the stance during this year’s European Championship when they faced England.

The world of sport has observed the gesture – popularised by American football player Colin Kaepernick – for more than a year in response to the killing of George Floyd by a white policeman.

However, the knee has been met with a mixed response since supporters have returned to stadiums following the ease of Covid restrictions.  

Sportsmail reported on Tuesday that the FA are unhappy with the Government for a lack of support for the England team after jeers were heard at the Riverside Stadium in back-to-back friendlies before kick off. 

In a row that could overshadow the game against Croatia, boss Southgate and his players have continued to stress they are united in their desire to keep taking a knee.

The Three Lions coach admitted the booing ‘felt like criticism’ of his players.

‘It’s not something on behalf of our black players I wanted to hear because it feels as though it’s a criticism of them and insisted they were not making a political gesture.

‘I think we have got a situation where some people seem to think it’s a political stand that they don’t agree with,’ he said. 

‘That’s not the reason the players are doing it. We’re supporting each other. I was pleased that was drowned out by the majority of the crowd.  

Wilfried Zaha became the first Premier League player not to take a knee before a fixture earlier this year

Gareth Southgate has been adamant that his team will continue to take a knee before games

‘We can’t deny the fact that it happened. I think the most important thing for our players to know is all their teammates and all the staff are very supportive. 

‘I think the majority of people understand it. I think some people aren’t quite understanding the message. I suppose we’re seeing that across a number of football grounds at the moment.’ 

Meanwhile, Scotland boss Steve Clarke said his players would hold talks about whether or not they will take the knee before deciding their stance for the tournament.  His team are Group D, alongside England.

Czech Republic, who are also in the group and face England on June 22, are also yet to decide on their stance, but have previously opted to point to the words ‘UEFA Respect’ on their football shirts as a mark of solidarity against discrimination. 

Taking the knee was at the centre of ugly scenes in Budapest on Tuesday evening when Ireland players were roundly booed by home supporters for adopting the stance. 

Hungary chose not to take the knee on Tuesday, while their fans booed Ireland for doing so

The 7,000-strong crowd at the Szusza Ferenc Stadion jeered Irish players, as Hungary players continued to stand – pointing to the ‘Respect’ logo on the sleeve of their jerseys. 

Speaking after the game, Ireland boss Stephen Kenny said: ‘The fact it was booed is incomprehensible, really, and it must be damaging for Hungary, with the Euros in Hungary. It’s disappointing and it doesn’t reflect well on Hungary, really, on Hungarian support. It doesn’t reflect well.

‘Our players wanted to do it. It’s important. It’s an important stance and I commend them for taking that stance.’ 



Turkey – No confirmation, but not take the knee in recent games

Italy – No confirmation, but did not take against Czech Republic

Wales – Will take the knee

Switzerland – No confirmation, but did not take knee in recent games


Denmark – Will take the knee

Finland – Will take the knee

Belgium – Will take the knee

Russia – Will not take the knee


Netherlands – No confirmation, but players have been vocal in their BLM support

Ukraine – No confirmation, but no evidence to suggest they will

Austria – Will take the knee after joining England in act of solidarity during friendly

North Macedonia – No confirmation, but did not take the knee against Kazakhstan


England – Will take the knee

Scotland – No confirmation, players and staff to hold discussions

Croatia – Will not take the knee

Czech Republic – Will not take the knee 


Spain – No confirmation, have avoided gesture in recent friendlies

Sweden – No confirmation, have avoided gesture in recent friendlies

Poland – Will not take the knee

Slovakia – Will not take the knee


Hungary – Will not take the knee, as was the case against Republic of Ireland

Portugal – No confirmation, but did take knee in recent Spain friendly

France – No confirmation, but star players are in favour of taking the knee

Germany – No confirmation, but did not take the knee in recent friendlies

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