Joey Barton gave Show Racism the Red Card an indepth interview, discussing religion, anti-racism and the EDL.
Show Racism the Red Card interviewed Joey Barton on 18th October. The footage will form part of our new anti-racism film. Watch a preview on SRtRC's YouTube Channel.
What are your views on racism and how it manifests in things like football?
I think it is ignorance or a fear of what people don’t know and don’t understand. I think there was a lot of prejudice, there was when I was growing up, but through football you are very fortunate to have some different people as some of your best mates with different philosophies.
Football broadens your horizons massively because all you know is what you grow up with and what you are told from the people around you. It’s only when you grow up and make your own opinion on life that you can get to see a different side of it. I think, through intelligence and being open minded, you really become aware of all different races or creeds and embrace them for what they are or what is out there. I also think it makes you a better person.
In terms of your upbringing in Liverpool, did you mix with many people from other backgrounds or religions and did you experience racism around that time?
I grew up in a place called Huyton and there were no black people in our school; we had a couple of people who had Asian backgrounds, but that was it. Liverpool as a city is very multicultural – a mate of mine Kevin Nolan is from Toxteth, which is probably one of the most multicultural areas in the country.
You were aware of it but, even as an Evertonian [going to Goodison regularly], you weren’t completely immersed in it and there wasn’t really a great deal of it. That was both positive and negative but you didn’t really know enough about it to form an opinion on it.
You talk about being a regular at Everton and in the late 70s early 80s, football was one of the worst areas for racism, with people like the National Front having a large presence there. Did you get a sense of that when you were going to games?
I missed all that but I’ve seen documentaries about football from that time and the problems there were.
I remember playing with Shaun Wright-Phillips when we went to Montenegro to play for England U-21s and I’d never heard any racist chants [before]. Shaun and Jermain Defoe were on the bench while I was playing; there was only one stand in the ground and I remember the whole stand, or a vast majority of it, while the guys were warming up, doing monkey chants.
Now we’d never seen anything like that and I remember all of us on the pitch standing and looking at each other thinking "what’s going on?" It was strange to see it and that was the first time I had ever come across it as a professional footballer, I remember thinking, "wow". In my mind I was thinking, after I came away from there, that this is what it must have been like in England 20-30 years ago.
It was very, very difficult to deal with it as a white person, even though it wasn’t directed at me and it was strange, very, very strange. It definitely made me think “What’s this? Why did they do this?” and the only conclusion I can come to is a lack of intelligence and understanding. Hopefully great campaigns like Show Racism the Red Card can reach people and transcend sport to show people what is out there if you are susceptible to other cultures.
What do you think it is that makes somebody pick on somebody and be racist? What makes a bully?
I think that’s a human trait and at school kids have that in them, to pick out something different about someone. I’m not saying it’s a good trait but I think it is something that is in all of us and I think it comes from a defensive stand or insecurity on your part. If you’re making fun of someone else and laughing at them or pointing out their weaknesses, then you are shying away from you as a person.
I was guilty of that for a long time until I did a lot of human development work to find out about myself, because I was erring quite a bit. I was forced to address my own issues and did a lot of behavioural development on why we did things, why we say what we say and act how we act – a lot of it came from a lack of knowledge. A lot of the behavioural traits I had came from a deep-rooted insecurity or a lack of understanding or a lack of intelligence about what was going on.
The more people are educated about what goes on and what can happen, I think the better for society in general. It’s certainly shown in football grounds now; I mean it is a much better theatre to play in for all races.
The targets for racist views have changed a lot in the past few years, where racist organisations like the BNP and EDL know you can’t pick on black people so they have been targeting Muslims. This has seen a huge rise in Islamophobia over the past few years – have you ever played with any Muslims players?
Yes, I’ve played with lots but you wouldn’t know because it’s just what they choose to do. Your beliefs are your beliefs, it is what it is and there is a strange cultural issue we have in society where you will always get these right wing groups that will try and exploit people’s ignorance or lack of education and understanding – I think there is always an element of society like this.
I know firsthand because I was out in a bar a couple of weeks ago and I got my picture taken with someone, but I found out afterwards that he put me on his Facebook page and said I was a member of the EDL! I’d never heard of this organisation but I think they have tried to do something similar with Katie Price as well and use public figures to promote themselves. To me it shows how desperate they are and how much of a minority they are in this country – it actually reaffirmed everyone in this country how marginalised they are and how everyone in this country sees through the crap that they are putting out there.
So did you not have any idea about Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s affiliation with the EDL at the time?
This is the frustrating thing about the situation, which is massive; I’d rather have known and had a conversation with him and tried to educate him. I would have tried to find out his mindset because I’ve spoken to people about it and he claimed I was part of the English Defence League or something preposterous like that.
I have to be careful because I saw the fallout from it was coming through on my Twitter feed, and it is key with this interview that we don’t raise awareness of them. If I had commented on it or mentioned him or name-checked him, it would have served his purpose and raised awareness in his minority group. For me it was important in how I handled the situation; I had to put out there that it was lies but without personally shooting him down or name-checking because it would of served the purpose of what he originally did.
This was an attempt to raise awareness, good or bad, in his cause and their right wing ideologies, which are nonsense but it is their opinion and thankfully there are only a minority of them. I would have loved to have known who he was to have a conversation with him and find out why he thinks the way he does, just to give me a better grasp of educating people.
He was interviewed on Newsnight by Paxman and there is no doubt he is an intelligent person who knows what he is doing. He believes the Koran is evil and that within the book there are writings that back up the idea that people should be terrorists, which is complete rubbish. The Koran is like the Bible and most holy books in that they tend not to be about violence, but peace. The EDL’s view is essentially that all Muslims should be thrown out of Britain and that we should have an all white society.
This is the hypocrisy of the situation because what does he think a true white Englishman is? They don’t exist; we’re a makeup of Anglo-Saxons, Celts, Normans – we were a multicultural society before we were even civilised. I just don’t understand it, maybe I am not intelligent enough, but from what I know there is no such thing as a true English person.
You just want to have a conversation with these people. I think in any Democracy there should be a freedom of thought and if that’s the way they want to think, whether we like it or not, we have to say it is there way – all we can do is keep our side of the street clean.
It is not for me to go and force my opinions on anybody else; it’s for me to say this is how I see things, what’s their interpretation of it? There are no facts, only interpretations.
We were talking about football earlier and you thought someone played really well and I didn’t; we could read the same book and have completely different views on it. There is an element like that to our society, which is quite nice because we are always asking questions of each other. But there’s also an element to our society that is the far right, which will always try and exploit things.
I think Muslims get a massively unfair shake of it and I think there is a fear factor involved in it, which goes back to what I said earlier about a lack of understanding. There is good and bad in every society, good and bad in every religion, but it is sensationalised.
I was in the Westfield a couple of weeks ago and couple of guys came up to me and we were just chatting about football. It turned out they were Muslims so they started telling me about the Koran, were just having a debate and it was great, they also said I should go to a mosque and see what it is like. I would love to but I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed in or whether you had to be a Muslim to go; they told me this wasn’t the case and that anyone can go to Mosque.
I told them that I wasn’t going to be converted because I have a lot different beliefs. My belief system isn’t strictly Roman Catholic, which I was brought up as, it is just mine and personal to me. I think that if that makes me a good person to be around or a good human being, then I think it is irrelevant what race I am, what colour, what religion. As long as you are a good human being, that is all that matters at the end of the day.
Do you think that an ignorance of Islam and what is represents is part of the problem with rising levels of Islamophobia?
I do, yes. Lots of people thinking of Muslims think of Al-Qaeda and that’s because it’s been sensationalised. It’s insane; nobody thinks of catholic people and then automatically thinks of the IRA. Many think of Muslims that way because it has been sensationalised and drilled in with propaganda. It’s the fear factor that has driven it, which is disappointing but thankfully there are people savvy enough to see through it and question what they’re told.
Unfortunately that’s not everyone so through fear and a lack of understanding, these right wings groups are able to form. Where there are intelligent people who are quite free thinking and quite socially or culturally aware, you don’t get these groups who are able to exploit a margin of the population.
What do you think of Show Racism the Red Card and the campaign we carry out?
I didn’t know the background to it, but I was obviously aware of it as we’ve held up the placards, seeing magazine articles and all the clubs doing it mutually. I think it’s a great cause and having that impact, getting out there to educate is what it’s all about. I also think there are a lot of players out there who have a voice and have an opinion but hold it back to fall in line – I’ve been on record before as saying that if you’ve got an opinion and you don’t voice it, you might as well cease to exist.
I think it’s important that high profile figures and high profile sportsmen and women use their profile to educate people, especially those who may not have been reachable via politicians or family members but have a massive interest in football players – or in music and musicians, or any other sport.
I think it’s part of what we do and the fact we can have an impact we can have on society positively as well as negatively, because all people seem to jump on is the negative stuff but the positive impact high profile sportsmen can have on society is to educate and help the process for people to stop and question things and become interested in the campaigns they are involved in. Try and enlighten people to show them there is a different way from what they’re being told or a different way from what they have learned before.
Do you hold any religious views yourself?
I struggle with religion and what I am told about it; I am not an Atheist but I also don’t think I am a Catholic, I don’t think I’m a Muslim, I don’t think I’m a Buddhist, I don’t think I’m a Jew – I don’t know what I am! I’m a mixture of all of them. My beliefs are in humans, in being a human being, in being a good human being and trying to be good to your fellow man, regardless of ehnicity, skin colour or religion.
I think if all those barriers came down and a lot more people thought like that, we’d have a lot less problems in this world.
So for me there is a massive issue with religion, because there are a lot of people who have done a lot of bad things and committed a lot of atrocities in the name of religion – going way back to the crusades to the modern day Al-Qaeda. Religion is responsible for a lot of the wars in the world and I think if a lot of it came down and people forgot what team they were on then we would be a lot better off as a society.
There are people out there who do believe in religion; I do believe in something, I am not an Atheist. I have a few friends who are Atheists and a few friends who are of all different religions where I hear a lot of different opinions on it, so I am very fortunate as a human being to be able to sit here and say, “I listen to all of peoples’ opinions and then go away to make my own interpretation of it”.
People forcing it on me and telling me to live like this or that is not what I am about, I am accountable to myself as a person. So when I lay my head down on my pillow at night, or meet my maker, whatever it is at the centre of this universe, whether it is nothing, the one person I have to live with for that entire journey is me. So if am not happy with the person that I am, or I don’t truly believe in what I am talking about, then it is very difficult for me to be at ease with myself.
That in turn becomes “if I don’t like myself, how can I like anybody else or expect anyone else to like me?” What I think we should all do is have a massive look inside and firstly find ourselves; find the true person inside yourself. Be happy with that person and then go and maybe try and educate people into being better or trying to get them to see the way of the world.
If my neighbour is a Christian or a Muslim, a Hindu, a Sikh, a Jew, a Buddhist, whatever he may be, as long as they is a good person that is all that matters to me. I’ll judge him solely on that that and there is good and bad in all races and creeds, but sometimes they’re sensationalised or propaganda gets hyped up so we get fearful and make rash decisions. Fortunately there are a lot of people out there who are too good as human beings and too intelligent to let sensationalist propaganda affect their way of thinking or the way they live their lives.
There will always be a minority of people who think differently and, as a democracy, we have to embrace that. It’s not always perfect, it’s not always exactly how we want people to think but that is the true beauty of a multicultural and democratic society.
It would be easy to form preconceptions of you, but they have proven to be completely wrong! The media definitely portray you in a certain way don’t they?
The thing is, I can yes they do but there’s the side of me that’s behaved the way I’ve behaved. So I can’t be accountable for what the media say about me, all I can be accountable for are my own actions.
Huge thanks to Joey Barton for this interview and to Queens Park Rangers FC for their support. We also interviewed Alejandro Faurlin and DJ Campbell.