Belfast Telegraph

John Barnes says Liam Neeson treatment will stop football fans being honest about racism

John Barnes came to the defence of Liam Neeson in a Sky News interview.
John Barnes came to the defence of Liam Neeson in a Sky News interview.

Former England footballer John Barnes has said fans who racially abuse players at games are less likely to come forward due to how Liam Neeson was treated amid his racism controversy.

Last week, the Ballymena-born actor was branded a racist after he said in an interview that once he walk the streets armed hoping to kill a black person after learning that someone close to him had been raped.

"I did it four, maybe four or five times, until I caught myself and it really shocked me, this primal urge," he added.

"It was shocking. It shocked me and it hurt me. I did seek help, I went to a priest."

Speaking after Sky News polling showed almost nine in 10 football fans have seen a racist incident at a game, John Barnes said fans should have been asked if they've ever racially abused players.

He said: "They have to not be afraid to admit that 'yes I've done it because of the way I've been brought up, I was wrong to think that and I've sought help. I'm disgusted. I'm ashamed of myself.' Somebody did do that - that was Liam Neeson and look at the outcome of that.

"So therefore people are now going to be more afraid to come forward and it has to start the conversation as to who has actually done it, without being afraid of coming out and saying 'I can't help it, that's how I was brought up and I was wrong' - but that conversation needs to be had."

Liam Neeson was widely criticised for his remarks, which resulted in the red carpet event for his new film being cancelled and him pulling out of a US chat show, and later attempted to explain his comments.

"I'm not racist, this was nearly 40 years ago, but because I was brought up in the north of Ireland, I was brought up in the Troubles in the sixties, seventies and early eighties," he said.

"There was a war going on in the north of Ireland and I had acquaintances who were involved in the Troubles.

"The bigotry, one Catholic would be killed, the next day a Protestant would be killed, one Catholic pub would be bombed and a Protestant pub would be bombed. I grew up surrounded by that. But I was never part of it."

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