Date: 31st March 2015 at 1:15pm
Written by:

Ever hear, or read, something so inane, so obviously nonsensical, that it makes you want to bang your head against the wall?

I felt that way the other day, reading John Barnes telling the world that his race played a part in his being sacked at Celtic, and a role in his not landing a high profile job since he was kicked out of Tranmere back in 2009.

I wonder where he gets that delusional idea from, but as long as he’s not hurting anyone (but his own reputation) under most circumstances I would simply shrug my shoulders and say “if he believes that it’s up to him, but he’s talking through his backside.”

Yet this one is different. For a start, he’s talking about my club here, which forces me to jump in.

Secondly, he’s got support from the Kick It Out campaign … which, to me, is just ridiculous.

I remember the day John Barnes was appointed; a guy with no background in coaching, no previous managerial experience, not even for a reserve side.

When Kenny Dalglish announced that he was bringing Barnes to Celtic Park as part of his “dream team” some in the media praised it as an adventurous exciting development whilst others said it was a huge risk. Debate amongst the Celtic fans was fierce, with many on one side and many on the other.

No-one anywhere, that I heard, made mention of race. It wasn’t a factor.

Football had already moved past that stuff, except for a handful of knuckle-dragging supporters who give the whole sport a bad name.

It was certainly not an issue at Celtic.

I know that I am speaking for the vast, vast, vast majority of our fans when I say that the only criteria that matters to us is whether or not a player can play the game well and whether a manager or a coach can organise a team.

Race, religion, ethnicity, nationality …. What the Hell does any of that matter at all?

We embrace everyone. We shut out no-one.

That’s part of our identity as a club, as I’m fairly certain John Barnes knows well.

Everyone knows what happened at Celtic Park on the night of the Inverness Caledonia Thistle Scottish Cup replay. Our performances had already been slipping. We were on the downslope of an horrendous season. He was playing a system that few could understand, and players were struggling to adapt.

That night, he lost the dressing room completely, in a demonstration of weakness no major figure in the game would have put up with.

When he didn’t walk voluntarily the next day, with the writing on the wall, Celtic had no option but to fire him.

He was out of his depth, and I felt great sympathy for him then and now, although I agreed with what had to be done.

I have always blamed Kenny Dalglish for that, for throwing this inexperienced, but very decent guy, in at the deep end, for making a crazy, and indefensible, decision and actually multiplying it with a mad signing policy that delivered the notorious Rafael Schiedt to our door.

John Barnes was not the right guy for the job, but you can only blame him for so much. He tried his best, but it wasn’t nearly enough and it was never going to be.

Had he gone from Celtic and learned from that experience, chastened, forced to review his time there in a proper way, to gain some insight, I think he may well have gone on to become a decent boss at a mid-table level. But I’ve always felt he spent too much time looking outward, for someone to blame, for reasons other than his own lack of abilities.

That never fosters good behaviour. It makes things worse.

His time at Tranmere was a disaster, and again he learned nothing. Instead he’s spent every minute since doing what he did at Celtic Park, casting around for someone to point the finger at and hiding behind his race as an excuse for his actual failings.

Now he might well have a valid point about the small number of black managers in the game, but he could have changed perceptions by encouraging more black players to get involved in coaching and going for their badges, becoming a good example, and providing a cautionary tale for others who wanted to move up.

Learn your business. Don’t run before you can walk. Take it slow, take it steady, build your reputations first.

All that would have been good advice. It has been serving managers well since the birth of the game. Our own coach, Ronny Deila, is young for the business, but he’s learned through solid graft and putting in his time on the training pitch and elsewhere.

Instead, John Barnes has made his failure into a racial issue, and thus has spent the last few years telling other black guys that it’s pointless, that their progress will be stifled, that they will not be properly respected or considered worthy, that they will not make forward strides because of their skin colour.

It’s nonsense, frankly, and has probably done more to dissuade good candidates from trying to pursue that goal than he will ever be aware.

That is the real tragedy of John Barnes’ time at Celtic Park and his actions since.

There might have been a time when footballers weren’t signed because they were black, or managers weren’t hired because of the same, but in the financially insane results driven business that football has become I think you could probably get away with being a maroon coloured child beater these days and forge a profitable career in the sport if you possessed the right skill-set.

The reasons people don’t get hired, or do and get fired, are pretty self-evident. The good ones last. The dreck don’t.

In short, Barnes wasn’t sacked because he is black. He was sacked because he was crap.

He was given the jobs at Celtic and Tranmere on the back of a sterling reputation as a player, and that reputation was big enough that I’m fairly sure no-one had to look him up in the Football A-Z before he was offered the job. In short, I’m sure they knew which John Barnes they were getting.

“Oh yeah, winger who used to player for Liverpool.”

“That’s him. Black fella.”

I’m sure the conversation went nothing like that.

They didn’t care that he was black.

Being crap, on the other hand … well that was a bridge too far for his gaffers.

That’s what Barnesy needs to face up to, and until then he would be doing a greater service to those he wants to see succeed in the game if he just shut his mouth … or at the very least, found something positive to say.