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INTERVIEW: Kick It Out’s Earl Barrett

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

One Game, One Community took place in October and Kick It Out’s ex-England international Earl Barrett (Oldham, Villa, Everton et al.) took a few minutes out to tell us a little more about the work he and Kick It Out do.

The FSF: Most Football Supporters’ Federation members know about Kick It Out, but many might not know what the One Game, One Community weeks of action are about. Can you tell us more?

Earl: The strength of the weeks of action comes from its ability to engage a huge section of society, including fans, community groups, schools, libraries and the professional game, all in support of the One Game, One Community message. In total around 1,000 events take place including a day of action where both the home and away teams warm-up in the One Game, One Community t-shirts. But it’s key to point out that it goes above and beyond simply wearing the shirt. Opportunities lie everywhere to actively get involved.

All 92 professional clubs are involved whether running an event, players wearing t-shirts, balloon releases, or an article in the matchday programme. I recently delivered a coaching session to the winner of the weeks of action education competition at the Strachan Football Foundation. It was a great surprise, and a thrill, to see Gordon Strachan actually there and a great time was had by all. With a huge take up at grassroots level, too, it’s at this level where we make significant impact.

The One Game, One Community weeks of action coincided with alleged incidents of racism involving Luis Suárez and John Terry. Do you also work with clubs and players to challenge racism and other forms of discrimination?

Yes, we work very closely through the Football League and Premier League, as well as the FA and the PFA, to ensure a positive message of equality is ‘front of mind’, and also for players to report incidents as soon as they take place. I appreciate this isn’t always possible, but the mechanisms are in place to ensure abuse doesn’t go unpunished.

Has the football industry done enough to fight racism?

It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that we have come a long way in combating racism and all forms of discrimination, but recent events do highlight there is perhaps more we can do.

With the important qualifier that there’s no room for complacency, widespread racism in the stands or on the pitch is largely a thing of the past. Should the focus shift to challenge other forms of discrimination such as homophobia?

The landscape of football is changing and we need to ensure we evolve with it. High profile allegations demonstrate that the journey isn’t quite yet complete and that challenges and questions are being posed in this arena constantly. It is by working with organisations like the FSF, that we can try and keep it in check.

Your professional career began in the mid-80s, what do you think the differences are for a young, black player coming through the ranks now?

In my day fans racially abused me, but I did not think there was anyone that I could talk to about the issue. These days there are policies against racism and discrimination, as well as support structures via the union, the club and here at Kick It Out. We’re always keen for groups and individuals to share this information with us. We will always do what we can to help.

Is it right that you’re about to gain your UEFA ‘A’ License?

Yes, in fact I have now completed my UEFA ‘A’ Licence. Although the learning process never stops, I am extremely delighted to say that I am an ‘A’ Licence coach.  Thank you to the staff and players at Huntingdon College, where I was assessed.

You’re on the record with your frustrations at the number of rejections you’ve received when applying for coaching positions. Are boardrooms still racist?

I have been racially abused by fans but have never experienced racism in the limited amount of times I have been in a boardroom. I do wonder, though, as I’ve heard of situations where this has occurred.

Can the ‘Rooney Rule’ work in British football?

The policy employed in America’s National Football League was named after Pittsburgh Steelers chief, Dan Rooney, and ensures at least one ethnic minority coach is interviewed when a head post becomes vacant.

There is no onus or pressure to employ the candidate thereafter, but it simply allows him to outline his reasons for suitability for the role. In the past this platform may not have always been available so it’s something I would welcome. I know Kick It Out has been very active in this arena for a number of years now.

Who are the best players you played with and against?

The best players I have played with would include Paul McGrath, Dwight Yorke, and Dennis Irwin. The best players I faced would include Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, and Lothar Matthaus.

You were good enough to play for England three times, something 99.999999% of people can only dream of. Do you look back on that with fondness, or regret that you never got to play more?

I enjoyed my time playing for England and it was a proud moment to represent my country in professional football. I am quite philosophical regarding it and think regrets are for people who could have done more to achieve and never did, for whatever reason.

The decision to play for England ultimately wasn’t mine; it was the manager’s. I did the best I could to reach those dizzy heights and got there. Even when I wasn’t selected I was striving to get back. But that’s life. It’s a period I reminisce about with fond memories.

Wikipedia tells us (and Wikipedia’s never wrong, obviously) that you had three nicknames through your career. The Pearl, Perlinho, and the Earl of Barrett. True or False? The Earl of Barrett has a nice ring to it…

As you say, although Wikipedia is never usually wrong, I was never called any of those names! I have been called many things, most I would not like to say, but “Early B” will do thank you.

Earl, thanks for your time and keep up the good work with Kick It Out.

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