Watford legend John Barnes has backed footballer Wilfried Zaha's statement that he will not 'take the knee' - saying that he would not take it if he was playing today.

The Crystal Palace footballer said he believes kneeling before matches is "degrading" and has become "an empty gesture".

Kneeling before Premier League and EFL matches has been a symbol of support for the Black Lives Matter movement since the death of George Floyd in the US after a police officer kneeled on his neck.

But the 28-year-old forward feels he should "stand tall" in the face of racism, and said wearing Black Lives Matter on his shirt made him feel "like a target".

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace v Watford - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - March 7, 2020  Watfords Ismaila Sarr in action with Crystal Palaces Wilfried Zaha     Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge  EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No us

Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace v Watford - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - March 7, 2020 Watford's Ismaila Sarr in action with Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No us

Zaha in action against Watford last season

He told Thursday's Financial Times’ Business of Football summit: "Obviously I’ve said before that I feel like taking the knee is degrading and stuff because growing up my parents just let me know that I should be proud to be black no matter what and I feel like we should just stand tall.

“We’re isolating ourselves, we’re trying to say that we’re equal but we’re isolating ourselves with these things that aren’t even working anyway, so that’s my stand on it. I feel like we should stand tall and now I don’t really tend to speak on racism and stuff like that because I’m not here just to tick boxes.”

He added: “Unless action is going to happen, don’t speak to me about it.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's World at One programme, Barnes, who signed for Watford in 1981, said he would not take the knee if he was a player today.

John Barnes-Watford       -stock         Season 86/87 .Pic:Action Images.

John Barnes-Watford -stock Season 86/87 .Pic:Action Images.

John Barnes. Action Images

He said: "In terms of making a tangible difference, it doesn't make a difference to actually having a positive outcome to getting rid of racism.

"I'm not interested in highlighting it. I'm interested in stopping it and that comes from education, that comes from analysis and dialogue as to why people are racist to begin with, and the fact that you are taking knee is highlighting it, it doesn't mean that that is a solution to the problem."

The England and Liverpool striker said he did not mind if people took the knee because they felt they wanted to highlight racism.

Asked if he felt talking the knee was an obstacle to progress, he said the problem was "more nuanced".

He added: "It's not really an obstacle, but it can muddy the waters into thinking that something is really being done."

Barnes also cited Brentford striker Ivan Toney, who recently said players are being used "as puppets" after the clubs players announced they will no longer take the knee before matches.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Watford v Liverpool - Vicarage Road, Watford, Britain - February 29, 2020  Former player John Barnes  REUTERS/David Klein  EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos

Soccer Football - Premier League - Watford v Liverpool - Vicarage Road, Watford, Britain - February 29, 2020 Former player John Barnes REUTERS/David Klein EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos

Barnes at Vicarage Road when Liverpool played Watford in 2020

Barnes added: "I have always said, football can do nothing to change perceptions of black people, it has to be a societal issue. All football can do is highlight the problem.

"To actually make a tangible difference, that is when we really need proper education as to why people discriminate in the first place.

Asked if he agreed with Zaha's use of the word degrading, he said: "I don't think it's degrading. The point he was making was that he's talking about standing tall. He may have used the wrong word in terms of thinking you are bowing down to it.

"What he's actually saying, which is true, which I believe in, is when you receive racist abuse be bigger than that. When I was growing up if I received racist abuse in football matches or any kind of abuse, I would not allow those ignorant people to affect me in any shape or form so I would completely dismiss them.

"Of course we're now being told, that's not what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to walk off the pitch, you're supposed to complain, you're supposed to fight against it, instead of ignoring it.

"The point he's making is that by standing tall, by ignoring these idiots, they will soon go away, but that's not what we are being told to do in this day and age."

Barnes added that engaging with racists on social media gave them the platform they craved. And he suggested this might be one reason racist abuse of footballers was still an issue.

He said: "They don't (go away) because we're not ignoring them are we? Because we are doing things like this.

"They want the profile of them being spoken about. So of course the more you engage with them the more they do it.

"Obviously everybody feels there's a different way to deal with things. But what we're doing is not working, highlighting and highlighting and highlighting is not working. Kick it Out has been around for years, spent millions, it's not working. We have to think about an educational programme to make people know why it's wrong to do it. Not just a fine when they get caught."