John Barnes – A personal tribute to a world class winger

John Charles Bryan Barnes (born 7 November 1963) is an English former footballer, rapper and manager, who currently works as a commentator and pundit for ESPN and SuperSport. A fast, skilful left winger, Barnes had successful periods at Watford and Livepool in the 1980s and 1990s, and played for the England national team on 79 occasions. In 2006, in a poll of Liverpool fans’ favourite players, Barnes came fifth; a year later Four Four Two magazine named him Liverpool’s best player of all time.

Born and initially raised in Jamaica, the son of a military officer from Trinidad, Barnes moved to London with his family when he was 12 years old. He joined Watford at the age of 17 in 1981 and over the next six years made 296 appearances for the club, scoring 85 goals.
He made his debut for England in 1983 and four years later joined Liverpool for £900,000.

Between 1987 and 1997 Barnes won the then top-flight First Division twice and the FA Cup twice with Liverpool, scoring 106 goals in 403 matches. By the time of his last appearance for England in 1995 he had been capped 79 times – then a record for a black player. After two years with Newcastle United, he ended his playing career at Charlton Athletic n 1999.

Barnes moved to Scotland to become head coach of Celtic in 1999 with his former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish as director of football. This was not too successful and a shocking Scottish League Cup deafet against Invernes prompted Barnes to be sacked in 2000. Since then Barnes has managed the Jamaica national team in 2008–09 and the English club Tranmere Rovers for four months in 2009.

During his playing career Barnes was named the PFA’s Player of the year twice (in 1987–88 and 1989–90) and the Football Writers Association Footballer of the Year once (in 1987–88). In the run-up to England’s 1990 FIFA World Cup campaign he recorded a rap for the official team song, New Order’s “World in Motion”. In 2005 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A most personal note

At the tender age of eleven my mum and I went to England and Wales for a summer holiday. My mum had been an au pair in Wimbledon, South London, for a rich lawyer, his wife and cildren for a year before I was born. By 1982, when we went on a summer holliday to England and Wales, my mum had several penpals in England, and she also had a good relationship to her former au pair employers who had by now moved to the little village Newport between Cardigan and Fishguard on the western coastline of Wales, where they lived in a very large and old mansion. We also visited pepalsof my mum, one of whom lived in Watford and the other in Preston. Ever since then I have followed Watford and Preston North End’s progress as football clubs, and I was quite amazed when Watford first got promoted to the First Division and ended up second in the league behind Liverpool F.C. immediately afterwards, in 1982/83. They also reached the F.A.Cup final in 1984, a final Everton won 2-0. What amazed me the most about Watford was the attacking partnership of John Barnes and Luther Blisset – only two of a lot of black footballers getting their break-through in England in the early 1980s. Cyrille Regis was another great forward I will never forget. At the time only Nottingham Forest’s Viv Anderson used to play for the England national team at times, but he had stiff competition with English full backs like Phil Neal and Kenny Sansom at the time. And yes, let’s not forget about the racism in English football at the time. –

I was only twelve years old when I got my first article published in Liverpool Supporters Club Scandinavian Branch’s members’ magazine, and it was an opinion article in which I was very critical towards Bob Paisley who had been quoted as saying he didn’t trust black players, that he thought they were lazy and not very competitive. As if great players like Garrincha, Pelé, Eusebio, Jairzinho, Viv Anderson, Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, Thomas N’Kono, Emmanuel Kunde, Roger Milla, Teófilo Cubillas, Junior, Jean Tigana, John Barnes, Luther Blisset and so on and so forth were lazy and not very competitive?!! Utter rubbish, I wrote, and lots of much older (adult) Scandinavian Liverpool supporters agreed with me. Our Liverpool manager Bob Paisley should never have said such a thing about a player of colour, this just didn’t make sense.

John Barnes left Watford on 9 June 1987 in a £900,000 deal to join Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool, after making 233 League appearances for the Hornets and scoring 65 goals. He joined at the same time as England team-mate Peter Beardsley and linked up with new signings John Aldridge and Ray Houghton to form one of the most formidable attacking lines of Liverpool’s history, which was completed a year later when Ian Rush re-signed for Liverpool.

Just before John Barnes left Watford, manager Graham Taylor had departed to Aston Villa to be succeeded by Dave Bassett who had resigned himself to losing Barnes to a bigger club. He offered Alex Ferguson the chance to sign Barnes for Manchester United, but Ferguson rejected the opportunity to sign John Barnes as he still had faith in United’s left winger Jesper Olsen. This was revealed in Ferguson’s autobiography Managing My Life in 1999. Ferguson has since expressed regret at not signing Barnes.

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Plenty of Scouse Liverpool supporters were not convinced John Barnes would do well in their famous Liverpool team, as no other black player had ever really made the grade for us priviously. Howard Gayle was the very first black player we ever had, but he would soon be off-loaded by Bob Paisley as other and better players were signed. The Toxteth born winger only played 5 Liverpool games, including 61 famous minutes against Bayern Munich in the European Cup. I myself, on the other hand, was certain John Barnes would be a better signing than the much more expensive new signing Peter Beardsley would be, and I do believe I was right in thinking that at the time. In actual fact, I do not think I need to say much about John Barnes’s skills as a player to make my inital point here clear enough. Of all the big sigings made in 1987, John Barnes simply needs to be regarded as the very best of them. But yes: having been signed in January 1987, only to keep playing for Watford until the summer, John Barnes actually had to try to win over lots and lots of doubtful Liverpool fans before he joined his new team-mates at Melwood, receiving hate mail and also getting reports about Liverpudlians not wanting him to arrive. Why? Because he was (still is and will remain) black. But again: John Barnes is and remains a legendary figure both for Liverpool fans and English football fans in general, and his really making it in a big club like Liverpool F.C. really meant something for black players in the English league system: his really making it, like he did, in a great fotball team consisting of world class players, paved the way for other black players to making a big move like the one he had done, joining Liverpool from a much smaller club down south: Watford F.C.

John Barnes, alongside Luther Blissett in the attack, had by the time he was signed by Liverpool, had for six years had monkey hoo hoo noises coming from the crowds at all times. He had also had bananas and other fruits thrown at him by the English football ground crowds. Racism in football was very usual in Great Britain throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and didn’t quite come to an end until long after John Barnes had a banana thrown at him as he played for Liverpool during a Merseyside derby game against Everton. John Barnes famously flicked that banana off the pitch with a back-heel kick, but more importantly, the newly signed Liverpool winger just might be the first black player in England to really be recognized as one of the truly great black players in (or from) England. John Barnes actually made it easier for other black footballers to become great players for a variety of English clubs, and today race no longer is a big issue when it comes to players in The Premier League. The monkey sound chants are gone by now, but John Barnes is not alone in saying the obvious either: there might be a lot of black players around in England, but where are the black managers and coaches at? Certainly not very often in the UK. John Barnes himself had rather a short stint as Celtic’s head coach in Scotland under the club director Kenny Dalglish in the 1999/2000 season, but was sacked after a few months. It didn’t even matter that Barnes’s win ratio was better than any win ratio racked up  by club legend Jock Stein: Barnes was very soon sacked! Much later, from September 2008 to June 2009, John Barnes was the Jamaica national team head coach, where he actually won the CONCACAF Caribbean Championship. He then moved on to the English League 1 side Tranmere Rovers. After only eleven league games as Tranmere Rovers manager, winning only two games, Barnes was sacked, and that just might be his last given attempt at managing an English league club.

One might ask the question why such a lot of black players are considered good enough for Premier League sides, but only as players, not as managers, not as coaches. Does it make any sense? I think not. No, really!

 

Past, present and future intertwined

John Barnes may have had a fantastic career. Both as a player and a person he may have had his share of bad experiences. He has also loads of good ones. Like scoring that goal at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro with England. John Barnes’ very first goal as an England international player. Great moment. Ending up second in the league with Watford in 1983. Great moment. Winning the league title with Liverpoolin 1988 and 1990. Great moments indeed. Hillsborough was one seriously bad experience, now, wasn’t it? 15 April 1989. F.A. Cup semi final against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. All those funerals, all those victims, all those victims’ families. Quite an extreme lot of people. It really is utterly horrible. It’s in the past, but also, as things stand, very much in the present and – until that rag no one in Merseyside reads – is no longer for sale in the entire United Kingdom, this also belongs to the future. This, as a matter of fact, is very important. And what occurred in August 2016 certainly was a major error.

Empire of The Kop explains: ‘Controversy as Liverpool legend picks up S*n newspaper & reviews it’

John Barnes is one of Liverpool’s greatest ever players, that much is sacrosanct. The legendary winger tore up trees for us in the 1980s and 1990s and is one of Anfield’s favourite sons as a result.

But he’s made a mistake here. Not one that won’t be forgiven, and not one that should damage his legacy, but a mistake nonetheless.

Appearing on the Wright Show, Barnes was part of a panel reviewing the morning’s papers – and after being asked by presenter Matthew Wright: ‘Right, John what quotes do you want to take?’ he says, ‘I want to take one from the S*n’…

Barnes though has explained that this wasn’t his choice but already set by the producers and researchers of the show.

‘The fact that I am speaking about it [The S*n] does not mean I am endorsing it. I was reviewing all newspapers and one of them was the S*n. We review all the newspapers that day but it’s not about the paper,’ he told the Echo.

Barnes has done well to claim he won’t make the same mistake again, but in fairness – he probably should have issued an apology too. It’s not about ‘not liking the S*n’. It’s about showing proper respect to the families of the 96 who died.

He was on the pitch during the Hillsborough disaster and has an emotional connection with the tragedy and subsequently the city’s relationship with that newspaper. In reality, he should have known better.

To myself and all others it is very easy to remember all the stick former players (even a former manager) Mark Lawrenson and Graeme Souness has had in Liverpool because of their dealings with that rag. On the other hand all Liverpool fans were amazed when our German manager Jürgen Klopp decided not to speak to a journalist from that ugly Rupert Murdoch publication after Liverpool defeated Barcelona in a 2016 preseason match at Wembley. What is more, never has David Thompson been more popular than after he quit his well-paid TV job because of a business takeover by The S*n as this season kicked off. These were signals John Barnes should have sensed, okay?

Back to the former player.

June 1992: Finland vs England: an international friendly at the eve of Euro 1992: John Barnes gets injured and is sidelined for a year. He was 28 years old, and the sustained calf injury made him lose some pace, some agility and some technical skills. He had to become a new kind of footballer. He could no longer be the winger with lots of flair and high pace, but would from now on be a central midfielder. Once again, Barnes was kind of lucky, having new players like Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler coming through the ranks. Liverpool F.C. still had players almost like him in his preferred positions, but – as is said – it was a life-changing footballing moment. He had to become a different player. His best footballing years were undoubtedly over and done with, but he could still be a very important Liverpool player even though his fantastic dribbling skills, his great pace and fluidity of running was lost. In all honesty, before that calf injury was sustained, John Barnes was just as good a left winger as George Best ever was, and I might also add Stanley Matthews to this: John Barnes was the left wing equivalent of the very best English right winger witnessed to date. I don’t know, dare I name 1960s Brazilian superstar Garrincha as well? Heck, I just did. –

The Digger was the 1987 – 1992 Liverpool magician, these days so easily comparable to Philippe Coutinho, only Barnes was quite a lot better in terms of consistency. Not seen as an England legend, he will no doubt remain a Watford and Liverpool legend so long as there are football fans left on planet Earth – and that’s forever.

One thought on “John Barnes – A personal tribute to a world class winger

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