John Barnes Poetry in motion by Anneliza Walsh

"Combining vision, panache, skill, grace with mercurial beauty that defied logic at times. John Barnes was undervalued, and an underappreciated ambassador for our sport, who remained humble at a time when society wore a racism mask. An absolute legend, who made an impact on the game that went way beyond goals and silverware, and Sir Kenny Dalglish the man to bring him to Anfield in 1987."

-@EpiphanysP on Twitter.

John Charles Bryan Barnes MBE was born on November 7th 1963 in Jamaica. He was the son to a military officer from Trinidad and Tobago and a Jamaican mother. He was initially raised in Jamaica and spent much of his time in Jamaica’s military base where he played a lot of football and this was where his passion for the sport really ignited.

His father Ken Barnes was an avid sports fan having played semi-professional football for a local club in the Jamaican league and who’d also captained the Jamaican national team. He was heavily involved in numerous other sports and gave as much encouragement as he could to his son to follow his passion and pursue his career in football. It turned out John's father had actually named him after the Welsh footballer John Charles!

When John was 12 years of age his father received a promotion to Defence officer of the ‘High Commission of Jamaica/ London’. John and his family then made a permanent move to London where John attended St. Marylebone Grammar school, then moving to Haverstock school in Camden and played youth football for four years at Stowe Boys Club in Paddington. He went on to join Sudbury Court football club in 1980 and was quickly scouted by Watford for his undeniable talent that he possessed. After a successful trial Barnes signed for Watford on the 14th of July 1981.


Barnes made his debut for Watford on the 5th of September 1981 and by the seasons end Barnes and Watford had gained promotion to top flight football in the English league after finishing runners-up to rivals Luton town. Watford had achieved an incredible feat by gaining promotion through four divisions in five years. What an achievement and Barnes was hailed for his contribution to the teams success that year netting a total of ten goals.

The following 82/83 season Barnes and Watford continued to impress finishing coincidentally runners-up to Liverpool in the league. Even though Barnes finest season at Watford was his debut one, he still continued to dazzle and amaze fans everywhere with his talent.

In the 84/85 season Watford reached the final of the FA cup against Everton, but unfortunately they were beaten 2-0 on the day. In the 1987 season Watford reached the semi-final of the FA cup only to lose to Tottenham. Barnes was now getting restless and wanted to test himself at a higher-profile club and the speculation was mounting through the football world as to which big club would sign the superstar. Barnes went on to play 295 games for the Hornets scoring 65 goals. Arguably the most gifted player ever to wear the yellow shirt of Watford. The Hornets had unhidden an absolute gem in the skilful winger and this gem was on his way to Anfield.

Arguably the most gifted player ever to wear the yellow shirt of Watford. The Hornets had unhidden an absolute gem in the skilful winger and this gem was on his way to Anfield.


John Barnes joined Liverpool FC on the 9th of June 1987 for £900,000 deal. Sir Kenny Dalglish was the manager at the time. Barnes went on to make his debut on the 15th of August ’87 against Arsenal at Highbury playing with some of the greats such as Peter Beardsley and John Aldridge. They instantly sparked up an unstoppable partnership and went on to become a dynamic trio and the Kop began to witness some of the most entertaining football English terraces had ever seen.

Barnes made an immediate impact and it took only nine minutes for him to set up Aldridge with a goal. Barnes debut goal came just a month later where the Red's beat Oxford United 2-0 at Anfield. He had already established himself as a fan favourite and onlookers were genuinely mesmerised by his talent and skills that he displayed. Dalglish said after the game that

“John did exactly what I expected him to do. He created a goal and scored one, and entertained. I was delighted with his performance.”

Playing as a left-winger he had the perfect combination of strength and skill which was his forte along with his superb left foot which proved to be a menace to other teams. His debut season for the Red's was like a fairy-tale as everything Barnes tried seemed to work, his dribbling, his tricks, his timely passes all made an impact during games. Liverpool FC as a whole had fallen in love with this gem and this was only the start of his LFC career.

Liverpool continued to be a major force in the League completing a 29 unbeaten run of games and ultimately clinching their 17th title. They did however reach the FA cup final but suffered a defeat in the final to Wimbledon failing to complete the double that season. In saying that, what an incredible debut season for the new boy John Barnes or ‘Digger' as he was nicknamed. Not only did he win a League title medal on his debut season he also went on win ‘Player of the year' which was thoroughly deserved.

On the downside John went on to sustain racial abuse which was widespread not only in the stadiums, but across the country. The Jamaican born star was the first high-profile black player to grace Anfield back in the 80’s. Barnes proved to be a catalyst for change and the racism had to change. He didn't so much as break down racial barriers as sweep around them and let his skills on the pitch do the talking. His skills along with his pace, and perfectly weighted passes mesmerised fans and this in turn silenced the abusers to an extent. John continued on as a true professional as if these racial taunts didn’t phase him. Not even a banana throwing incident which occurred during a Merseyside Derby perturbed him as he just back-heeled the fruit of the pitch and continued on playing

“This pioneer suffered a lot of racial abuse yet carried on to produce moments of pure magic, a true legend.” - @ac111991 on Twitter

“A magical winger that could dazzle with his mercurial wizardry“ - @RoryFitz9 on Twitter

"One of the most gifted footballers of his generation” - @Thomas03647968 on Twitter

John continued to perform at a consistently high level in the 88/89 season displaying some breath-taking football which could only be described as pure brilliance. “A magical winger that could dazzle with his mercurial wizardry“ and "one of the most gifted footballers of his generation”.

His intelligent football brain allowed him to dictate play with the minimum of movement, doing short, sharp, and measured passes which became the key component to his outstanding game and he only conceded play on very rare occasions.

"Some players set standards despite huge odds, some achieve greatness through dedication and raw talent but occasionally someone comes along who changes the way the game is played. John Barnes ripped up the coaching manual and spat it out!" - @digitalgoonie on Twitter

Success in the FA Cup that season was sweet, beating rivals Everton in the final and certainly made up for the defeat the previous year. Liverpool also went on to win the Championship with Barnes finishing top scorer with 22 goals, and going on to win the FWA ‘Player of the year.


In April of 1989 after the horrific events of the Hillsborough Disaster where 96 innocent men, women, and children lost their lives at a football match during the semi-final of the FA Cup, John Barnes attended many funerals of the victims and visited many of the injured in hospital. He pulled out of his international duties to fulfill these kind-hearted sentiments and pay his respects. This is the type of man he is and it was one of the reasons he has been loved so much at Liverpool.

Ninety six gone but never forgotten!


The following 89/90 season was to see Barnes join Ian Rush in the forward line as Aldridge had been dropped to the bench following Rush's previous return from Juventus. Barnes took over from Aldo as the clubs penalty taker. Even though the team was playing inconsistently throughout the first part of the season Barnes continued his superiority and continued scoring goals netting 12 goals in 20 games, and in the second half of the season netting 16 goals in 25 games bringing his tally to 28 for the season and finishing top scorer ahead of Ian Rush. Barnes was voted ‘FWA Player of the year’ again and Liverpool won the Championship in style finishing nine points ahead of Aston Villa. Barnes scored a hat-trick on the final day of the season in a match against Coventry winning 6-1 on the day.

Liverpool won the first 14 games of the 1990/ 91 season and on the 8th February 1991 Liverpool were in the familiar top position in the league. Liverpool drew 4-4 with Everton in an exciting FA Cup 5th round replay. One day before Liverpool were due to play Luton, Barnes was on his way to training when he received the shocking news that Dalglish had resigned. Liverpool’s title chase petered out and they slipped down the table leaving Arsenal to pick up the spoils. Disappointing for the club but Barnes still had a good season, scoring 18 goals in 45 games.

Graeme Souness took the helm at Anfield at the start of the 91/92 season. Barnes got injured in the 2nd league match of the new season suffering an Achilles tendon injury which kept him out of contention until the following January. The injury unfortunately had consequences on his fitness and John admitted in his biography, that the injury affected him by dulling his acceleration, affecting his ability to push off from a standing position. He managed just 12 matches that season and Liverpool finished sixth in the league, their lowest finish in two decades and the first time since 1981 that they failed to win the Championship or be runners-up. However even though Barnes suffered a calf strain, he played a huge role in getting his team to the final of the FA cup. Unfortunately he missed the final but Liverpool became the victor’s over Sunderland.

Liverpool supporters greet the team as they return home after their FA Cup Final victory against Sunderland at Wembley Stadium in London. Liverpool won the match 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport (via Getty)

Souness’s hard discipline style of management wasn't exactly appreciated by the senior players in particular. This caused tension between many players and the manager at the time. Robbie Fowler admitted that Souness had said that Barnes was past his best but many of the younger players strongly disagreed with his opinion. In fact many of the younger squad members including Fowler, Redknapp, and McManaman hugely benefited from training and playing with Barnes at the time and felt honoured to be playing with such an influential talented player who was one of the greats that Anfield had ever seen and still had so much to offer.

Barnes was widely regarded as one of the best players in the world. Unfortunately though due to the Hysel disaster Liverpool were banned from all European Competitions which denied John playing against the cream of the crop until the ban was finally lifted. Liverpool had qualified for the 91/92 UEFA cup and this was Barnes first chance to play in Europe as a Red since his time at Watford.

In June of ’92 while on International duty Barnes ruptured his Achilles tendon in his right leg which kept him side-lined until November and Barnes was forced to change his style of play having had problems with his play when taking off from a standing position from previous injuries. He was now playing a more central role as a central midfielder.

Barnes went on to sign a new contract with LFC in ’93 knowing that it would take some time before he would be back to his best. Playing in Europe was a dream of his but he knew he wasn't ready to compete as such a level until he was fully fit.

In the following 92/93 & 93/94 seasons it was obvious to see that he had been robbed of his electrifying pace but Souness persisted with him, actually encouraging him to play to the best of his ability and at the same time criticising him behind his back. Souness went on to resign in the January of ’94 probably much to the relief of Barnes as the pair had had a turbulent relationship over the years. Roy Evan’s took over as manager. Under Evan’s Barnes and the younger teammates of Fowler, Mcmanaman, and Redknapp began to play some attractive football together and Liverpool were starting to look like real title contenders again.

In 1995 season Barnes had completed converted into a holding midfielder and he along with Redknapp and Mcmanaman began to pass their way through teams and set up goals. They challenged for the Premier League that season and went on to win the League Cup against Bolton. Barnes created Mcmanaman’s first goal in the 2-1 victory. Barnes had captained the side that season many times as Ian Rush had lost his place to new boy Stan Collymore which urged Rush to leave and join Leeds United giving Barnes the full captaincy. The following season after reaching the final of FA Cup Barnes which he had envisaged himself lifting as captain of Liverpool but the Red's suffered a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United on the day.

The ‘96/97 season saw Barnes get off to an impressive start. He was starting to look more like the old Barnes and was playing much more attacking football than he had done in previous seasons. On the 24th of April Liverpool played their semi-final in the European Cup Winners Cup against PSG at Anfield but PSG went on to win 3-0 on the night. A few changes were made for the second leg and Barnes was dropped for the first time in his ten-year career at LFC.. The Red’s did themselves proud and even though they didn't reach the final they did manage a courageous 2-0 win on the night, The Red's had done their best.

Barnes last ever goal for the Red's was scored against Manchester United in a 3-1 loss that ended their title hopes. Barnes remained on the bench for the last three games of the season but did make an appearance as a sub on the final day against Sheffield Wednesday. Liverpool fell from second to fourth and Paul Ince was bought from Inter Milan in the summer who took over the captaincy from Barnes. Barnes believed however that Ince was not the solution to their problem.

On the 13th of August 1997, after ten breath-taking years, 407 appearances, 108 goals, and seven major trophies John Barnes left Liverpool with his head held higher than imaginable.

"Within weeks of joining Liverpool and making his debut, he had already become the best player within the countries best team, and even after ten years of unparalleled success he had seamlessly made Liverpool football club go to another level." - @SiWard2505 on Twitter

Jamie Carragher was just coming through the ranks around the same time saying:

“Despite Barnes supposedly being past his peak by then at the age of 34 he was still the best player at the club. Technically he was the best player I’ve ever played with. He was great with both feet, they were both exactly the same and I’d say he’s the best finisher I’ve ever played with. Barnes never used to blast his shot- they’d just get placed right in the corner. You speak with the players from those great Liverpool sides and ask them who was the best player they ever played with and they will all say John Barnes.”

"John Barnes will be forever remembered as a player who ran the centre of the pitch with utter commandment. He was a brilliantly skilled ball controller. He’d fight to win the ball once on the defensive side to win back possession and never retrieved from anyone or any tackle. A complete Red that will go down in Liverpool FC's rich history forever." - @Ffcsw6Thorpe on Twitter

John Barnes of Liverpool in action during the pre-season friendly match against Linfield at Linfield, Ireland. \ Mandatory Credit: Clive Brunskill /Allsport (via Getty)


John Barnes signed for Newcastle on a free transfer having been signed for the second time in his career by Sir Kenny Dalglish who was the manager at the time. During his time at Newcastle Barnes played as a forward as Alan Shearer was out with a long-term injury. He finished as top scorer that season netting just 6 goals which was an indication of how much Alan Shearer was missed at the club. Dalglish drafted in Ian Rush and Stuart Pearce to try improve the squad. Pearce later went on say that Barnes was overweight at the time and both himself and Rush should've had more edge to their game than they displayed, blaming the fact that the two had already won everything they desired!!!

Newcastle United line up for a group photo before the UEFA Champions League match between Newcastle United and Barcelona at St James' Park on September 17, 2001 in Newcastle, England. Back row (left-right): Shay Given, Steve Watson, Jon Dahl Tomasson, John Barnes, Keith Gillespie and Philippe Albert. Front row: Faustino Asprilla, Warren Barton, Rob Lee, David Batty and John Beresford. (Photo by Professional Sport/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Newcastle managed to reach the final of the FA Cup. Barnes featured in the game and this his fifth time in his career to grace Wembley’s showpiece end of season finale. Unfortunately they lost to Arsenal on the day suffering a 2-0 defeat. The Magpies finished the season in 13th position, a less than successful campaign for such a club which led to the sacking of Dalglish early in the 88/89 season leaving Roud Gullit to take the reins at the club. Barnes and many of the other players were dropped from the first team by the new manager. Gullit and Barnes who had previously worked together didn't see eye to eye and it left Barnes feeling unwanted at the club. Barnes decided to leave Newcastle on a free transfer and headed for newly promoted Charlton Athletic.


John Barnes signed for Charlton Athletic on the 10th of February 1999 and made his debut for the club just three days later against Liverpool where they went on to win 1-0 on the day. Barnes only made eleven appearances all season and the majority of these were as a substitute. Charlton found the top flight too much for them and finished the season very poorly enduring relegation ending back down in Division one.

John Barnes now 35 years of age decided it was time to hang up his boots and announced his retirement from playing football after a career that spanned over 20 years of jaw dropping talent, and could be described as:

"A footballer with uncanny ability, somewhat a servant, to create and make the sublime seem simple...just magical!" - @HatintheRing17 on Twitter


John Barnes was always likely to stay in the game at some capacity, however it did come as a surprise to many when he was appointed as manager of Celtic in ’99 under Kenny Dalglish who was the director of the club at the time at Parkhead. Barnes time at Celtic was a not a happy one and didn't exactly go to plan. Although John was still registered as a player, he never took to the field himself. Celtic suffered a shock defeat to minnows Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup in the February. Barnes received his marching orders shortly afterwards. He returned to his native land and set up coaching clinics in Jamaica and also worked as a part-time scout for Sunderland.

Jul 1999: Celtic head coach John Barnes during their pre-season tour of Norway. \ Mandatory Credit: Stu Forster /Allsport


In September 2008 John Barnes returned to management when he appointed as the Jamaican manager. Jamaica went on win the 2008 Caribbean Cup as the hosts but failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, and on the 3rd of June 2009 John resigned to return to club football.

Jamaica coach John Barnes looks on during the International friendly match between Nigeria and Jamaica at the Den on Feruary 11, 2009 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)


Tramere Rovers were a League one team when Barnes took over as manager replacing Ronnie Moran. Jason McAteer was appointed as his assistant manager. The start to the 2009/10 season was abysmal with just three wins in their first fourteen games. The pairing of Barnes and McAteer took a lot of stick, and it was with no surprise that Barnes was sacked soon after a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Millwall. McAteer also left the club at the same time as Barnes.


Born a Jamaican John Barnes always had plans to play for England where he spent most of his life. Barnes made his debut for England under Bobby Robson on the 28th of May 1983 where he came on as a substitute in a match against Northern Ireland with the game ending in a 0-0 draw.

On the 10th of June 1984 Barnes scored an exceptional goal against Brazil after he glided past five Brazilian defenders before rounding Roberto Carlos and slotting the ball into an open net from ten yards. Barnes recalls:

“ The Brazilians never put in a tackle but maybe they were shocked and thought that no Englishman could do this and thought - let him have a shot."

With the whole world watching on, John Barnes even at such a young age had mesmerised the football world everywhere, but this came with huge expectations at the same time for such a young man.

After scoring such a sensational goal Barnes did go on to feel added pressure on his shoulders as a result, and he felt that he was expected to repeat such brilliance on a regular basis. In 1986 Barnes featured in the World Cup and his performance against Argentina in the quarter-finals of the World Cup could have destroyed Maradona’s World Cup dreams. Maradona scored the famous "Hand of God" goal against Peter Shilton and four minutes later he scored his second giving Argentina a 2-0 lead against England. Barnes came on as a substitute with 16 minutes to go and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact. He passed the ball to Gary Lineker who went on to score. Three minutes later Barnes flew down the flanks again and passed the ball only for an Argentinian defender to knock it off the goal-line and Argentina went on to win the World Cup.

In 1988 Barnes was involved in the European Championship in Germany however, having had a much more free role at Liverpool, he was told to stay put out on the wing by Bobby Robson and was starved of receiving the ball as he was accustomed too. Barnes went on say that he felt the system he played with for England was extremely rigid rather than his usual patient passing style of play. He also claimed that some games he would only receive the ball six or seven times during an entire match. England finished bottom of the group after receiving some shock defeats as a result. Barnes received unbelievable criticism in the final match against the USSR.

In the lead up to the 1990 World Cup Barnes played up front alongside Gary Lineker as a striker and went on to score and create goals. The fans had great expectations of what Barnes could hopefully achieve at the World Cup. He scored a perfectly legitimate goal which was amazingly deemed offside during a match against Belgium, and during the second half of the match he picked up a groin injury which he couldn't shake off. England went out to Germany in the semi-final. Barnes missed out on playing in the 1992 European Championships due to injury, and in his absence England failed to progress beyond the group stages.

After the resignation of Graeme Taylor many believed that Barnes and his International career were coming to an end and even though new manager Terry Venables sited his faith in Barnes to continue, John Barnes played his last ever match for England against Colombia on the 5th of September 1995. Barnes had received a total of 79 senior caps scoring 11 goals in total.

"Players like John Barnes are of a very rare breed of sportsmen, combining grace, power, athelecism and natural talent, giving a team a dynamic and creative dimension, the likes of whom have been very rare in football." - @RedFan1965 on Twitter


Before I do my own summing up of this Legend, I asked LFC fans on Twitter to describe John Barnes in one sentence. However, few gave me sentences - most gave me short stories, but I don't blame them as trying to sum John up in a sentence is near impossible. The descriptions I received were mind blowing, and I wish I could have included them all. You will see throughout the article the red links are those of fans, and if clicked on, you will be linked to back to their own Twitter accounts. I’ve also included more below as the standard was too high to leave out. The link on Sir Kenny Dalglish will bring you back to a superb article.


"An absolutely stunning player to watch. He didn’t run with the ball, he glided with it brushing his opponents away with ease, mercurial." - @VoiceUK

"The man that could rise above racial injustices of the time and through his footballing skills, empathy, and kindness inspire a new generation of young footballers." - @goodvibes638

"John Barnes was the reason I feel in love with football. His vision, creativity, and finishing were all the stuff of dreams, and to this day, he is for me- the best player to have worn the liver bird in my lifetime." - @ashah1975

"John Barnes combined outrageous skill with a professional attitude, and will stay in the hearts and minds of Red fans for this. His strength and support to the families of the Hillsborough disaster will never be forgotten." - @MeatIsmurder70

"If football was an Information Technology field, then John Barnes would've been a System Architect! Simply sublime!" - @rithwikrajendra

"Barnes could produce magic that sometimes defied logic." - @MPBFirmino9

"Truly gifted footballer, he had it all, speed, power, and vision. Who can forget Barnes when he graced the wing of the pitch dribbling past all opposing defenders, and threading the ball on a plate. The ultimate pick for free-kicks. Magnificent!" - @JimmyK1975

"He's still to this day, the best player I've ever seen play live, he could tear teams apart on his own, unplayable nearly every game, and consistently brilliant every week. In my opinion one of Liverpool's top 5 greatest ever player." - @matthewholdswo9

"As a kid I remember watching John Barnes. He just stood out from everyone on the pitch. He played with a guile, an elegance, that just caught my eye. I didn't know any teams or care who won, I just loved what he did." - @babuyagu

"John Barnes defeated racists as easily as he did defences. The abuse aimed at him didn't matter one iota as his professionalism and love for football ensured he went about his duties on the pitch in awe inspiring performances, regardless of bananas being thrown." - @DJPAULBURKE1

"Barnes was the outstanding winger of his generation who went on to become the epitome of coolness as a central midfielder, rarely losing possession and frequently causing mayhem of a different kind amongst the opposition." - @jimlfc1969

"A superstar who peeled the bananas of hatred with his mercurial gifted feet." - @Anfield_Talk

"Mercurial, mesmerising, magical, and fleet footed. He dazzled us with his breathtaking ball skills. A very intelligent footballer who took a lot from the critics but always gave his best for LFC. We were gifted to have him as one of our own." - @sam_valoo

"An absolute powerhouse, with class and personality and skill who rose above the racism. He brought joy to the game and the club. A true Liverpool legend." - @auriole_wells

"Absolutely brilliant and the most underrated player in world football. When Barnes was as his peak, he was denied playing in Europe due to the English ban. Imagine his status then, and his change in position after his Achilles injury was pure genius." - @Exposure_Sport

"Pace, power, poise, piercing left peg and scored every type of goal similar to Suarez, either with his foot, a header, free-kicks, just Exquisite team goals!" - @mrjnh07


“You don’t need in-depth knowledge to figure out that John Barnes is one of the most gifted players ever. He’s so talented, exciting, and dangerous as opponents are painfully aware of what he can do.
"Kenny signed him and saw how he could benefit the whole team. John is a naturally left footed player but when he’s dribbling the ball with pace you can’t tell. He’s good enough to play in many positions and will wander on the inside of the heart of the opposing defence.
"When he has the ball at his feet it stays there. His control is one of the most natural things in the world to him and his strength stops him from being bumped off the ball. Few challenges do anything to disturb his brilliance and John can beat players by pure stealth, as well as power, and pure speed. He is an all out world-class team player”

Wow, now my turn! And to be honest, there is very little left for me to add to these amazing analogies and compliments for one of the most talented and influential world-class players ever to grace Anfield.

From my own personal perspective, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing John Barnes play at Anfield on many occasions, and I know this word has been used a lot but when he was on the ball he seemed to glide down the pitch. It's the perfect description and was even otherworldly at times. The excitement when he got the ball reached right inside you and there was an this unbelievable presence about him especially watching him play right in front of you. that you could feel in the stadium. There was something very special about him and the atmosphere he created. He also exuded a sense of calm on the pitch which rubbed off on the whole team. Without doubt, he was the player that had us fans in awe and was definitely the player you wanted to see first on the team sheet before the game.

An absolute true professional, and an inspiration to not only to the younger players, but to young people in general. Lastly, I would like on behalf of LFC fans to thank John Barnes for being an amazing servant and ambassador to our club. You gave 100% every time you donned the Red shirt and we were truly blessed to have you grace LFC for ten breathtaking years. A true LFC Legend if ever there was one.


I will leave you with this beauty Red's, Enjoy! John Barnes you Legend,

Finally, I just want to say a huge thank you to all the fans on Twitter who helped and featured in my article. You blew me away with the response and I wish I could have included them all. It was so much appreciated.

by Anneliza Walsh

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