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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
VOICE OF OUR FANS
"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
BOB PAISLEY'S THOUGHTS ON JOHN BARNES
“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”