John Barnes MBE

Since retiring from football, the Jamaican-born former footballer has become a manager and commentator on ESPN and SuperSports. 

 

John Barnes MBE soccer legend speaker at Great British Speakers

There has been a no finer sight in football than John Barnes in his pomp gliding down the wing.

For talent and grace alone, he's an automatic choice in any hall of fame; but his impact on the game went far beyond goals and silver.

The Jamaican-born dribbler was the first high-profile black player to grace Anfield back in the 1980s, a time when racial abuse echoed around stadia across the land.

Barnes, alongside contemporaries such as Lawrie Cunningham, Cyril Regis and Viv Anderson, was a catalyst for change.

He didn't so much break down racial barriers as sweep around them at pace with the ball at his feet; always poised, always enthralling. The intense scrutiny which followed his £900,000 move from Watford in June 1987 didn't put Barnes off his stride as he set about winning over the locals.

Arriving alongside fellow attackers John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley, the trio had Anfield purring from day one, and over the next few seasons 'full house' signs became a permanent fixture outside the Kop gates as the team endeavoured to play some of the most entertaining football English terraces have ever seen.

An awesome blend of strength and skill, Barnes ensured a front row seat in the Kemlyn Road or Paddock was one of the hottest tickets in town.

A stunning free-kick against Oxford on his home debut – an occasion delayed three weeks due to a collapsed sewer under the Kop – was followed by a superb solo strike against QPR.

Not even an infamous banana-throwing incident in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park could knock him off key. In true Barnes style, he back-heeled the fruit off the pitch.

His sweet left foot was to prove the downfall of many a team as Liverpool took football in this country to new heights, completing a record-equalling 29-game unbeaten run and, ultimately, clinching a 17th league title.

Unsurprisingly, Digger walked away with both 1987-88 Player of the Year accolades but defeat to Wimbledon in the FA Cup final denied him and his teammates a dream double.

On reflection, his first season at the club was his finest but Barnes continued to perform at a consistently high level over the next nine years.

Success in the 1989 FA Cup final against Everton went some way to make up for the deep disappointment of losing at Wembley 12 months previously, but victory on this occasion was tainted by the tragic events at Hillsborough in the semi-final.

A third successive campaign of breathtaking brilliance from Barnes in 1989-90 helped secure another Championship. He top-scored with 22 league goals and was again voted FWA Player of the Year.

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