During his stellar career as a professional footballer in England, John Barnes played for England 79 times, scoring 12 goals. He was a member of the Liverpool team that won the league title in 1988 and 1990, the Football Association (FA) Cup in 1989 and 1992, and the League Cup in 1995. He was the first black player to win the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year award in 1988; he also won the prestigious Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Footballer of the Year award that same year. His professional career lasted 18 years, all but one season of it as a member of teams in the highest league division. John is often remembered by English soccer fans for his stunning individual goal for England against Brazil in 1984.
John Barnes was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1963, and moved to England as a child. He was spotted by a talent scout from Watford FC while playing soccer in a park and made his professional debut for the team in 1981. By the following season Watford had been promoted to the English first division (now the Premiership). Watford flourished under manager Graham Taylor and so did Barnes. He was a member of the team’s impressive 1983 European Cup campaign and in the following year enjoyed second place to Liverpool in the league as well as collecting an FA Cup finalist’s medal.
By then he had come to the attention of England coach Bobby Robson, making his international debut in 1983. But it was in 1984 that Barnes became an England regular when he scored a remarkable individual goal against Brazil on June 10, 1984, at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Barnes collected the ball at the halfway line and beat five Brazilian defenders to score one of the most memorable goals ever achieved by an England player. He went on to play 79 times for England, scoring 12 goals, but despite some notable contributions his best performances always seemed to come at club level.
Even so, Barnes’s England career was long and at times dramatic. As a player he could turn games around with his power and pace and had the ability to energize a whole team. For example he was brought on with 15 minutes to go against Argentina in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals when England was 2-0 down and Barnes single-handedly dismantled the Argentine defense, setting up a goal and a missed chance for teammate Gary Lineker. But by the early 1990s England was a team of underachievers and Barnes became the focus for the fans’ discontent.
When Graham Taylor moved away from Watford in 1987 Barnes also left and joined Liverpool, one of the most successful English clubs of the decade, for a fee of £900,000. His time at Liverpool brought him many awards and accolades, including two league titles (1988, 1990), two FA Cup winner’s medals (1989, 1992), two runner’s up medals (1988, 1996), and a League Cup winner’s medal (1995). In his most successful season, 1989-90, he made 34 appearances and scored 22 goals, an outstanding tally for a midfield player. He was rewarded for this performance in 1990 when he was named Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year for the second time. Two years earlier in 1988 he had been the first black player to receive award and also picked up the Professional Footballers’ Association Footballer of the Year award.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.
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