There are times when you are lucky enough to see a really good player perform his stuff for Liverpool. But then you are really privileged to be fortunate to see a truly special player. An icon. A club legend. One of the best players in the world of his time. That accolade belongs to John Barnes. John “Digger” Barnes was absolutely brilliant. On this day, 9th June 1987, Liverpool parted company with £900,000 to secure the services of Barnes from Watford. And wasn’t that money well spent.
Before his transfer however there were some wranglings before he actually put pen to paper. It was well documented during the 1986/87 season that Barnes was on his way to Liverpool. However, as the season progressed stories were circulating that Barnes preferred to remain in the South of England. Or, go abroad. Whatever the story was exactly was not the main issue for Liverpool fans. Liverpool fans felt that he was stalling and that he was holding out for a better offer. Whether that be from a London club. Or from Italy.
No need to worry in the end though as John Barnes did sign for Liverpool on 9th June 1987.
His reported uncertainty or hesitancy was quickly dismissed by Barnes once he signed. And, if there was any hint of truth in the rumours, the fans soon forget the saga as soon as he pulled on the red shirt. He was sensational from the off.
He was still only 23 when he signed for Liverpool and yet he had already played 233 league games for Watford. In these 233 games he managed to score 65 league goals. That’s some going for someone as young as 23. the reason however is self explanatory really. He played that many games at the age of 23 because he was so good at 17. It was in early September that John Barnes made his debut for Watford against Oldham Athletic. He came on as a sub in the Division Two game. Division Two of course in those days being the equivalent of today’s Championship.
In fact it was an incredible step up by Barnes from the July to September in 1981. He only signed for Watford in mid July 1981 from Middlesex League club, Sudbury Court. They weren’t even anywhere near top tier non-league. The fee Watford paid Sudbury Court? The amazing cost was the fee for a new kit for Sudbury.
Wrexham 0, Watford 1 – 22nd September 1981
I mention this game because I was actually at this match. A very good friend of mine, Simon Hunt, was making his home debut for Wrexham at the age of 18. So, a gang of us went along to watch Simon. Playing for Watford that night was, you guessed it, John Barnes. Watford won 1-0 with a Les Taylor goal. I remember it well. Through against the keeper, he chipped Wrexham goalie, Eddie Niedzwiecki at the Wrexham end.
John Barnes himself had a stormer. As did my mate Simon. Ironically enough there was a football boot that came out called Barnes Stormers in honour of Digger a few years later. I think I’ve still got a pair somewhere.
A Privilege To Watch John Barnes
As I said earlier in this post, it was an absolute privilege to watch John Barnes in his pomp. His strength, his pace, his skill, his tactical awareness…..and so on. Later in his Liverpool career he moved to a central midfield role. This was after he suffered a series of horrendous injuries. In his midfield role you couldn’t get the ball off him. When he was playing as a wide man in his early days, he was unstoppable. As we used to say about Luis Suarez some years later, “he could nutmeg a mermaid”.
Barnes best goal for Liverpool? Hard to say, but probably the one that stands out most for me was his second in a 4-0 demolition of QPR at Anfield. QPR and Liverpool were vying for top spot in the early parts of the 1987/88 season. That was until QPR came to Anfield and were totally hammered.
Goals by Craig Johnston, John Aldridge and two from John Barnes saw us win comfortably. It was Barnes’ second goal that caught the imagination though. When he ran from the halfway line on a mazy dribble and coolly slotted past David Seaman in the QPR goal. You can see both of John Barnes goals in that game below.
In all John Barnes made 407 appearances for Liverpool, scoring 108 goals.
He Wouldn’t Get The Ale In Though
During his spell at Liverpool, Barnes lived just outside Chester. He was seen around town quite regularly. On one such occasion I saw him in a wine bar after I got back from a midweek game. Barnes came in with Michael Thomas and Rob Jones. I never got to speak with either of them, but on one occasion when I went to the bar to get a round for me and my mate, the barman asked me what did I want.
Only joking, I looked over at John Barnes with a puzzled look on my face. When (not unsurprisingly) Barnes didn’t respond at all I said to the barman, “Bloody typical. He does this all the time. £10,000 a week and he leaves me to get the ale in!!”
Anyway, a couple of hours or so later and I was just finishing off my last drink. My mate had just left and there was only a few left downstairs with probably only a handful upstairs. After swigging my last mouthful I went to leave my empty glass on the bar. As I did so I said “Goodnight” to the barman who happened to be the same barman who served me earlier.
The barman said, “are you not waiting for your mate?”.
I thought my mate Gary had gone a few minutes earlier so I was a bit puzzled (completely forgetting the exchange I had with the barman).
“Hey?”, I said to the barman.
With that he moved to the bottom of the spiral stairs in the middle of the wine bar. I followed him intrigued. I didn’t know Gary had snook back in I thought. As I was standing at the bottom of the stairs, the barman shouted up to the few that were still upstairs standing by the stairs, “here you are John, here’s your mate here”.
At which point I looked up only to see John Barnes peering at me from the top of the stairs. He looked hard before exclaiming, “Who the f**k are you?”, or words to that effect.
“Goodnight all”, I hastily announced and promptly exited the wine bar.
I do have another John Barnes funny story involving father and son friends of mine, but I’ll leave that for another time.
Great Player And Great Ambassador
Yes indeed John Barnes was a great player for Liverpool. Where does he rank in the list of best players? Hard to say, but he’s up there in the top few. Not only a great player but a great ambassador for the game of football itself. I’ve often wondered why Barnes has never worked for us after his playing (and his short managerial career) came to end.
Maybe one day. Thanks for the great memories Digger and thanks for the bevvy…….not!!!