Sunday, July 1, 2007

100 Person Who Shock The Kop - NO 5: John Barnes


Voted in at number five in our '100 Players Who Shook The Kop' series is one of the most entertaining wingers we've ever had the privilege of watching at Anfield, the great John Barnes.
Four years after our ground-breaking '100 Days That Shook The Kop', we are delighted to invite you to enjoy our new '100 Players Who Shook The Kop' series – the definitive countdown of the 100 players who have made the biggest impact at Liverpool.

Over 110,000 supporters have all nominated their own personal Top 10 players in order of impact made and now the definitive top 100 countdown is underway.

Every player who has made the top 100 – and there are some surprises in there - will be honoured on this website via the e-Season ticket console with a specially produced video clip, including archive footage and exclusive interviews.

Since 1892 hundreds of players have represented this club but everyone has their own particular favourites so don't expect this list to be based solely on talent. The greatness of a player can be measured in many ways – obviously, his ability on the pitch is the most important, but 100 PWSTK is much more than that. It's about the impact the individuals chosen have had on this club, be it for a variety of reasons. Maybe it was because of their unique rapport with the crowd, a specific incident that has never been forgotten or anything else that has left a lasting impression.

Name: John Barnes

Years at Liverpool: 1987 to 1997
Position: Winger

Date-of-birth: 7/11/1963
Birthplace: Kingston, Jamaica

Signed from: Watford (June 1987)

Games: 407
Goals: 110

Honours: First Division Championship (1987/88, 1989/90), FA Cup (1989), League Cup (1995), Charity Shield (1988, 1989, 1990), Football Writers Player of the Year (1988, 1990), PFA Player of the Year (1988)

At his scintillating best in the late 1980's, there was no finer sight in football than that of John Barnes gliding down the left flank in a Liverpool shirt. One of the most exciting wingers of all-time, Barnes enthralled the Anfield crowd and ensured 'full-house' signs became a permanent fixture outside the Kop gates during one of the most entertaining era's in this club's history.

An awesome blend of poise, pace, strength and skill, when the Jamaican-born wide-man was in full flow he was quite simply a joy to watch and those privileged to have saw his sublime talent at close hand will forever cherish the memories.

With Barnes in the team, a front row seat in the Kemlyn Road or Paddock became one of the hottest tickets in town on an Anfield matchday. Whenever he gained possession an air of anticipation would sweep through the ground, anything seemed possible as he advanced towards goal and to a generation of Liverpudlians he's still regarded as 'simply the best.'

As the first high-profile black player in Liverpool history, a unique niche in Anfield folklore was assured before he'd even kicked a ball on Merseyside but the impact he made, on and off the pitch, following his £900,000 arrival from Watford in June 1987 was phenomenal.

Given the racial barriers that existed at the time, Barnes found himself the focus of intense scrutiny from day one of his Liverpool career but he took it all in his stride and quickly brought them crashing down, winning over the locals with his charismatic charm and amazing ability.

Despite the rubbish that had been written in the newspapers about his initial reluctance to join the Reds, Kopites took him instantly to their hearts, even though they were forced to wait three weeks for his home debut.

A collapsed sewer under the famous terrace delayed his Anfield bow but he'd whetted their appetite with a series of dynamic performances in Liverpool's first three away games of that momentous 87/88 season. Queues snaked around the ground and through the narrow side streets as fans clamoured to greet him and those lucky enough to gain admission were not disappointed with what they seen.

A stunning free-kick against Oxford set the pattern for a home campaign that was to yield a glittering array of magical memories – much of them stemming from the twinkle-toed trickery of Barnes. A superb solo strike against QPR a few weeks later sent his reputation soaring and confirmed his new-found standing as a Liverpool superstar.

Disgraceful racial graffiti that had been predictably daubed upon many walls across the city in the aftermath of his arrival slowly disappeared, and nothing was going to distract him from his number one objective of keeping the Liverpool fans entertained – not even an infamous banana throwing incident in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park that season.

In true Barnes style, he reacted by back-heeling it off the pitch and ultimately having the last laugh but continuing to let his football do the talking. He played the game to the backdrop of a samba beat, his South American-style technique leaving supporters transfixed and opposition defenders bamboozled.

His sweet left foot and intricate close control was to prove the downfall of many a team as Liverpool took football in this country to previously unscaled heights during their run to a record-equalling 29-game unbeaten run from the start of the league season and a comfortable 17th title triumph.

Not surprisingly, Digger deservedly walked away with the 87/88 Player of the Year accolades but defeat to Wimbledon in the FA Cup Final denied him and his team-mates their dream double.

On reflection, his first season at the club was his finest but Barnes continued to perform at a consistently high level and remained a true Kop idol as the Reds added more silverware to their bulging trophy cabinet over the next two years.

Success in the 1989 FA Cup Final against Everton went some way to making up for the deep disappointment of losing at Wembley twelve months previous but victory on this occasion was tainted by the tragic events at Hillsborough in the semi-final, a disaster that touched Barnes as much as any of Liverpool's longer serving players – such was the way he'd integrated himself into city life.

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 voted Player of the Year again. Critics of Barnes argued that he failed to replicate his outstanding club form for England but that was of little concern to Liverpudlians who continued to marvel at his magic.

Widely regarded at club level as one of the top players in Europe, if not the world, at the time, the ongoing European ban sadly denied Barnes the chance to test himself against the cream of the continent and so prevented him from emulating the medal haul of his illustrious Anfield predecessors.

The absence of Euro honours though should not detract from what a great player he was. The qualities he possessed would have saw him walk into any of the great Liverpool sides of the past – no lesser a figure than Bob Paisley once said as much – and he should rightly be spoken about in the same breath as the many legends that tread the Anfield turf before him.

An exemplary role model, the positive influence he exerted on the club's up and coming youngsters meant he was the ideal man to succeed Ian Rush as captain in the mid-nineties - the likes of Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler all benefiting from training and playing alongside him.

By this time, Barnes' role in the team had changed. The legacy of a serious injury and ageing legs had reduced his effectiveness as a flying winger who, at the peak of his powers, would scythe through opposition defences like a hot knife through butter.

But rather than bow out of the limelight, content in the knowledge that he'd already achieved greatness in a red shirt, Barnes moved inside and started pulling the strings from a central midfield position, his intelligent football brain allowing him to dictate play with the minimum of movement. Short, sharp, measured passes became the key components of his game and with him orchestrating proceedings possession was very rarely conceded.

Unfortunately, the glory days had passed, the team was going through a major transitional phase and no further honours were to come his way as skipper. Some fans questioned his role in the team and there were even calls for him to be dropped. He led the side out for the turgid 1996 FA Cup Final defeat to Manchester United but it was to be his last high-profile game for the club and after just one more season at Anfield Barnes finally brought the curtain down on his illustrious Anfield career.

He spent a total of ten years with Liverpool, was a pivotal member of the side throughout and just as the number seven shirt will always be associated with Kenny Dalglish, the number ten will forever belong to Barnes.

On the pitch, John Barnes helped take Liverpool's brand of football to previously unscaled heights of excitement, but in a wider social context the contribution he made to the club was even more enduring.

More than anyone, it was he who helped eradicate racism from Anfield and the legacy of that can still be seen today. Sadly, he also left behind a gaping void on the left flank of the Liverpool midfield that is yet to be suitably filled and it's going to take a special player to even go close to emulating him.

Sold to: Newcastle United (1997)

Claim to fame: Being the club's first high-profile black player

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