John Barnes - A beauty to behold

When John Barnes was at the top of his game there wasn't a more beautiful sight in football. Elegant, striving forwards with purpose he left opponents in his wake and led Liverpool to two league titles in 1988 and 1990. He got the recognition he deserved and in 1988 he was voted both the PFA’s and Football Writers’ Player of the Year and Barnes was voted Player of the Year again in 1990 by the Football Writers’ Association and joined legends such as Danny Blanchflower, Kenny Dalglish, Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, who also won this award twice in their careers.

I [Arnie] did everything in my power to facilitate a journey for John Barnes to Iceland, for him to enjoy our unique country [and the worst storm in a generation that delayed both his arrival and departure] but also so I could spend an hour with him to ask the many questions I have been waiting to ask him for so many years. You should never meet your heroes the saying goes, but you should definitely meet John Barnes. He was a truly magnificent player but is also a fantastic person. Kind, funny, a brilliant storyteller and reenactor (Steve Nicol was the main target of his many tales that weekend) and always smiling. Yes, I admit I was a bit starstruck but he makes people feel at ease around him so you soon feel as if you are talking to somebody whom you have known for a few years. Over to John Barnes...
My story I suppose doesn’t start differently to anybody’s story because any footballer, whoever became a world star, any footballer who didn’t become a world star, started off as a young boy who loved football. I suppose if you are looking for a direct link between me and football – that probably came from my father who played football for Jamaica. He came from Trinidad as a 19-year-old boy to join the British West Indies Regiment, which was in Jamaica. So if you were from Barbados, Grenada, anywhere in the Caribbean – if you wanted to join the Army you had to go to Jamaica. So my father went to Jamaica, met my mother, then after Independence stayed in Jamaica and became a Colonel in the Jamaican Army. He was the captain of the Jamaican national team as an Army Officer. He then became the coach of the Jamaican national team, the Manager of the Jamaican national team, the President of the Jamaican Football Association. So I grew up with football in my blood (Image of John with his sisters and his mom.)

So if you know the history of the West Indies you assume, I suppose most people do, that cricket is the number one sport because the West Indies has a very good cricket team, and everyone assumes that if you come from the West Indies you must play cricket and love cricket. Which I did but football was always my first love. I suppose boys all over the world now probably have this impression that I could go and play in the English Premier League, that I could go and play in Spain. But this was back in the late Sixties when you didn’t have foreign players even going to other countries to play football. What they did have was you played football in your own country. Then when I was thirteen my father got sent to England as a Military attaché. It was a diplomatic job which was going to be for four years. Coming to England, the Home of Football, looking forward to playing proper, organised football I went to a school that only played rugby. But I joined a local club, a football club, so for the three or four years I was at school I only played rugby at school but I played football for this local club; Stowe Boys Club.

Still not even necessarily thinking about professional football because I thought I would be going back to Jamaica. At sixteen I got offered a football scholarship to the University of Washington because my mother and father knew one of the coaches in America. Then a taxi driver who knew a scout saw me playing and Watford were the first club to ask me if I would like to come and train with them. It was a trial. It wasn’t like you have at the Academies. It was just a question of me training with the Watford youth team on a Tuesday night and a Thursday night. And that’s probably the first time, I was about sixteen, sixteen and a half, when I thought I could have a possibility of maybe being a professional footballer. My father had already gone back to the Caribbean but because of school I then had to stay on to finish school. So from the January to when I signed for Watford in July when I was seventeen, I am training at Watford and my father has already gone back to set up the house and go back to work.

It must have been difficult for you when your family left for Jamaica?

Yeah, absolutely. I was seventeen years old and my parents and my sister and my whole family have gone back to Jamaica, I am now in England by myself. No relatives. If I don’t get in the team because I wasn’t playing well and I had two years in the reserves and the fans don’t like me and my football career is going badly… that is when it’s a problem because I have no family. I started pre-season training let’s say the fourteenth of July, my family went back probably the first week of July. I signed as a first-year professional. From the first of July I was with my mother’s friend until I moved on the fourteenth of July into digs with Steve Perry, centre-back from Watford and this woman Annie and her husband, an Irish couple. So on the fourteenth of August the season starts. Of course I’m not in the first team because I have just come to the club. I played my first reserves game on the fourteenth of August. I score after a couple of minutes with a free-kick. I think we win. Luther Blissett gets sent off in the first game of the season against Newcastle. The next game Graham Taylor puts me in the squad because Luther Blissett gets sent off. I get on for the last twelve minutes. I expect to go back in the reserves because the next game Luther is going to come back into the team; and the next game is against Chelsea away. And he puts me in the team to play. So this is probably early-September now. Watford are winning every week and I’m playing well, so under those circumstances to answer your question was it difficult for me because I didn’t have a family? Not at all because I’m playing well and the fans love me.

You were blessed with Caribbean rhythm, but you displayed great responsibility from an early age. Did that discipline come from your father?

Absolutely. People talk about the lack of discipline from Caribbeans generally, in life. As you say people assume that you are just really laid-back and nothing matters and you just take life as it comes. Not everybody fits that perception but unfortunately, it sticks. I’m from the Caribbean. However, I didn’t see myself as being particularly laid-back in my attitude and my character, because my father – he wasn’t joining a laid-back Caribbean Army, he was joining the British Army. So if you speak to a lot of Caribbeans who were brought up in the Fifties and Sixties with the British… my father up to the day he passed away if he’s sitting down and the national anthem comes on, the British national anthem, he stands up and salutes because the British Army is very, very disciplined. My father made sure that in anything I did I was very, very disciplined. Just to give you a little example – I was a very good swimmer, my sister went on to swim for Jamaica, she then went to the Commonwealth Games at fourteen and she became a squash champion. So I was swimming competitively at seven and eight years old. Every single day I used to go to training. But my swimming career ended I think at nine because we had to train every day and my father was very strict in that whatever you did, you did it. You don’t do it sometimes, you don’t do it part-time. Where we lived on the Army base backed on to the national stadium, where it’s got the football, the swimming and the national arena; and we used to walk across to go to training every single day, swimming training, four till five after school. We had to walk by the football field, I would stop and play football with my friends and I wouldn’t go to the training. And my father said: “If you’re not going to do it properly, you stop. You don’t do it any more if you’re not going to do it one hundred per cent.” My swimming career ended at nine years old because he wouldn’t allow me to go if I wasn’t going to train every day. So that’s the kind of person he was.

The boys at Stowe in 1977

As a young boy growing up in Jamaica, as a very talented footballer, at school when I was twelve I played for the Under-16s. At school when you’re playing against fifteen-year-old boys at twelve, that’s very difficult. I played for this local team, Stowe Boys Club, who were very, very good with lots of good players, most of them from the Caribbean. We’re very good, very skilful, winning eight or nine or ten nil. Now I was one of the best players there. I wouldn’t say I was THE best because I had good players with me. But of course in that team as you can see if you’re playing in a very good side and you’re winning all the time everybody wants the glory, nobody wants to stay at the back. So I then said I’ll play centre-back. It didn’t bother me that I didn’t score the goals, I knew I could if I played up front but I didn’t.

The coach at Stowe then coached a men’s team on a Sunday. So I was then sixteen and he took me and two of the better boys, to the men’s team to play on a Sunday. And he also coached a team on a Saturday called Sudbury Court. That’s who I played for and where I went to Watford from. So I played for St. Joseph’s on Sunday and Sudbury Court on Saturday. Sudbury Court is in one of these men's leagues eleven leagues below the Conference; in those leagues you get maybe some ex semi-professional players who have never played in the Conference, you’re playing in a league with old pros who are kicking you and fighting you, they’re thirty-three-year-old men and of course, you have to remember the way football was back then where people would break your leg and they were very tough. In fact, it was tougher down there than it was in the professional leagues because you get some nasty men who are thirty-four who never made it as professionals and all of a sudden there’s these young kids coming along … so there is no way I could have played centre-back as a small, sixteen-year-old boy playing against these. So straightaway I went from being a centre-back … forget what talent you have, you probably look for the position which is safest on the football field for a young boy and that’s why I am on the wing. I was never, ever a left-winger like I was never, ever a centre-back because growing up I would always play as a number ten, as an attacking midfield player. That was my position, although I never played there. At Stowe I played as a centre-back and when I went to Sudbury Court I played as a left-winger because that was what was required of me. So when I went to Watford I went to Watford as a left-winger. So I played for Sudbury Court for one season, less than a season and that’s when obviously the taxi-driver saw me and then I went to Watford.

John Barnes' dad, Kendrick, was a huge figure in Jamaican Sport as the Independent noted in his obituary on 18 April 2009. "When you have been among your country's leading performers and administrators in several sports for more than four decades, inspired a hugely popular film and led the forces of several nations in a successful military operation, it must be quite tough to be remembered primarily for being the father of your even better-known son. Barnes's influence extended far beyond the football field. His reputation as an administrator was such that his services were in demand by a number of sports. He became president of the Jamaica Boxing Board of Control, president of the Swimming Association of Jamaica, and was also manager of the Liguanea Squash Club. Perhaps Barnes's most incongruous contribution to his country's sport was his part in setting up the island's bobsleigh team. As a result, the Jamaican national bobsleigh team, which drew from military personnel, proved to be a sensation. They finished 14th at the Winter Olympic Games at Calgary, Canada in 1988, inspiring the popular film "Cool Runnings".

When you went to Liverpool you expected Kenny to play you as a centre-forward?

When I played for Watford I played as a left-winger. It was the way we played. We played a lot of long balls and fought. Liverpool don’t play with wingers. They always played with wide midfield players: Terry McDermott, Sammy Lee, Ray Kennedy – so for me to do what I did at Watford … get the ball down and get a cross in … that was not the Liverpool way. So I didn’t know that Liverpool were necessarily thinking about changing the way they played, I naturally assumed .., Ian Rush had gone, John Aldridge was there but I had come a few weeks before Peter Beardsley. So I thought I was going to play up front with John Aldridge. Then when I saw Peter Beardsley signing... But I didn’t play as an orthodox left-winger for Liverpool. As you can see when I played in my first season I must have scored 14-15 goals [17], I used to come in off the line, I used to play in the way that I always wanted to play, the position I thought was mine since I was eight, nine, ten years old. That’s why for England I also didn’t feel as comfortable because I was not fed up but I felt it was time for me now not to be standing on the left wing going down the line, putting crosses in. I also played up front for Watford a couple of seasons with Luther Blissett and I had scored goals, I had scored against Liverpool playing centre-forward. Obviously, I knew I wouldn’t be a number nine like Ian Rush, John Aldridge, Robbie Fowler, but I’d be a Peter Beardsley type of player, a number ten playing off him, just behind him or around him or moving around … and that’s what I did for Liverpool although Peter Beardsley played.

When I played on the left-wing I would also do that and then when I came in Peter would go wide so we had a good movement and understanding. We just had intelligent players who could play that way. So that is why I think Liverpool were very fortunate because I don’t think we envisaged that happening – me not playing as a left-winger, Peter Beardsley not staying in that position, just to play with John Aldridge, us moving around – and one of the biggest factors to that working was Ray Houghton because he came to play on the right as a typical Liverpool right-sided midfield player as Sammy Lee and Terry McDermott. While they played wide on the right they weren’t wingers going up and down the line, they were coming in and being like another midfield player; if I went forward they could come and fill into a position and once again that just happened, I always say, by luck rather than design but I think it’s more about Liverpool’s foresight in seeing the way that we played and knew that we could actually fit in.


You ended up as a centre-forward when Aldridge left and you scored twenty-eight goals in the 1989-90 season.

I always look at it like Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. I think Dwight Yorke wanted to score more goals than Andy Cole but Dwight Yorke was never the centre-forward that Andy Cole was. So while I might have been the top scorer one year – I played up front with John Aldridge or Ian Rush or whoever was playing. I played up front with them but I always considered myself still to be a number ten. So while I scored a lot of goals, a number nine or centre-forward is someone who always wants to score. I got more pleasure from creating a goal than scoring a goal. You can’t be a goalscorer and do that. I couldn’t play badly and score two goals and be happy whereas Ian Rush, John Aldridge, Robbie Fowler, all goalscorers are happy with scoring one goal and playing terribly. I can’t. Well, I didn’t have to be. Before I played up front I was equally as comfortable playing the role I was playing because while I might not have scored twenty-eight goals I was scoring fifteen goals, I scored goals, I created goals by playing on that left side and also by coming in off the line. And Liverpool never restricted me to playing wide. So that is when I was happiest. Not the season when I scored those twenty-eight goals.

You must have bee
n proud when Sir Tom Finney said that players like John Barnes just come along once in a lifetime.

I don’t get carried away with praise at all. I learned a lot of things from Liverpool but I learned equally as much from Graham Taylor at Watford. I’m a young boy and he really made a big impression on me because I remember as a young boy playing for Watford and the Press loved Watford because we finished second in the League to Liverpool, we were beating Arsenal, we were beating Tottenham. So the Press loved us. When I played for England the Press used to criticise me because of course the Press don’t like England. I’m nineteen and I’m getting a hard time with the Press when I’m playing for England; and he said to me: “Listen, you know the player you are, you know who you are, you don’t take any notice of anybody else. If you are going to get carried away with the praise that they give you and believe it, you also have to believe when they criticise you that you’re terrible.” So I do what I do, I am who I am and if people appreciate it … but if they don’t… so I’m on the defensive sometimes, if they had come to me and said you’re a bad player would I have believed that? So it’s nice words and it’s nice to be appreciated but I take it with a pinch of salt because you can only be who you are and do as well as you can. You can speak to a Man. United fan and he’ll say “John Barnes is crap” and a Liverpool fan will say “John Barnes is great” … What am I? Am I crap? Yes, because you’ve said so. Am I great because he said so? You are who you are.

Michael Thomas famously scored the winner in the final game of the 1988/89 season right at the death to take the title away from Anfield to Highbury. Barnes tried to attack the Arsenal goal in the preceding attack...

Ronnie Moran told you when you came off after that Arsenal game: Why didn’t you take the ball into the corner? Why put the boot in? You must have felt horrible enough.

Well, he did but Ronnie would also know the characters that he could do that to. There are certain players that you can’t criticise. He wasn’t waiting for me. But there are certain players you can’t criticise and certain players you can criticise. And to get a reaction from you, to get the best out of you, he says these little things to you. So he’s just trying to get a reaction, a positive reaction. It wasn’t an issue with me. I didn’t get carried away when we won and I didn’t get carried away when we lost. The reason Liverpool lost the League last season was not because Steven Gerrard slipped, the reason Liverpool lost the League to Arsenal is not because I didn’t take the ball into the corner. We had forty-two games, we had many games when we could have picked up points which would have meant that it was irrelevant whether I took the ball into the corner, we would have won the League, games that we should have won that we lost, games also we were lucky to have won when we should have dropped points. Who was marking Michael Thomas? Shall I tell you who was marking Michael Thomas? Steve McMahon. But what did Steve McMahon do? As Lee Dixon’s going to play it up front he went to slide in and stop Lee Dixon and he’s left Michael Thomas. Now if he doesn’t go to Lee Dixon and stays with Michael Thomas … so how far do you want to go back as to who should have done what? And I’ve always thought that. So I’ve never blamed Steven Gerrard because if Sakho hadn’t passed the ball to Gerrard he wouldn’t have slipped. When I came off I never felt that’s why we lost the League. When John Aldridge missed a penalty against Wimbledon [in the 1988 FA Cup final] I never felt that’s why we lost against Wimbledon because John Aldridge missed a penalty.

Barnes distraught at the final whistle

Do you think Gerrard felt the same this summer?

I don’t know. Probably not. He may feel responsible. Everyone feels different things. Steven Gerrard should not feel bad about that. The point I am making here is that over a period of time there are so many incidents, so many games where you can lose points and pick points up, you can’t look at any one incident and say that’s it.

In 1992 the 28-year-old Barnes was at crossroads in his Liverpool career. Dalglish had left and Barnes realised this could be his last chance to sample the life on the continent. He still harboured dreams about playing for Juventus, Barcelona or Real Madrid. These dreams perished in a warm-up game for the European Championship against Finland in Helsinki on 3 June 1992. He ruptured his Achilles tendon in his right leg and was left with a six-inch scar. His injured calf is still an inch and a half shorter than his left calf. He was out until November and this had a detrimental effect on his ability to take players on as he always used his right leg when taking off on a solo run using his left to take the ball past players.

Your career changed dramatically when you snapped your Achilles in 1992.

This is from when I was twenty-eight years old. My career changed unfortunately. Because I had the experience of playing in different positions and understanding I didn’t really think about it. I was just so happy to be back playing, in fact, the doctor said after I had retired that he thought I wouldn’t play again. Unfortunately I had just been relying on my speed, you think of Mark Lawrenson, who ruptured his Achilles tendon and never played again and other players, Teddy Sheringham who snapped his Achilles tendon but it didn’t affect him because he was slow to begin with! He didn’t use his speed. But for a player like me who was known for being a fast, aggressive player with the ball and relying on speed you would think that would have hurt my career. Which it did in the perception of people thinking he’s not doing the same things that he did but it made me play for still another seven years in Liverpool at the highest level not doing what I did before but still playing for Liverpool. I was fortunate that I was able to drop into midfield and play a different role. 

"Do you want to see the difference between my legs since the Achilles?" "OK, go on then."

You had your differences with Souness as you couldn't regain your previous standard after your injury.

He was very frustrated with me because he said that one of the reasons he came to Liverpool was because he saw what I was doing before and what he couldn’t understand, because Graeme was obviously a very volatile type of a person, was that I’m not able to do that any more. Because when you rupture your Achilles tendon you can’t do what you do any more. So his frustration was that I’m not the same player but that wasn’t my fault. He got frustrated with a lot of the old Liverpool players because … You get to a stage where you’re going to have to make that transition as a coach as a club to get rid of the old players and bring the young players through. Now the key is to get that right. What Liverpool always did even from when Ronnie Whelan and Ian Rush were young was they got rid of one or two old ones, they brought one or two young ones in but they kept the core and then after the young Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan became more experienced they got rid of the older ones and others came through. Whereas if you’re going to get rid of six or seven experienced players and bring six or seven young players in was never really going to work, particularly as the age they were they still had two or three years left, you know you think about Peter Beardsley when he went to Everton, we are talking about players who were maybe thirty-one and thirty-two. Now you can slowly keep faith with them until they get to thirty-four/thirty-five then bring the youngsters in. But to get rid of Peter when he was thirty/thirty-one … I was twenty-eight, Ronnie Whelan would have been thirty, Ian Rush would have been thirty, Steve McMahon would have been twenty-nine, so I think that what Souness tried to do was change it too soon.

You think you could have won the League under Roy Evans if you probably had had more discipline?

Absolutely. Absolutely. I used to look at the young Manchester United players and our players and ours were equally as good. But I think they had more discipline. When you win the League it’s not the best football teams that win the League, sometimes it can be, but if teams are equal and it’s hard to choose between teams, it’s the team that’s coming into March, the teams who don’t play well but get points. Man. United did that, we had to play well to win. That was one of the best attacking teams I played in but I always felt we would come up short, not when everything was going well but I knew that when it became tough in April and you had to then get a result after a defeat …

Did you tell Evans that the players lacked discipline?

I mentioned it. Absolutely. Absolutely. But by then football was changing. Football was changing to where you can see how it is now, where players now are much more powerful than coaches and clubs and managers in certain respects.

Couldn’t he tell them off?

Was he allowed to? And you can look at what’s happening now. Who has authority over the players apart from Mourinho? That’s what it really came down to, players not taking responsibility, players being happy to be at a big club because it’s now celebrity. In the Nineties you had celebrity footballers who went down to London, went to clubs. You are a celebrity; and when you don’t win it’s nothing to do with you, it’s to do with the coach or with Liverpool; it’s to do with the older players because the young players now are superstars. So it was unfortunate because that was a team which under different circumstances I think could have won the League.

Reenacting the classic Blissett and Barnes pose

Did Liverpool’s performances last season remind you of the way it was in 87-88 in the way they were so interchangeable like Suarez who could easily play across the front three?

When you talk about reminding me of ‘87... but we didn’t concede all those goals. So when you talk about comparing what you have to do is you have to look at the balance of the team. So you can’t compare that team because of the balance of the team when you had Alan Hansen and Steve McMahon and Ronnie Whelan. We were not conceding four or five goals and not just attacking. So from an attacking perspective, yes, they were very good but what is important is the balance of the whole team and the balance of the team for me still isn’t right now and at the back even less so. I think that has a lot to do with Brendan Rodgers wanting to play 4-3-3 but because of Coutinho and Sterling doing so well he had to play all of them so he really played a 4-2-4 which worked in their favour when they were going forward but defensively because of the lack of an extra midfield man … 

Coutinho is say Ray Houghton and I am Sterling. I’ve got Whelan and McMahon. The difference is myself and Ray Houghton played in a 4-4-2, we got back and defended. Whereas when you get that defensive co-ordination from a Sterling and a Coutinho together, the pressure with two central midfield players is much greater in this team to defend in front of the back four than it was for us. We got back and defended in front of the back four, Peter Beardsley also dropped back into midfield defensively when we lost the ball and only left one up front. What we did last year is we virtually left four up front and said to the six at the back, “you defend”. So that’s why we scored a lot of goals but conceded a lot of goals.

Your thoughts on the current Liverpool team and Brendan Rodgers?

You support him, you trust him, as we do and you can see that he can be a fantastic manager for Liverpool Football Club. Football has changed whereby you probably don’t get managers staying for twenty years any more. But if there was ever a club that should have that it should be Brendan Rodgers because I think that he is going back to the old philosophy of what Liverpool is all about from his relationship with the fans, from the way the team plays, from wanting to have an identity within the club and players. So I like Brendan Rodgers and the team has that potential. The only problem you have is that teams now will change all the time. When you talk about Liverpool teams of the past players had been there for eight, nine, ten years. Football now means that teams are going to change every two or three years; every season you get four, five, six new players which for me is not the right way because it doesn’t build anything and Brendan Rodgers is going to be a part of that because he is a modern manager so you’re talking about getting five new players next year. Is that the way to actually build? No, it’s not. Fortunately at Liverpool we have enough young players who you assume would want to stay at Liverpool for the next ten years. So Liverpool aren’t like a Chelsea or a Man. City who will want to change players every year. And I hope they don’t do that.


Your England career never lived up to its billing. Liverpool fans couldn’t care less if you didn’t perform for England. Obviously, England played a different system and you were stuck on the wing and more difficult for you to flourish.

Bobby Robson was a lovely guy…You have to have a philosophy of the way you play and you have to then put the players within that philosophy, within that structure, which is what Brendan Rodgers does, which is what other teams do. You can’t say have a player and build it up around him because well if you look at English football back then, Liverpool played a very continental game that suited me. Liverpool were very similar to Watford, which is where you stay in the position. You don’t come off the line and when you get the ball you just go down the line and put the crosses in. We didn’t dominate possession.

Now how I described it was if you look at a player like Lionel Messi, for example, playing in a team like Barcelona. When you’re a skilful player you need to have a lot of the ball because football is not about skilful players doing great things every time they get the ball. Lionel Messi when he gets the ball will do great things maybe four or five times in a match. But he’ll have the ball maybe fifty times in a match, more than fifty times in a match. But for forty-five times in a match, he just plays it simple because he knows he is going to get an opportunity to do something great. When you don’t have a lot of possession... I’m not going to get the ball for another ten minutes so I feel like I have to do something special now. So I feared every time I got the ball for England so I made bad decisions, whereas for Liverpool when I got the ball I made different decisions, sometimes I’d play it off first time because I know I’m going to get it back, then when I get it back in a position to do something great, I do it. So I always tried too hard for England. not just myself. Chris Waddle was the same. Chris Waddle, myself, Glenn Hoddle, who was the most talented English player ever, with the talent he had and he only got fifty caps, because English football back then in the Eighties was not about skilful players, it was about aggression – Peter Reid, Terry Butcher, Paul Ince, Bryan Robson – and why they made an impact is because what little possession we did have we had to be aggressive, it’s all about the aggressive players, they are the ones who played well for England. Chris Waddle had to go to France to be appreciated; Glenn Hoddle was the same … I’d love to be playing again in England now because of the skilful players now or even up to ten years ago. It has to be the philosophy of the team, which comes from the coach. That’s why it was better when Terry Venables came or even with Glenn Hoddle, I’d loved to have played under Glenn Hoddle.

Your managerial career... You are so eloquent and you come across so strongly, why didn’t it progress any further...?

It’s about the perception that people have of you. Now the perception that people may have had of me is that I’m laid-back, I’m Caribbean, blah blah blah. When you become a manager, when I became Celtic’s coach there was a lot of opposition towards me at Celtic. People didn’t want me at Celtic. Kenny took me when people didn’t want me. Kenny insisted so I came. So from the first minute, it was a bit like David Moyes, who is a good coach. But straightaway if you don’t start off well, people are going to say see you’re not good enough. It started off well. We won ten of the first twelve matches and scored more goals than Rangers. They had won twelve matches. Then Henrik Larsson broke his leg, Paul Lambert broke his jaw and never played again. So we were only four points behind Rangers at that time coming up to Christmas to play against them. But this whole impression that John Barnes shouldn’t be at Celtic because it’s a job for a big coach, a coach who is experienced, someone who was associated with Celtic. I knew that if we’re going through a sticky patch I’m not going to last. Scotsmen make good managers. That’s what people think. Frenchmen make good lovers. Italians have style. So if you’re a Scotsman and a manager you’ll be given more chance and more opportunity than somebody else.

Kenny Dalglish and Barnes reunited at Celtic

You were Jamaica's national coach and did well there.

It’s only Jamaica, isn’t it? That’s the perception people have. So we had eleven matches and we never lost one match. But people don’t look at that, eleven matches playing against superior opposition. Nigeria, we never lost – they don’t say well if you were successful there but it’s only Nigeria. And at Tranmere, I only had eleven matches. So when you talk about being given an opportunity, this is the most important thing, an opportunity is not being given the job, an opportunity is the support and the trust, do people trust me? That opportunity is players believing in you and players listening to what you say. So if I had a Scottish accent I could say the exact same things and the players would believe that. But do they believe me? You need an opportunity and you need the belief.

Is there any particular game that really stands out for you in your playing career?

One of the big lessons I learned at Liverpool and Watford is that we play in a team sport and it’s not about the individual. It wasn’t necessarily my best game was but the game that sticks out for me is the Nottingham Forest game because that was the best team performance and that’s the performance which Tom Finney actually said was the best performance he had seen from a football team. I wasn’t Man of the Match. I played well like everybody else. But that is what football is all about; when footballers can embrace that ideology of a team playing well and being part of that team and getting success. We won 5-0 for a 90-minute performance against a good side who were the third-best in the country. There were individual games, the one against QPR, individual games where I felt personally that I did well. But the game that sticks out most for me is the Nottingham Forest game because of the performance.

Barnes loved playing with Steve Nicol

Any special player that you would have wanted to play with during your career that comes to mind?

My favourite player in the world ever was Diego Maradona. I loved Diego Maradona. I don’t think I would have got the ball too much but just to have been on the same pitch as Diego Maradona would have been special. I loved the old players of the past. I’ve said Beckenbauer. I just love old footballers when football was football.

I am happy with the players I played with. My two favourite players to play with were Stevie Nicol and Peter Beardsley. Stevie Nicol played left-back behind me. We really had a great relationship because of the way we played and we appreciated each other and we worked well with each other. I would rather play with them than anybody, Diego Maradona or anybody.

Beardsley was instrumental in the title success of 1988 and 1990.

Finally... Legend is an overused term applied to all kinds of former footballers but you are a true legend. Are you comfortable with being called a legend?

I’m comfortable with people calling me a legend, I’m comfortable with people saying I’m not a legend. I am who I am. It means nothing to me. It’s like when we say: “Who are legends?”

It could be argued that you are a legend…

But it could be argued that I am not a legend. If people think I am a legend, fine; and if people don’t think I am a legend, it’s no problem. And I can’t change it. I can’t go back and play better and become a legend or go back and not play as well to not be a legend.

Written by Arnie ([email protected]) - Copyright - Thanks to Grétar Magnússon for his assistance and Chris Wood for transcribing the interview. 

Article links



We've got all the results from official games, appearance stats, goal stats and basically every conceivable statistic from 1892 to the present, every single line-up and substitutions!