Goal.com's Top 50 English Players: John Barnes (38)

Goal.com are counting down England's greatest players of all time and at number 38 is the Caribbean-born Liverpool legend, John Barnes...
No.50 - John Terry
No.49 - Tony Currie
No.48 - Terry Butcher
No.47 - Gerry Hitchens
No.46 - Paul Ince
No.45 - George Camsell
No.44 - Wayne Rooney
No.43 - Jackie Milburn
No.42 - Roger Hunt
No.41 - Rio Ferdinand
No.40 - Wilf Mannion

No.39 - Frank Lampard



Kingston, Jamaica


79 caps, 11 goals


Newcastle United
Charlton Athletic
Celtic (player-manager)

When you think of English football in the Europe-less era that was the back half of the 1980s, few names spring to mind quicker than that of John Barnes. An undisputed superstar amid some of the country's darker days, on and off the pitch, he was not only among the most frightening attackers in the game, but also a flagbearer for racial equality.

Born in Jamaica, Barnes moved to England as a child and honed his skills with non-league Sudbury Court in London's north west. In 1981, he was signed by up-and-coming Watford, after impressing in a trial game with the reserves team. The transfer fee paid was a batch of football shirts, shorts and socks - something of a steal, as it would turn out.

Seventeen when he arrived at Vicarage Road, Barnes was a revelation as the Elton John-owned club secured promotion to the First Division, finishing his debut season with 13 goals from 36 games. His rapid rise continued over the next few campaigns as he helped the Hornets finish second (behind Liverpool) in the 1982-83 championship and reach the FA Cup final in 1984.

It was during this period that he was called up to the England squad, making his debut under Bobby Robson as a substitute against Northern Ireland in 1983. The following summer, he announced himself to the world with what many consider to be the greatest goal in the Three Lions' history.

The scene was Rio de Janeiro's legendary Maracana stadium; the opponents, a ludicrously talented Brazil outfit. Barnes made them look like chumps. Chesting down a ball about 40 yards out on the left flank, he proceeded to dribble through six gold shirts before edging round the goalkeeper and slotting home from the tip of the six-yard box to inspire his side to a 2-0 friendly win. He would go on to feature in the 1986 and 1990 World Cups and the 1988 European Championship, but it was this moment of genius that proved to be the making and, in some ways, the breaking of his international career.


"Barnes was the Cristiano Ronaldo of the 80's. Only he had much more class, he was by far a better personality and had so much more to deal with both personally and professionally. Barnes is a true legend and as he said himself... whenever he played for England he always dreamed of home... Liverpool! YNWA" sean | merseyside
While Watford's form plateaued in the following years, Barnes' did not, and by the time he signed for Liverpool in 1987 he was regarded as one of the most exciting prospects in the land. After the 1988-89 season, defenders across the country would quake with fear at the very mention of his name.

With his electrifying pace, sumptuous dribbling ability, ox-like strength and eye for a goal, the winger slotted in seamlessly at Anfield. Combining with fellow new-boy Peter Beardsley and Scouse-Irish striker John Aldrige, Barnes completed what remains one of the most lethal attacks ever assembled in modern day English club football. With 15 goals that term, he picked up both the PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards, as the Reds claimed another league crown.

An FA Cup triumph arrived the following year, and the 1989-90 season saw Barnes rip entire defences to shreds as he scored 22 times - a rare tally indeed for a winger in those pre-Cristiano Ronaldo days - and steered Liverpool to their 18th (and, as of today, last) league title. But whilst he continued to dazzle domestically, his international outings were perhaps less impressive.

For some reason, Barnes copped much of the flak for England's collective and constant underperformance throughout the late '80s and early '90s. The public demanded that he reproduce his Maracana marvel every time he sported the Three Lions crest, and such unrealistic expectations have inevitably led to him being viewed as a flop on the international stage - despite his 79 caps and 11 goals in 12 years of service.

Of course, Barnes endured much more than criticism for his supposedly sub-par England displays throughout his career. As one of the first black players to forge his way into the national squad, he was often a target for racial hate - the National Front, the far-right political party, even denounced his wonder-goal in Brazil as illegitimate.

Things were just as bad at club level at the height of the hooligan epidemic, but 'Digger' (as he was affectionately known at Anfield) rose above the abuse and the monkey chants when there was work to be done - as encapsulated by the iconic image of him backheeling a banana, thrown by an Evertonian, over the touchline during a Merseyside derby.

As his career wound down and his once-frightening footspeed deserted him, Barnes gave his station on Liverpool's left-wing to a young Steve McManaman and reinvented himself as a holding midfielder of some repute (his passing stats during his last years at the club were among the best in the country). He departed the north west giants in 1997 and had stints at Newcastle United and Charlton Athletic before calling it a day in 1999, following his disastrous player-manager experiment at Celtic.

It is one of the game's great shames that, in the wake of 1985's Heysel disaster, Barnes was never able to strut his stuff in the European Cup while at the peak of his powers. Nevertheless, he remains one of Anfield's favourite sons, one of England's greatest ever talents and, alongside the likes of Viv Anderson, a pioneer for black British footballers on the global stage.


English League Championship (1987-88, 1989-90)
FA Cup (1988-89, 1991-92)
Football League Cup (1994-95)
Charity Shield (1988-89, 1989-90, 1990-91)

PFA Players' Player of the Year (1987-88)
FWA Footballer of the Year (1987-88, 1989-90)
English Football Hall of Fame (2005)

DID YOU KNOW … that John Barnes rapped on New Order's iconic football anthem and UK #1 hit, 'World In Motion'?

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