John Barnes has a confession to make.
“I hated Merseyside derbies,” he says. “Didn’t like them one bit!”
Goal is surprised, given that Barnes played more games for Liverpool against Everton than any other team. Twenty-three of them, in fact, and only five of them ended in defeat.
“Yes, but those games weren’t for people who like to play good football!” he counters. “Those games are for people like Graeme Souness and Peter Reid and Steve McMahon, who like to tackle and kick each other! Me, I couldn’t wait to get them out of the way.”
Barnes, of course, was far from a tackler and a kicker. One of the greatest footballers in Liverpool’s history, he won two league titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup at Anfield. He made more than 400 appearances, scored more than 100 goals and was named PFA Player of the Year. The term ‘legend’ is overused, but it is entirely fitting here.
So, with Liverpool set to resume their march towards the Premier League title with a trip to Goodison Park this weekend, Goal caught up with Barnes to discuss his best – and worst – derby memories...
1987-1988 – Ups, downs and THAT banana image
Barnes’ first season at Liverpool saw him play in four Merseyside derbies, winning two and losing two.
The most powerful memory, though, came in an FA Cup tie at Goodison in February 1988, where he was photographed back-heeling a banana which had been thrown onto the field from the terraces.
“I don’t remember doing it!” he says now, more than 32 years on. “It became an iconic image, of course, but I have to say at the time it wasn’t a big deal to me, I don’t even recall doing it.
“You have to remember that it wasn’t the first time it had happened to me. I’d made my debut for Watford in 1981, and at that time bananas were coming onto the field every week.
"But, obviously, because it was Liverpool and Everton, the two best teams around, it was perhaps highlighted more.
“It is an iconic picture. I can see that now, but my memory of it happening, I don’t have one!”Getty
Liverpool won the league in Barnes’ first season, with what is widely viewed as one of the club’s greatest ever sides, but it is the two derby defeats which stand out more.
“I lost my first derby 1-0 at Anfield, and I was at fault for the goal,” he remembers. “Gary Stevens got a run on me and came inside to score with a bit of a spawny left-foot shot at the Kop end.
“Then, later in the season, we went to Goodison, and if we’d won or drawn, we’d have beaten the record for the longest unbeaten start to a [top-flight] season. We lost 1-0 and, as you can imagine, that was a big disappointment, and a huge delight for the Evertonians!”
1989 – A city united
The following season, Liverpool and Everton would meet in the FA Cup final for the second time in four seasons.
Just as in 1986, Liverpool would triumph, but the context surrounding the game was entirely different. The events of April 15, 1989, when 96 fans lost their lives at Hillsborough, scarred the city – Red and Blue.
“It wasn’t just a Liverpool Football Club tragedy,” says Barnes. “It was a tragedy for Liverpool as a city.
“Evertonians lost loved ones at Hillsborough. They lost brothers and sisters and uncles and cousins and friends. And when it mattered, when it really mattered, the city came together, like it always does. Everton were fantastic.”Getty
Liverpool’s first competitive game, post-Hillsborough, was a goalless draw at Goodison Park, and a few weeks later they would meet at Wembley, with Barnes setting up the winning goal for Ian Rush in the cup final.
“It was the only time I felt sorry for Everton,” he says. “Because all the neutrals wanted Liverpool to win. Usually, they’d have wanted the underdog to win.
“It was fitting and appropriate that it was a Liverpool-Everton cup final, and it was a hugely emotional day. Some would say it was fitting that Liverpool won, but Everton would have been equally deserving winners.”
1991 – Kenny’s bombshell
Perhaps the most memorable and dramatic derby of modern times came in February 1991 when the sides met at Goodison in an FA Cup fifth-round replay.
That night, Liverpool surrendered the lead four times in a madcap 4-4 draw, though the game is remembered as much for what happened afterwards.
Kenny Dalglish, the Reds’ iconic manager, resigned, citing stress and the pressure he was putting himself under.
It was a bombshell, which caught just about everybody at the club by surprise. Liverpool were top of the First Division, and well-placed to clinch their 19th league title.
“I was as shocked as anyone when Kenny left,” says Barnes, who had scored Liverpool’s fourth goal of that frenzied derby.
“We played Everton on the Wednesday, a ridiculous game which of course we should have won, and we were then playing Luton that Saturday.
“Luton had a plastic pitch in those days, so you would go down the day before and train there to get used to it. At the time, I still had a house near Watford, so straight after the Everton game I asked Kenny if I could go down south and then meet up with the team at Luton on the Friday. He said no problem.
“When I arrived on the Friday, all the press were there. They all asked me ‘What do you think of the news?’ I had no idea! It was the biggest bombshell imaginable. I never had a clue.
"Obviously, the lads arrived on the coach a while after, and they said he’d come in and told them he was leaving, out of the blue.
“Maybe Alan Hansen and some of his closer friends had an idea but, for us, he never showed any signs at all. It was a huge shock, and a big setback for the club.”
We know what happened afterwards, of course. Liverpool lost at Luton, and lost the second replay against Everton too.
Graeme Souness would eventually be named as Dalglish’s successor, but the Reds finished second to Arsenal that season, and have not been crowned champions since...
2020 – Klopp’s Kings
Until now, that is.
The Reds will likely clinch their first title in 30 years in the coming days. Jurgen Klopp’s side have been utterly dominant this season, building up a mammoth gap at the top of the table. In 29 games, they have dropped just five points.
They return to action at Goodison, albeit a Goodison without supporters. The 236th Merseyside derby will be the first played behind closed doors.
“It will suit certain players better than others,” Barnes says. “People talk about the atmosphere, and the effect it has on players, but it works the other way too. Some players will find it easier without fans there.
“I was never affected by crowds. Whether there were 2,000 there or 100,000, whether they were booing me or cheering me, it was always about the game for me, even in a derby.
“I know what Jurgen Klopp is like, and I know what this Liverpool team is like. They train and play with the same intensity, whether there’s 50,000 fans there or nobody, whether it’s Everton away or Swindon at home.
"They have that determination, every single day, so the fact that there are no fans there won’t change their attitude of mentality whatsoever.
“That’s not to say they’ll definitely win the game. There’s no form to go off, of course, and we don’t know where everyone is in terms of fitness, but fingers crossed!
"My brother-in-law is the biggest Evertonian you could meet, and he's around my house every day talking about Liverpool. Donald Trump can be on the television, and it'll somehow come back to Liverpool. Hopefully, he's not talking much on Sunday!”
To celebrate the return of the Premier League, John Barnes is hosting a NOW TV Legend Watch Party for Everton v Liverpool) To apply visit nowtv.com/legendswatchalong . NOW TV is offering 64 Premier League matches (39 exclusively) via a Sky Sports Pass, for just £25 a month until 2nd July