John Barnes is expecting a tighter Merseyside derby on Sunday
Ahead of the Merseyside derby, Adam Bate caught up with Liverpool legend John Barnes to discuss social issues, the game on Sunday, and Jurgen Klopp’s chances of ending Liverpool’s long wait for a title…
It is rush hour at Kings Cross station but one of the most recognisable faces in British football is still able to do a bit more than turn heads. Nowadays it is selfies rather than autographs for John Barnes but that suits him fine. He takes one himself with an excitable woman who is insistent that he is the spitting image of her brother.
The former Liverpool winger is enjoying himself, hosting a hardest shot competition at the station, and life remains busy these days. There is the community work but he does not do it for the recognition. He is still humble, confused why the PR company wanted to send him a car to pick him up. And he’s looking forward to his latest documentary on racism in football.
Barnes was at Kings Cross station hosting a hardest shot competition
“This is not the first documentary but I am as excited about this one as the last one,” he tells Sky Sports. “It is always about the next one. You just have to keep bringing it home about injustices and discrimination.
“I am no different from a lot of people. I am concerned for the future of my children and concerned for the future of all children. I will do anything I can do to alleviate problems or increase the interest or bring to the fore the problems of these social issues.”
Barnes came to England with his parents at the age of 13 and still remembers the feeling of possibility when he saw young children playing organised football as the plane was landing at Heathrow. This land of hope was to bring plenty of glory in a career that saw him win every domestic trophy going and, in 1988, both the PFA and FWA individual awards.
Barnes continues to work in the community and is involved in a new documentary
But as an immigrant to the country, with family in the United States, Barnes is acutely aware that the path of progress does not always run smooth.
“What is happening in our society is what happens,” he explains. “Societies go backwards sometimes. It will take a long time to change perceptions and change the way that people think. It is not going to happen overnight. Ten years is not overnight change. When you have 300 years of people having ideas about people, it is going to take time.”
Barnes turned 55 earlier this month. A ruptured patella tendon prevents him from joining in the shooting contest himself. But even if the frame is a bit larger than in his pomp, when he was one of the world’s most graceful wingers with a rare combination of speed, strength and outrageous skill, the memories of those days are still fresh on Merseyside.
Barnes in action against Everton in the 1989 FA Cup final at Wembley
Barnes was part of the Liverpool team that beat Everton in the 1989 FA Cup final and scored in the classic 4-4 draw that saw Sir Kenny Dalglish resign the next day. “That one was a bit special, although that’s maybe the wrong word,” he says. Not that he was sentimental. “I never felt the derby was more important than when we played Norwich,” he adds.
“You have to give 100 per cent in every game and you cannot give more than 100 per cent. So people who say you have to try harder are wrong. For the fans it’s about getting one over on the person at work. Players understand that but when I played every game meant a lot.
“It was a little different in the past because we had lots of players from Liverpool on both sides. I don’t think there are a lot of local players on either team now but the passion from the fans is still there. Football has changed from the Peter Reid and Steve McMahon days. I don’t think you can be that aggressive. But it is still a passionate occasion for the fans.”
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Liverpool have not lost to Everton at Anfield this century and not anywhere in 17 attempts. Barnes expects Sunday to be trickier. “Everton have not been in form in recent years so we have gone into the game as clearly the better team,” he says. “Much as we are a good team now, Everton are in better form than they were so I think it will be a much closer game.
“But I am optimistic. I believe that Jurgen Klopp can maximise Liverpool’s potential this season. Unfortunately, Manchester City are a top team as well so if you are going to say that Liverpool are going to win the league then you are saying that Manchester City are not.
“They are still the favourites for the title, but we are running them much closer than we have done in the past and I do make us the clear second favourites. I am not saying that we cannot win it but that I think we are the closest to Manchester City.”
Liverpool supporters have not had it this good in a long time, but it is still six years since the last trophy and almost three full decades since Barnes inspiring them to their most recent title win as the team’s top scorer with 22 goals. So how would the side of Ian Rush, Peter Beardsley and the rest have fared against this current crop?
Barnes with Peter Beardsley after Liverpool won the title in 1990
“Would the ’77 team beat the ’89 team? Would the 2013 team beat the current team? It’s nice pub talk. Whenever people ask me whether our team would have beaten the current team I always tell them it depends what rules we play. Under the old rules, I think we would win. Under the new rules, I think we would be down to about six men.”
Barnes is happy that his old boss Dalglish has been rewarded with a knighthood. “It is well deserved for the charity work that he has done for the city since Hillsborough,” he says.
He has no plans to slow down himself either. “I am doing stuff now but I have been doing stuff for the past 20 years in the community. Not a lot of it gets mentioned but it is not important for me to be recognised for it and it was not important for Kenny to be recognised for it either.
“We do what we do because of how we feel. And I am still having fun which is what it is all about.”
John Barnes was hosting a speed kick pop-up by Western Union at Kings Cross station in London. Western Union held the event to raise awareness of their zero transfer fees for transactions up to £50,000 to bank accounts across the world.