Nick Barmby controversially completed a transfer to Liverpool from Everton in 2000 and celebrates his 49th birthday today.
As far as controversial transfers go, Nick Barmby swapping Everton for Liverpool 23 years ago is right up there.
Barmby first moved to Merseyside in 1996 when the Blues paid a club-record £5.75m fee to sign the England international from Middlesbrough. He went to make more 132 appearances for the club and scoring 24 goals, the majority of which came during what proved to be his final campaign at Goodison Park.
The midfielder netted 10 goals in all competitions, including a hat-trick in a 4-0 win at West Ham United, during the 1999-2000 season, and Everton were keen to tie him down to a new contract. Talks took place before Euro 2000 but following England’s elimination, the situation took a drastic turn after it emerged that Barmby was Anfield-bound.
Stumping up a fee of £6million, Liverpool secured the services of the then-26-year-old and sent shockwaves through the city in the process. Not since a deal for Dave Hickson in 1959 had Everton directly sold a player to the Reds, and this certainly left a sour taste among supporters.
Walter Smith, the Blues’ manager at the time, was left shell-shocked by the player’s exit and claimed everything has been done to prevent such a move taking place.
The player has indicated to me that the club he would like to move to would be Liverpool,” Smith explained. “Following discussions between myself, Bill Kenwright, the player and his agent, Nick Barmby has indicated his desire to leave Everton. Obviously with a year of his contract to go this leaves the club in an awkward position. We have made every attempt to retain the player’s services, but after a number of meetings the player eventually indicated that he would like to leave the club.
“Obviously the decision was a disappointment to everybody at Everton but is one that most clubs have to live with at the present moment and this is something we will just have to live with ourselves. It leaves a situation which is an impossible one for both parties. I don’t think it is possible for a player having turned down a contract to be fully committed in his last year. It is obvious then that it would be beneficial for the player to move to another club.”
Equally as stunned was Kenwright, who had only completed the formal purchase of Everton a matter of months prior to being dealt the devastating news Barmby, who turns 49 today, wanted to sign for the the Blues’ arch rivals.
“If my highest high this year was taking the telephone call from my lawyers to tell me I’d finally got Everton, the lowest low was hearing the news about Nick Barmby,” Kenwright stated after the deal went through. “It was hearing he had used the six of the worst words in the English language as far as Everton fans are concerned. He had said: ‘I want to play for Liverpool’. To say I was shocked and surprised doesn’t begin to describe how I felt about it.”
As far as players on both sets of sides were concerned, the feeling was mixed. Jamie Carragher, who himself grew up as an Evertonian only to later become a Liverpool legend, believes the opportunity to win trophies and the fact Barmby was not a local lad made this a transfer he could understand.
“If I’d signed for Everton as a teenager and played for the first team, there’s absolutely no chance I could ever make that move,” Carragher told the Athletic in 2020. “But it’s different if you’re not from Liverpool. They don’t like to hear it but I think that almost every other Everton player would want to do it because of the chance of European football and trophies.”
Offering an alternative view, ex-Everton defender and ECHO columnist Michael Ball struggled to come to terms with what felt like a betrayal. The pair had both been involved in a memorable victory at Anfield the previous year courtesy of a Kevin Campbell winner and had now become divided by this shock switch.
“We had quite a few managers in a short space of time and the style of the football didn’t really suit Nick,” Ball told the Athletic. “The team wasn’t doing well enough for England to pick him regularly. As an Evertonian, it hurt. At the time I couldn’t understand it. I was young, blue-eyed and blinkered. All that mattered was Everton. You think, ‘you can’t do that, surely?’
“Ultimately, Nick was a Hull City fan. He wasn’t an Evertonian. He had no alliances to any club other than Hull. I think he gave everything in an Everton shirt and then saw an opportunity, which would allow him to break into the England fold again by signing for Liverpool who were trying to win things. Professionally you can understand it but it still hurts to this day for a lot of Evertonians. That’s me saying it, though. I’m an Evertonian as well. I’d never have given it a second thought. Once you put the blue shirt on, there’s no way back. You can’t sign for the other side.”
Barmby famously scored the game’s opening goal in a 3-1 win in his first Merseyside derby as a Red, wheeling away in celebration to truly rub salt in Blue wounds. He ended the season with three trophies to his name as Liverpool lifted the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup but was sold following his second season at the club, which was blighted by injuries.
Many Evertonians never forgave Barmby for what was viewed as an unthinkable act, although he admitted to having no regrets over his decision when reflecting on his high-profile exit four years ago.
“For me, I loved my time. It was up, down, up, down at Everton. To play football on Merseyside for Everton and Liverpool, and obviously certain fans don’t want to hear that, the hotbed of football for me is the Merseyside area. So to play under both sets of supporters, with the atmosphere and knowledge of the fans, we had an unbelievable time for six or seven years on Merseyside,” he told Alan Myers on the ECHO’s Royal Blue podcast channel in 2019.
“My contract was coming towards the end at Everton and we were led to believed they had agreed a few fees with certain clubs, which is disappointing. We were talking about contracts but couldn’t come to an agreement. If you’re going to leave, you want a club who you want to go to and who wants you. Liverpool came in and my hero was always Kenny Dalglish, and it was a chance to go and play in Europe.
“It didn’t go down well and I knew it wouldn’t, but the people we met at Everton… I still have good friends and met some great people. I know it was more than a tough decision and I never took it lightly. I knew it was going to upset quite a lot of people, but I always have fond memories of Everton and enjoyed playing there.
“For me, looking back on my career, not many people can say they played for a club as big as Everton or Liverpool, so I’m very proud of the fact I did that. I know because they are fierce rivals, not a lot of people will agree with me but I am very proud of the fact I played for Everton.”