John Barnes was hailed for being more Brazilian than Brazil in 1984 but a special goal for Liverpool is his career favourite.
It was 38 years ago when John Barnes shook the Maracana Stadium and announced himself on the international stage with an unbelievable individual goal for England against Brazil.
Still playing for Watford at the time, the Jamaican-born winger took possession midway into Brazil’s half and glided his way past five opponents and goalkeeper Roberto Costa before rolling the ball into the net, to score one the greatest goals of all-time by an England player, silencing the Rio de Janeiro crowd in the process.
You would be forgiven for assuming that this sublime moment of football genius was the highlight of Barnes’ 211-goal career for club and country, but when the ECHO spoke to him about his unforgettable goal in the world-famous Maracana, he played it down.
Barnes said: “My favourite was [against] Queens Park Rangers. Brazil, yes it was a friendly game. I don’t think the Brazilians were trying too hard. I think someone should have tackled me. But of course, scoring in the Maracana stadium is special – playing for England against Brazil. But my favourite goal was the QPR one.”
The QPR goal Barnes refers to is not his penalty that clinched Liverpool their then record 18th league title in 1990 (and what would turn out to be their last for 30 years), but his second of two against the same club in 1987, when a trio of new signings were already on a mission to prove that they could pick up the legacy of their predecessors and carry on the conveyor belt of success.
With player-manager Kenny Dalglish all but retired from first team duties and Ian Rush departing for a new adventure in Italy, Dalglish signed Barnes from Watford for £900,000 and Peter Beardsley from Newcastle for a British record fee of £1.9million, to play alongside January acquisition John Aldridge.
With the new attacking trio in place, Liverpool won eight of their first ten matches, drawing the other two, before QPR came to Anfield on October 17, 1987. The Reds initially found Jim Smith’s side a tough nut to crack but turned on the style once Craig Johnston made the breakthrough four minutes before halftime, assisted by Barnes.
Eventually the hosts would run out 4-0 winners, with Aldridge tucking away a penalty in the 65th minute before it was Barnes’ time to shine. His first saw Ronnie Whelan pick the pocket of John Byrne, allowing Barnes to play a one-two with Aldridge before side-footing the ball past David Seaman into the top right corner.
But it was his second of the day that truly convinced the Anfield faithful that they had a superstar in their midst. With five minutes to play, the winger won possession on the halfway line and accelerated away from Kevin Brock, before slaloming past two desperate QPR defenders – just like he was back in the Maracana – and stroking the ball into the bottom corner.
No wonder he’s become such a favourite with the Kop already,” enthused BBC commentator John Motson, as the home crowd sang “Johnny Barnes, Johnny Barnes, Johnny Barnes”.
Scoring that goal and making his true mark at Liverpool was a big deal for Barnes, particularly as it had been done in the presence of club legend Rush, who had flown back from Turin to watch the match.
“My favourite [goal] was [against] Queens Park Rangers,” Barnes said. “I’ve scored a lot of goals but that was my favourite one. Particularly as Ian Rush had just gone to Juventus the season before and that was the first time that he’d come back and watched a game. As we were walking out, there was a huge roar. We thought it was for us, running out onto the pitch, but it was actually for Rush who was sitting in the directors box, so we were under a bit of pressure, with me, Aldo (John Aldridge) and Peter Beardsley trying to replace him. The goal was special.”
The performance of the Reds certainly got the approval of Rush. As reported by the Mail, he said: “Queens Park Rangers came to Anfield as supposedly the best team in the country and were beaten easily. Liverpool will win the league. No problem. They are a better team now than when I left. Last season we didn’t win the league so you have to say that there was room for improvement.
Liverpool know what they’re doing. They’ve brought in two world class players in John Barnes and Peter Beardsley. By playing with wingers they have so many more options that opponents don’t know where to look.”
The Guardian’s David Lacey pointed out that Liverpool had added something more to their side with their new signings. He wrote: “The extent to which Liverpool have captured the imagination on Merseyside is remarkable even by their standards. On Saturday, the gates were closed 35 minutes before kick off with 3,000 disappointed fans outside.
“The crowds are not packing Anfield just to see a winning team. Where is the novelty in that? They are flocking there because Liverpool have added individualism and good old fashioned fun to their inherent qualities of sound organisation and good technique.”
Rush had more words of praise for Barnes in the Daily Star, saying: “He was the best player out there. He’s got great skill, but he’s strong as well.”
Teammate Craig Johnston went even further with praise for his new teammate in the Mail, saying: “He’s been called the black George Best or Dennis Law. He’s an immense player. I’ve always rated Barnes as one of my favourite players. I always believed that if he came here it would give him the platform and put him under pressure to do it consistently. He didn’t have that at Watford, but he’s got it now and he’s doing it consistently.”
Liverpool would go on to lift the title that season, beating Manchester United by nine points, with Barnes winning both the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards. He eventually scored 106 goals for the Reds, making 403 appearances across 10 seasons at Anfield, but his halfway line run against Queens Park Rangers – not Brazil – is the goal that he savours the most.