29/04/2017

Pre-Season | Dons Friendly Lined Up

Watford will travel to League 1 side AFC Wimbledon as part of their preparations for the 2017/18 season. 

The Hornets will face the Dons, who are managed by Neal Ardley, in a pre-season friendly at the Cherry Red Records Stadium on Saturday July 15 at 3pm.

Ticketing arrangements will be confirmed at watfordfc.com in due course. 

27/04/2017

Barnes | “It Was A Special Time”

By Matt King

A wand of a left foot, his right wasn’t bad either. He could head the ball and go past players as if they weren't there.

Defenders who tried to get to grips with him found he was as elusive as water running through their fingers. One of the greatest.

That’s John Barnes. 

He may be remembered by some as Watford’s best-ever player, but that is not something that matters to him – he doesn’t need his ego massaged. 

Perhaps it’s the Jamaican in him, or the discipline and humility instilled in him by his father, his mentor, that makes Barnes come across so laid back.

He recalls with fondness his years in yellow, and he calls Watford a “special place”. A place that even now, is very close to his heart.

He was part of the team that got promoted to the first division in 1982, finishing second to Liverpool in their first year in the top flight, and he was the bright spark of flair in a hard-working team that reached the FA Cup final for the first time in the club’s history.

Barnes celebrates scoring for ​​Watford against Sheffield Wednesday, February 24, 1982.

A big part of his success in Hertfordshire was down to the late Graham Taylor – a man who, like his father Colonel Ken Barnes, instilled a discipline and work-rate in him that helped him maximise his obvious talent.

“He put me in the first-team at 17. Without him I wouldn’t be here.” Barnes says.

“I don’t think I would have been the player or the person I was if it wasn’t for Graham.

“I signed in July [1981] and I was in the first-team after two games of the season. When you’re young and you love playing football you don’t really think about how difficult it’s going to be.

“I always loved playing football and I knew I was a decent footballer, but kids all over the world love playing, and I didn’t even know I was going to come to England, so I never thought about being a professional footballer.”

Originally meant to go back to Jamaica and on to Washington University where he had secured a scholarship, he instead stayed and blossomed under the tutelage of Taylor.

The Watford manager had a formative impact on Barnes in the six years he spent at Watford, really pressing home the family and community aspect of the club.

He said: “I came from a very strict upbringing with my Dad being in the army so I was used to that discipline and I just thought this was the way football was. 

“If I had gone to see other clubs I would have realised other clubs aren’t like Watford because Graham really instilled a discipline and a professionalism in all of the players. 

“I couldn’t have wished for a better upbringing than having my first years at Watford under Graham.

“Growing up and coming through with Kenny Jackett and Steve Terry, even though they were there a little bit before me, we came into the first-team together. 

“We were the young ones and there were older ones, but there was a real family feel.”

Barnes celebrates scoring the first Hornets goal in a 3-1 win over Chelsea September 28, 1985.

Egg and spoon races in the centre of town and end-of-season singalongs with the fans in what was then Bailey’s Nightclub helped to foster a connection between the players and their supporters (although it certainly helps if you get promoted up through the divisions too).

“The relationship we had with the fans was so strong,” Barnes says. 

“The players had it in their contracts that we had to do X-amount of hours in community service around hospitals and charities and clubs, because Watford and Graham Taylor felt really strongly about having to embrace the fans, and that’s something which I believed in.

“Watford went out of their way and above and beyond any other club I’ve heard of, they were really trying to foster this community spirit and relationship with the fans.”

A breakaway from Watford, that looked more inevitable as Barnes’ performances continued to dazzle, was one of mixed emotions for the Kingston-born winger. 

And Graham Taylor was torn between wanting to do what was best both for the club and for him, as Barnes explains:

“At that time I was quite naïve as a young footballer, and even though we had got to a Cup final and finished second, I didn’t think about how big the club was and how it could grow and challenge clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool. 

“Maybe it was because at those clubs they were able sustain that success whereas at a club like Watford you have to go through periods of success. 

“Graham knew that this was a special time for Watford and he had a special group of players, who once these players got older – and even if I had stayed at Watford and got to 35-years-old – would be finishing in the top five or six, but not be challenging for championships.

“He understood that and he told me ‘you have to go to Liverpool’ because they were the next stepping-stone in my future to maximise my potential.”

Barnes in action against his future club, Watford v Liverpool March 31, 1984.

It was difficult though. Watford was a hard place to leave, but the time had come for a change.

He said: “You know Luther Blissett came back to Watford [from AC Milan]. 

“He had an offer to go to Manchester United but he chose to come back to Watford because he loved it so much and it’s a special place.

“And Graham actually did very well for me because I would have been very happy to stay, but as much as he was manager of Watford he really cared about his players as well, and he knew what was right for them as individuals. 

“He reckoned it was time for me to move on.”

Lessons learned in Hertfordshire would help shape his attitude and performance in a very successful career for Liverpool, who, when he joined them in 1987, were the best team in the country.

“The silverware that you might win for the club matters most – I learnt that at Watford,” he says. 

“Individual awards in football mean nothing. Would you rather win individual awards and not win cup finals or championships? 

“The individual awards were a bonus, but growing up at Watford really made me understand the importance of playing in a team.

“Although I may have won more individual praise while playing for Liverpool, I never felt that it was more important than winning for the club.

“Most people would say the strongest attributes you can have are skill and pace and strength…but discipline is so important. Discipline, working hard and appreciating your team – it’s all about working together.”

Barnes swings a cross in against Tottenham Hotspur, March 26, 1989 (Credit : Action Images).

That sentiment was definitely rooted in the gospel of Graham Taylor, and as domestic success earned him a call-up to the England squad, Barnes managed what some people consider the greatest goal ever scored for the national side – against Brazil at the Maracana in 1984 – but he says it wasn’t intentional.

“I was looking for someone to pass to, but I couldn’t see anyone to pass to so I kept dribbling!

“I never intended to do that when I first set out.

“After beating one player I wanted to pass the ball, and after beating the second I thought I’d be able to pass the ball, and so on until eventually there was just the goalkeeper to beat.

“Maradona was the same when he scored against England; he ran forward from the halfway line and if he had been able to make a pass, or seen a centre-forward making a run in on goal he would have done it, but because there’s no-one else you keep going. 

“I doubt very much that there’s any player who when they pick the ball up thinks ‘I’m just going to dribble until I score a goal’. I’m not being modest, it’s just the truth!”

Despite his critics, who thought that the John Barnes of Watford and Liverpool was not the same John Barnes of England – a shallow judgement – John remains proud of the 79 caps he earned for the country he learned to call home.

“I could have played for England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland when I became a British citizen. It didn’t mean more to someone who was born in England than it did to me. 

“The honour came from playing for the country that you call your home. It was a great honour to play international football.”

Barnes playing for England in the 1987/88 season.

You could perhaps read a tinge of bitterness in that remark, but if there is Barnes doesn’t show it. He’s bullish about his career and his achievements, and doesn’t value the opinion of anyone other than his family.

“I’m not one for worrying about whether people remember me or not. I played, I did what I did and I tried as hard as I could.

“People will remember me in different ways. The reality is I did what I did – Watford and Liverpool fans may remember me fondly but Everton and Manchester United fans or the Luton fans might say I was rubbish. 

“If they remember you nicely, great, but if they don’t, it doesn’t change a thing for me.”

Barnes speaking at Wembley Stadium in 2013.

So perhaps it is fitting to finish with a pearl of wisdom from a man who remains humble despite a trophy-laden career.

He said: “A lesson in football and life that I learned, and Watford and Liverpool are quite similar in that respect, is that the fleeting moments of success that you may have are not what makes you the person you are. 

“It has to be a consistency of performance, the repetition of success comes from doing the right things week-in, week-out, day-in, day-out.”

Read more from Barnes on Troy Deeney, Graham Taylor, Watford and Liverpool, in the match programme as the Hornets host the Reds on Monday (May 1).