Saturday 9 September 2017

Tales from The Vicarage - An evening with John Barnes

Last night, we visited the Watford Palace Theatre, for one of the "Tales from the Vicarage" series, with Watford and England legend John Barnes.  The Watford Palace Theatre is a great little theatre. It often has shows before they go to the West End, is easy to get to and has a pleasant atmosphere. The crowd last night was a bit different to the regular one though. Mostly blokes my age, beer guts and badly fitting Watford tops in abundance.

I've long been a fan of John Barnes. every football fan of a certain age remembers "that goal", the amazing run through the Brazil team to score. I've also enjoyed his punditry and as one of the first high profile black players, coming through at a time when groups like the National Front were active on the terraces, I thought it would be an interesting session.

We turned up and the first thing was to collect our "goodie bag". This consisted of a copy of one of the "Tales from the Vicarage" books, a book mark and a poster. I plumped for a collection of interviews and stories.
After a refreshing beer in the theatre bar, we went in for the show. The first half was largely talking about his early life. He spoke with great respect about his fathers influence. His Dad was a very sporting guy as an army man he played football, Rugby,  Cricket and Boxing to a high level. John was raised on an  army base in Jamaica. He recounted watching a game between Arsenal and Chelsea. His sisters were champion swimmers. John started swimming, but soon realised football was his game. He recounted how when he was 11 he often played against 15 year olds.

John then recounted how the family moved to England. He was excited as he saw it as the home of football. His Dad had a diplomatic posting for four years with the army. He went toa Marylebone Grammer school, whilst his sisters went to Henrietta Barnet. He started with a local West London youth team, progressing to non league Sudbury Town. To my surprise he explained how he originally played centre half, as he was the only one who had the discipline to play the role.

He then talked about how Watford scouted him. Bertie Mee came and spoke to his Dad. He was also training at QPR, but he said they didn't seem interested. He spoke of the family atmosphere and how discipline and work was the key to the Grahame Taylor success. Barnes is a very natural and engaging subject for interview. A question that perhaps gave a few a surprise was whether he rembered his first goal. He said he remembered very few of his goals. He expained that he didn't consider himself a striker.

The second half of the show was about the "glory years". Explaining that he saw finishing runners up as the pinnacle of his career, even better than a Wembley appearance in the FA cup final. He was also inevitably asked about what is perhaps the greatest ever England goal.

That one against Brazil. John explaines that he remembered little of it, except how he suddenly found himself with an open goal gaping. He told a very un PC story saying it was almost like "how did I get here". He likened it to when he was drunk driving and he found himself, having crashed through a hedge, stranded in the middle of a field.

He was asked who was the biggest influence. His answer was unequivocable. Graham Taylor. It is clear that Taylor was a massive influence and a man he respects above all others in football. He said that at Watford, no one was a superstar, everyone was respectful. He said that as he knew no better, he thought every club made players do work in the community, apper at charity events and take part in silly events. He said how Elton John had wanted to put more money in and Taylor had said no, as the club had to stand on its own two feet. He also paid tribute to how Elton John allowed Taylor to be the boss. He said there were no tantrums and tiaras.

He recounted one of the darker moments, when England travelled to Brazil and on the plane out were a bunch of National Front Neo-Nazi's who tried to give him a hard time. Barnes explained that Taylor had instilled in him the mental toughness to ignore them. He said that after 'that goal' they were quiet on the way home. He said that he always blocked out the crowd and the press, good or bad. There were many great anecdotes, told with humour. The evening finshed with a session of "recreating old photographs" with members of the audience,

 then a rendition of the rap from the England 1990 World Cup song. Barnes recounted that only five players turned up for the session. When they came to do the Rap, it was between him, Peter Beardsely, Gazza and Des Walker, no contest . This was hilarious.

All in all a great night, with a very decent and entertaining man. I'd thoroughly recommend it. 

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