The game that spelled the end of John Barnes’ managerial career at the top

The game that spelled the end of John Barnes’ managerial career at the top

ON A COLD AND WET DAY in February 2000, Celtic lost 3-2 at Parkhead to Hearts, meaning the Scottish giants had gone three league games without victory. That is enough to send shivers down the spine of any Celtic fan, particularly as at the time, Old Firm rivals Rangers had a 10-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

Three days later and Celtic had the ideal chance to turn around in what in their eyes would have been a poor spell. At times like that, it is often the manager that takes the brunt of the criticism. For John Barnes, in his first job as a manager, it was no different.

A tremendous player in his day, Barnes completed a clean sweep of domestic trophies in English football. He starred on the wing for Liverpool, scored one of England’s greatest goals against Brazil at the Maracanã and has since been inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.

But on 8 February 2000, he was no match for Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager Steve Paterson, who managed Elgin City and then Huntly at the height of Barnes’ time at Anfield. What was to follow on that cold, chilly night is etched in the memory of the 4,000 Caley Jags fans that travelled from the Highlands to Parkhead in full voice. Celtic’s faithful may remember the day but will surely wish that they did not.

In reaching the third round of the Scottish Cup, Inverness had already surpassed even the loftiest of their expectations. The 1999/2000 campaign was only their sixth season in Scottish league football after forming in August 1994 as a result of a merger between Inverness Thistle and Caledonian, two teams who were sat in mid-table of the Highland Division.

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The club was still entirely part-time at the turn of the 21st century, but they played to their strengths and refused to sit back and try and soak up Celtic’s inevitable attacking pressure. And they did not just beat Barnes’ Celtic – they humiliated them.

If the fixture was to be played today, it would be fair to expect that Brendan Rodgers would field a rotated side in order to rest his star players ahead of a busy end of season schedule. However, Barnes knew that even winning may have seen him lose his job; Celtic were not just expected to win, but to win emphatically. Even the most optimistic Celtic fans were resigned to the fact their team’s charge for the league title was all but over and hopes of a cup success come the end of the season were all they had to cling on to.

As a result, former Premier League stars Regi Blinker and Eyal Berkovic started the game. Future Leeds, Middlesborough and Newcastle United front man and 1999/2000 Scottish Premiership top scorer Mark Viduka started, replaced later by Arsenal’s once all-time record goalscorer Ian Wright.

In fact, Viduka’s behaviour after being subbed off by Barnes summed up the mood at Parkhead that night. After coming off he had a tantrum on the substitutes bench and threw his boots in the bin. He gave up, did not know what to do and had a fit of rage – probably a feeling shared by the thousands of Celtic fans in attendance.

Inverness manager Paterson knew how restless the home crowd would have been, and how the self-doubt amongst the Celtic players would have grown the longer the game stayed goalless. The favourites did not have the ever-dependable Alan Stubbs, Champions League winning midfielder Paul Lambert or the imperious Henrik Larsson to call upon either because of injuries.

Paterson, however, would still not have expected to have gone ahead inside 20 minutes. Barry Wilson headed home Paul Sheerin’s cross after Inverness’ first real foray in Celtic’s half. Most teams in that position would have sat all 11 players behind the ball and tried to retain their narrow lead for the majority of the game. Few teams have gone ahead at Parkhead so early on; even fewer have come away with a victory this way.

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Mark Birchall did not take long to equalise for Celtic, but Inverness fought back and scored another goal of their own to restore their lead. Bobby Mann’s goal came as a result of a huge slice of luck as his header deflected off Ľubomír Moravčík and found its way in, but Inverness deserved it.

Caley Thistle’s fans refer to their club as ‘The Pride of the Highlands’, much to the anger of neighbouring Ross County, but their bravery in attack against one of the giants of European football had even the most passionate of County fans rooting for their rivals. Inverness refused to sit on their narrow lead and looked for another goal. Barnes’ Celtic looked fragile and provided lots of chances for the minnows to pick holes in their defence, which Inverness duly accepted.

They were rewarded at the beginning of the second half when Wilson won a penalty after being pushed over by Blinker. Top scorer in all competitions, Sheerin provided a cool head when Paterson’s side needed it most and calmly scored his penalty, sending Celtic’s players into panic mode. Apart from Stéphane Mahé’s long-range effort that struck the post, the Bhoys were stifled of all their creativity against a team that on paper they should have thumped.

Inverness finished as 3-1 victors and had beaten a team containing millions of pounds worth of talent. The scorer of Caley’s third goal, Sheerin, was last seen playing for Arbroath. Keeper Jim Calder last played for Huntly and centre-backs Mark McCulloch and Richard Hastings ended up at Forfar and Brora Rangers respectively. They had overcome a team that included Celtic legend Tom Boyd, who spent 11 successful years at Parkhead, former England international Wright, and Viduka, who would appear at the World Cup for Australia.

As the players stumbled to an embarrassing defeat, which in truth could have been much heavier, Celtic’s fans booed their team, and manager, off the pitch.

It was not only the club’s fans that hit the self-destruct button – Barnes knew his time as manager was up after the final whistle and expected the worst. Chief executive Allan MacDonald fired him just two days after the defeat and blamed Celtic’s poor season entirely on him. Director of Football Kenny Dalglish replaced Barnes but could not repair the damage done by his former Liverpool teammate as Celtic finished a shocking 21 points behind Rangers in the Premiership at the end of the season.

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Celtic improved drastically the following campaign under new manager, Martin O’Neill. The Hoops regained their league crown and finished 15 points ahead of Rangers, amassing an incredible 97 points at the end of the 2000/01 season. Celtic’s stellar league campaign also included a 6-2 drubbing of Rangers, the club’s biggest Old Firm victory since 1957. European giants AC Milan, Barcelona and Manchester United have all travelled to Scotland in the Champions League and gone back home empty handed since. Barnes’ fortunes, however, did not get better. They got much, much worse.

At a time when Celtic were performing well in the Champions League against some of the world’s biggest clubs, Barnes tried and failed to land the Port Vale job. He finally got a break in 2008 when the country of his birth, Jamaica, offered him another chance in management, but his time back home barely lasted a year.

Barnes deserves credit for not giving up on his dream of managing in English football. His chance finally came after nine years without managing a club side, at Tranmere Rovers in June 2009. It was not the fairytale Barnes’ return to Merseyside promised. Aided by assistant manager and former Liverpool teammate Jason McAteer, Barnes’ Tranmere won only three of his first 14 games in charge. This came after former manager Ronnie Moore guided the Super Whites to three top-half finishes in League One, and were disappointed to miss out on the playoffs at the end of the 2008-09 season.

In November of the same year, Barnes was sacked after only five months at the helm at Prenton Park. He won just two of his last 11 matches and was embarrassingly replaced as manager by the club’s physio, Les Parry. Barnes and McAteer were reportedly known as “Dumb and Dumber” by the Tranmere squad.

It seemed that Barnes’ managerial career could not provide an even larger contrast to the unbelievable success he achieved as a player. However, after leaving Tranmere, Barnes publically admitted that he tried, and failed, to land the job as Rwanda’s national team manager. Rwanda have never come close to qualifying for a World Cup and have only appeared once at the African Cup of Nations, but the Rwandese Federation of Football still decided against appointing one of English football’s biggest names.

After Antonio Conte, Zinedine Zidane and Carlo Ancelotti recently won Europe’s most prestigious leagues as managers of Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively, Barnes is proof that a trophy-laden playing career does not always promise success as a manager. His demise as a coach and subsequent appearances as a rapper with Jamie Redknapp on A League of Their Own on Sky is a result of a plucky part-time team from the Scottish Highlands led by the current manager of Scottish junior side, Dufftown 

By Ryan Plant    @ryanplant1998

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