John Barnes’ FA Cup Memories

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With the FA Cup final originally scheduled this weekend, we spoke exclusively to John Barnes. The former Liverpool, Watford and Newcastle winger nostalgically shared memories of his days playing in the oldest cup competition in world football, his favourite recollection as a spectator and how big teams nowadays have disrespected the tournament by fielding weaker sides.


John Barnes Exclusives:

John Barnes Exclusive: Getting to the final with Watford is my favourite FA Cup memory and I’d much rather lose a final than a semi-final

“My favourite [FA Cup memory] was the semi-final for Watford against Plymouth, which meant we got to our first FA Cup Final for Watford in 1984, which was unbelievable.

“Where you want to lose the FA Cup is in the final. You don’t want to lose in the semi-final. Particularly back then, in the weeks leading up to the FA Cup Final, the players were just immersed into the country, the fans, media, so the week of the FA Cup Final is special. Yes, you’re disappointed that you’ve lost [in the final], but if you lose in the semi-finals – I’ve lost semi-finals a few times as well – that’s not the place to lose.”

John Barnes Exclusive: We owed it to the fans to win Forest and Everton games post-Hillsborough

“Obviously, the one against Everton after Hillsborough [was another favourite FA Cup memory], because we really wanted to win that for the fans. So that was a special one.

“The semi-final against Forest [was another favourite FA Cup memory]. That was at Hillsborough where we re-played that game. When so many people have lost their lives, that probably was my favourite, the semi-final. It’s Hillsborough and the fans have decided that they want us to play as a mark of respect for the fans who lost their lives. I really wanted to win that one. That was one of my favourite ones, as well as well as beating Everton in the final, obviously.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Scoring against my good friend Tony Coton to take Watford to the semi-finals was my favourite FA Cup goal

“My favourite FA Cup goal was against Birmingham in the quarterfinals for Watford. We beat Plymouth in the semi-final, Birmingham in the quarterfinals, and that was against one of my best friends, Tony Coton, who later came to Watford. So, that was my favourite and we won 3-1.”

John Barnes Exclusive: Michael Owen’s double against Arsenal was one of my FA Cup highlights as a fan – Arsenal should have been five or six up

“[One of] my favourites [FA Cup games as a fan], because I went to the game and I don’t go to many FA Cup finals – but I went to the one in Cardiff – was when Arsenal played Liverpool. Michael Owen’s one with the winner with his left foot.

“They were getting battered and they were 1-0 down but he scored to equalise. Arsenal should have been five or six up and they were also a much better team. Then, I can’t remember who played the ball over the top but he [Owen] went and put it past [David Seaman].”

John Barnes Exclusive: I missed Andy Carroll’s late winner against Everton, but I remember the amazing feeling

“My all-time favourite [FA Cup memory] since I retired was add Andy Carroll, funnily enough. I was doing the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley and we were [presenting] on the side of the pitch by the goal. And what happened was we were watching the game from a box, and it was me and, from Everton, Graeme Sharp.

“We then had to do the end of game presentation, and had to come down from the box and get down to the pitch-side, but of course we had to leave about three minutes four minutes before the end of the game, so when it finishes, you can come straight to us.

“So, we were then walking through and you can’t see the pitch as you go through the tunnel to get there. And as we were coming out of the tunnel, probably about 20 seconds before we got onto the pitch, and we can’t see a thing, someone scored.

“We heard the cheer go up, and this was going to be the winner because obviously there’s only two minutes ago. So, me and Graeme Sharp started running because it could have been Everton who scored – we didn’t know. And as we came running out of the tunnel, we just saw Andy Carroll and people running straight towards us. I knew that it was Liverpool that scored, and Graeme Sharpe just stood with his head in his hands. Although I didn’t see the goal, I remember that feeling.”

John Barnes Exclusive: The big teams have been disrespectful to the cup by fielding weaker sides but now they realise trophies are more important than fourth place

“I think that [the FA Cup losing its magic] was the case possibly about 12 years ago, up until about five years ago, whereby they were playing weakened teams. We saw teams do it like Man United and Chelsea, but I don’t think they do that anymore because they realised that winning a trophy is important.

“Once upon a time, I would say about 10-12 years ago, everybody wanted to finish fourth rather than get to a cup final because finishing fourth gets you into the Champions League. The big teams were, in my opinion, disrespectful to the cup by playing weakened sides.

“Then when they kept finishing fourth, like Arsene Wenger will testify, to just qualify for the Champions League, the fans were unhappy because all of a sudden, they weren’t winning a trophy. So, they said, ‘we have to win a trophy as well’.”

John Barnes Exclusive: City and Liverpool can afford to rotate for the FA Cup, but Arsenal and Spurs need to focus on winning silverware

“Depending on who you are, Man City could do that [field a weaker team in the FA Cup] because City fans know they’re going to win the league – the same with Liverpool, for that matter. But for Arsenal and Tottenham, and teams like that who probably aren’t going to win the league, they think ‘well let’s win a trophy’, rather than trying to finish fourth. I think they’re putting out stronger teams now.”

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