John Barnes explains how a taxi driver gave him his break in football

John Barnes
(Image credit: Getty)

John Barnes might never have made it as a professional footballer, let alone won two First Division titles, two FA Cups and represented England 79 times over a 13-year period, had it not been for a passing taxi driver spotting him playing for Sudbury Court.

As a teenager, Barnes turned out for Middlesex League side Sudbury Court, enjoying his football locally before his seemingly imminent departure from the UK. As he explains, Barnes was due to head to America to take up a football scholarship at 17-years-old. 

“I was four months from going to America,” Barnes tells FourFourTwo. “My father had already been recalled to Jamaica, as we didn’t emigrate to England as a family – he came on a four-year posting as a military attaché. 

"After the four years were up, he was summoned and it was only because we were still at school – I was finishing my O-Levels, my sisters were doing their A-Levels – that we needed to stay put. He went back, we stayed for six months and I played locally. 

"A university in Washington offered me a football scholarship, which I’d been intending to take."

However, the most unlikely of circumstances changed the course of his career forever.

“I was playing for Sudbury Court, when a taxi driver drove by and stopped to watch. He knew a scout, who came the next week and asked whether I wanted to go and train at Watford. They then offered me a contract. 

"My mum and sisters went back to Jamaica after school finished and we weren’t starting training at Watford until July, so I didn’t have anywhere to live at first. I stayed with a friend of my mum and dad, then went into digs at Watford once pre-season began."

Watford didn't live to regret handing Barnes a trial and then a contract, as he helped the side complete its five-year rise from the Fourth Division to the First under the stewardship of Graham Taylor. He left in 1987 to join Liverpool, after scoring 65 goals in 233 league appearances for the club. 

That's not the only ridiculous story involving John Barnes' family, though. 

Indeed, the 1993 Cool Runnings - which focused on a Jamaican bobsleigh team at the Winter Olympics - might not have been made had it not been for Barnes' dad, Ken. 

While John remained in England to pursue his football career, Ken returned home to Jamaica and combined his army job with a position as a sports administrator. Ahead of the 1988 Winter Olympics, he was approached by an American looking to set up a Jamaican bobsleigh team. 

Barnes Senior offered advice that helped to find the men who ultimately made up the quartet, some with military connections. They came last on their Olympic debut, but a legend – it’s one of 13 films movie-phobe Michael Owen has watched – had been born.

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Ryan Dabbs
Staff writer

Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future.