Watching Raheem Sterling recently against Swansea, full of confidence breaking at speed, dropping the shoulder beating a man and scoring put me in mind of Peter Barnes and in particular a performance at White Hart Lane in February 1979.
In full flow Barnes could be unplayable, all left foot playing out wide, he had pace to spare, a creator of goals for the team, a flying winger who chipped in with the odd goal or two.
In this league game away at Spurs he was devastating on the break and was involved in all three City goals. In the first half Spurs had a good shout for a penalty turned down from a corner. With the home crowd still shouting “hand ball!!!”, Paul Power cleared down the left to Barnes, he dragged two players wide to him, laid it off to Gary Owen for a quick one-two and he raced past Steve Perryman into the box and was pulled down from behind for a penalty which Brian Kidd dispatched for 1-0.
Another corner for Spurs led to the second. A towering clearing header from Dave Watson was picked up by Owen who swept it out to Barnes, he ran straight at Perryman again, burned him off again, this time Perryman’s desperate defensive lunge was to no avail and Barnes crashed a shot into the roof of the net for 2-0. City added a third in the second half, this time it was great wing play from Barnes. Once again Owen set Barnes away up the line, he left one defender for pure pace, nipped the ball round a second leaving him on the seat of his pants and dropped the ball onto Mick Channon’s head at the far post for an excellent third City goal in a great away performance.
Together Barnes and Owen were two of the shining lights of the side, lads who had come through the youth team set up, our boys, they were huge fan favourites. In the rough and tumble of the 1970s with heavy pitches a long way from the carpets they play on today, there was talk about them both being on the small side but it never seemed to matter. Owen moved across muddy pitches with ease whilst Barnes had the best of the conditions playing out wide and used them to great effect. Peter Barnes was a full England international and had been named PFA Young Player of the Year in 1976, the same season in which he scored the opener in the League Cup final win, whilst Gary Owen had been capped at England B level was a regular in the under-21s. Both were first team regulars at Maine Road and had played significant roles in 1976/77 season when City finished runners-up in the League to Liverpool. Both appeared to have bright futures at the club.
Just a month before the Spurs game in January 1979, Malcolm Allison had returned to City to “help” the manager Tony Book as a coach. By July 1979, Allison was named manager, Book was now the ‘general manager’ and there was a sense of déjà vu, with the events similar to when Joe Mercer was moved upstairs to accommodate Allison in 1971.
Allison insisted that when he arrived back at City, he found a team of “over 30s”, who were refusing to adapt to his new ideas and new training methods. Joe Corrigan later confirmed that there was disagreement between some of the players and Allison, which eventually led to a clean out of senior players. It could be argued that Kidd, Hartford and Channon were closer to the end than the start of their careers when they were sold, but Barnes and Owen were in their early twenties and were surely the players we needed to keep. However, they were sold to West Bromwich Albion for a joint fee of just over a one million pounds. In retrospect, they were our main saleable assets and funds were required as chairman Swales and Allison embarked on a spending spree in an attempt to assemble a new squad of mainly young players with potential which Allison believed he could mould into the next great City team. So within six months of this game they were gone. Bot the fans and the players themselves were gutted.
A year later on the February 2nd 1980, Barnes and Owen returned to Maine Road with West Brom and they were still working well in tandem, as they had done from their youth team days together. The Allison “revolution” was not going so well at City and both ex-players had a point to prove in this game. Barnes played across a fluid front line, constantly swapping from wing to wing then appearing in the middle, whilst Owen kept the ball moving in midfield, skipping across the heavy surface with ease.
Barnes would score two in a 3-1 win for Albion. The first was a neat move down the City left that led to a cross into the box which Caton missed completely and Barnes in the middle scored from six yards out. His second came after a cross from deep was nodded down to an unmarked Barnes who rounded Corrigan to slot home. For both goals Barnes and Owen embraced on the way back to the restart, all smiles. These were not the days of “non-celebrations” against old clubs, the two players who never wanted to leave had shown what most of the fans knew, that they were class acts who should still have been at City.
As a young fan, pictures of Peter Barnes and Gary Owen were carefully extracted from Shoot! magazine and were up on my wall. In my then naive eyes they were going to become City legends and play their careers out at Maine Road. Sadly this was not to be, I was angry with the decision at the time and for a very long time after. I only forgave Malcolm Allison when he eventually admitted that he had made a mistake selling the two young stars.
Peter and Gary often pop up in the local City media today and both never hide what huge City fans they are. I wish I could have seen more of them in a blue shirt but for me, for their contributions to City on and off the pitch, they are legends.
Written by Richard Donlan
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