The impossible jobWhen Peter Barnes joined the Throstles in the summer of 1979, he was already a well established England international. Ironically that didn’t go down especially well with the Albion fans of the time since it was Barnes who was keeping Laurie Cunningham out of the England team, a place most of us felt should have been his of right.
Once Laurie decided that a move to Real Madrid was simply too good to resist, Ron Atkinson had to fill a sizeable hole in the Throstles team. Cunningham had been a key performer in a side that had taken on all comers with its breathless brand of glorious attacking football.
With Cunningham gone, Albion drafted in the only man capable of replacing him, his senior at international level, Peter Barnes. A cheque for £750,000 took him away from Manchester City’s Maine Road, Gary Owen coming with him in a transfer deal that proved the Baggies meant business, looking to build on the success of the previous season.
Barnes had won his first cap in November 1977, Ron Greenwood trying to revive English fortunes in the wake of Don Revie’s desertion of the manager’s job, Barnes and Steve Coppell playing as out and out wingers in a new look England side. He was in and out of the side over the next 18 months, collecting a dozen caps before arriving at The Hawthorns.
Replacing Cunningham was a thankless task, Barnes a more old fashioned style of winger than the silky Laurie who had combined so well with Cyrille Regis. Even so, Barnes finished top scorer in that first season, registering his arrival with the only goal in the Centenary Match against Ajax, then adding 15 in the First Division.
That form kept him in and around the England squad, though he only won two more caps that season, missing out as Cunningham won a couple of his caps. As wingers often do, Barnes suffered when Greenwood’s nerve deserted him following a 4-1 thumping against Wales in May 1980, the manager taking on a more “pragmatic” style of play that saw Barnes frozen out for the best part of a year, playing no part in that summer’s European Championships in Italy.
Strong displays for the Throstles saw him regain his place the following March as England lost to Spain in a Wembley friendly, then he collected three more caps in May before his Albion career petered out and he moved north to Leeds, the Baggies making the best part of £200,000 on the deal.
It was a case of picking the perfect moment to sell – Barnes played only twice more for England as injuries began to cut a swathe through his career.