Player profile: Phil Barnes

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pete Green

6 August 2007

Can someone remind me why we Grimbarians are supposed to not like people from Yorkshire? We're very keen on pointing out that the world's best fish and chips are cooked in the Grimsby area, but we are less forthcoming about the fact that most of the best chippies are run by Yorkies. We seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge that the good people of Swinton and Mexborough single-handedly kept the Cleethorpes tourist industry going through the dark, dark decades when English seaside holidays were desperately unfashionable and nobody else would touch Wonderland with a mucky stick. And it's a bit rich for the people of northern Lincolnshire to mock anyone else's accent when our strangulated vowels sound like the noise resulting from a hefty piece of rock getting stuck in a 1400-watt lawnmower.

Town's Sheffield-born-and-bred goalkeeper Phil Barnes is unlucky enough to be opposed by history as well as geography. One of my colleagues on the CA team (Pat Bell, I think) has a theory that each of Town's managerial appointments is a kind of opposing reaction to the one before, and I think the same may be true of the way Town fans respond to their goalkeepers. Though clearly weak on his left side, Anthony Williams was abused disproportionately as a letting-off of steam following the disappointing return of the admired Aidan Davison. Steve Mildenhall was then praised beyond measure out of sheer relief at Williams' exit, and Mildenhall's great popularity in turn dictated that his replacement, Barnes, was always going to suffer more than his fair share of resentment.

True, Barnes has looked horribly uncertain when attempting to gather high balls, but much of that uncertainty must be directly attributable to the jeering he receives from his own 'supporters'. It's a chronic situation; a classic Catch-22. Player gets abuse, abuse makes player nervous, nerves make player perform badly, bad performance makes player get abuse... and so it goes on. It is no coincidence that many of Barnes' better performances in his first season with the Mariners were away from home. Think on, as they say in the white rose county.

So is there a confident, top-notch keeper in there somewhere, waiting for the boo-boys to look the other way before he sneaks out? Barnes' pedigree suggests so. He was highly rated at Blackpool, where he made 170 appearances before joining Sheffield United in 2004. And remember that t' Blades were not looking to get rid when Town came in to sign him. Neil Warnock may not be top of everyone's Christmas card list, but he tends to know a decent keeper when he sees one, and the fact that he was ready to enter the Premiership with Barnes as immediate back-up to Paddy Kenny suggests that there's something there worth persisting with.

The question is whether it's too late to break the cycle of abuse. Alan Buckley has suggested that Barnes' strong showings towards the end of last season would keep him in the first team come August, and there may be a willingness in the stands to give him a clean-ish slate for the new season. But with competition having now arrived, and Gary Montgomery having played well in pre-season, the slightest slip from Barnes will, rightly or wrongly, mean immediate pressure for change. It's all to play for – so shut up and let the lad do his job.