Forgotten Heroes: Barry Venison
Some Liverpool players have been brought in to the club as a result of scouting reports that bring attention to previously undiscovered talent, while others are already widely known and demand huge transfer fees. Still other players are signed as youngsters, and then prove themselves at higher and higher levels of play until finally breaking into the first team. Then there’s the case of Barry Venison, who found his own unique way of becoming a Red.
Barry Venison was born in August, 1964, in County Durham. He grew up in the football mad region of the North East of England, and as a promising young right-back he was signed by Sunderland in the summer of 1981 at the age of seventeen. His reputation grew quite rapidly, and within a couple of years he was making appearances with the England Under-21 side, earning ten caps. It didn’t take long for him to become a fan favourite at Roker Park, and in the spring of 1985 he was honoured to lead his side out as captain against Norwich City in the League Cup Final at Wembley.
At that time, he was the youngest ever captain to play under the famous twin towers, at the age of just 20 years and 220 days. It was a great occasion, but an unfortunate result as Barry’s Black Cats were on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline, which came from an own-goal by one of Barry’s team-mates. Sunderland were struggling in the First Division, and at the end of the 1984-85 season they were duly relegated to the Second. Barry played one more season with them, and then as the end of the season approached and his Sunderland contract was nearing the end of its term, he decided it would be a good time to move on. The problem was where to, as it was clear that teams were not lining up to make offers for the twenty one year old defender. So, Barry took matters into his own hands and wrote letters to each of the First Division club managers, offering his services, and patiently waited for a reply. The only answer was from Kenny Dalglish, who signed him for Liverpool for a fee of £250,000 at the end of July 1986.
Liverpool had just come off an amazing first season under new player-manager Kenny Dalglish. Not only had the Reds beaten Everton to a first place finish in the League, they had also beaten them in the FA Cup Final to take the coveted League Championship and FA Cup ‘Double.’ So it was Everton who would be the opponents in the Charity Shield, with Barry Venison making his Liverpool debut at Wembley on the 16th of August, which was also his twenty fourth birthday. The result was a little better this time than when he had appeared there for Sunderland, with Liverpool sharing the spoils with their neighbours in a 1-1 draw.
A month later, Everton were the opponents again, this time in the Screen Sport Super Cup first leg at Anfield, with Barry playing in a 3-1 win. Two weeks later he was a late substitute in the second leg at Goodison, with the Reds winning 4-1 and providing another medal for Barry in less than six weeks. In all of the competitions in his first season, Barry Venison played a total of forty four matches, including another Wembley appearance in the League Cup Final against Arsenal. He must have felt that there was a Wembley jinx on him as this was his third Wembley appearance and the third time that he failed to be on the winning side. Liverpool ended the season in second place, but with three medals at the end of his first season the future must have looked very promising.
That first season also provided an unexpected opportunity to show Barry’s versatility as a player. He was initially signed as a right-back, with Jim Beglin opposite him on the left. Midway through the 1986-87 season, Beglin was out with a broken leg and Venison was put on the left side to replace him. At the start of the 1987-88 season, he was the first choice right back, but injuries began to keep him out of action, including the FA Cup Final loss to Wimbledon – at least he wasn’t any jinx in that one. Fortunately though, he had played in eighteen League matches and was awarded a Champions medal as Liverpool coasted to their seventeenth title.
The 1988-89 season began with a lot more promise, and some early encouragement came in the Charity Shield win over Wimbledon at Wembley. Finally he had earned a winners medal at the famous stadium. The early success continued just nine days later in the quarter final of the Centenary Trophy, where Barry scored his first goal for the Reds against Nottingham Forest. But, Kenny Dalglish was beginning to rotate his players more and more, and Barry found himself starting fewer times, and more frequently on the bench. By the end of the season he had started in 20 league games, and had come on as a substitute in another 2. The end of that season came following the Hillsborough tragedy, and Barry was one of many Liverpool players who consoled the bereaved families and attended many of the funerals. The season provided Barry with yet another medal at Wembley as Liverpool overcame Everton in an emotional FA Cup Final, with Barry being brought on as a substitute in extra-time. He just missed out on another League Champions medal as Arsenal shocked everyone with a last-gasp winner at Anfield to grab the title away from Liverpool, with Barry watching from the bench.
Fortunes appeared to be improving as the 1989-90 season began, and so it was with Barry putting in an impressive series of performances, ending up with a total of 35 starts and 2 as a substitute. That season began again at Wembley for the Charity Shield match against Arsenal, with Liverpool winning 1-0, and ended with another Champions medal as Liverpool became League Champions for the eighteenth time. That League title led to yet another Wembley appearance in the Charity Shield, this time against FA Cup winners Manchester United in a 1-1 draw. This season was to be remembered for the stunning announcement of Kenny Dalglish’s resignation, which coincided with Barry Venison’s last appearance for the season in the famous 4-4 FA Cup replay against Everton. More injuries were to blame as the Reds finished disappointingly as runners-up in the League, as well as being knocked out early in both domestic cups.
The 1991-92 season began with new manager Graeme Souness in charge, and the new challenge (for most players) of European competition. Liverpool had been invited back into UEFA’s plans after the end of the ban that resulted from the Heysel disaster. More injuries meant that it was a late start for Barry, with his first appearance coming in November as he was watching from the bench as Liverpool played Swarowski Tirol in the second round of the UEFA Cup. The second leg at Anfield two weeks later would be his next appearance, where he came on as a substitute in the 70th minute, and made an immediate impact with a goal two minutes later. One more goal came that season, which was to be his first and only league strike, against Notts. County in March of 1992. By the end of the season he had only made a total of 19 appearances in all competitions, with only 10 of those in the starting XI. If injuries weren’t bad enough, the continual chopping and changing by Souness trying to find his best side meant that Venison was being moved in and out of the squad along with Gary Ablett, Steve Staunton, David Burrows, and others. It looked like it was time to move on again, and in July of 1992 he was transferred back to the North East, this time with Second Division Newcastle for a transfer fee of £250,000.
At St. James’s Park, Venison was under the guidance of former Liverpool players Kevin Keegan and his assistant Terry McDermott as they brought Newcastle up into the newly formed Premier League. He was later joined by another former Liverpool player, Peter Beardsley, who was also transferred out by Souness (first of all to Everton before moving to Newcastle two years later). Keegan transformed Venison from a full back to a holding midfielder, and in this role he began to be noticed at higher levels of the game. It came as a surprise to many, and certainly to Barry himself, when Terry Venables called him up shortly after his 30th birthday to play for England in a friendly against the USA. That was to be the first of only two caps for his country, but he remembers both appearances at Wembley saying that his most memorable moment as a player was, ‘œWalking out to a full house at Wembley with three lions on my chest.’
He made a total of 130 appearances for the Magpies, and then was on the move again in the summer of 1995. Now that he was in the later stages of his career, he decided to try his luck overseas and was signed by Graeme Souness (who had previously sent him out of Liverpool) at Turkish club Galatasaray. That was a short lived part of his career, and after only 8 appearances in 5 months, he returned to England to finish his playing days by spending a couple of seasons with Southampton. Amazingly, or perhaps not with the rapid inflation of transfer fees, his move to the South Coast cost The Saints a whopping Â£850,000. A serious back injury brought his playing days to an end in October of 1996, after only managing to make a total of 29 appearances.
Venison in action against Liverpool at Anfield, for Newcastle.
It wasn’t a surprise when Barry Venison surfaced as a pundit for Sky Sports (as had so many retired players before him), first of all on several different shows and then as a regular on the Sunday live matches. He then went on to appear on ITV, co ‘“ hosting the program ‘œOn The Ball’ with Gabby Logan. There was no problem with his knowledge of the game, and he was recognised as an articulate and eloquent analyst. But, viewers were often distracted by his hairstyles and his clothing, which were politely described as ‘œgarish and flamboyant.’ According to one fashion critic, ‘œHe made his television debut in a silver waistcoat, and sporting a mop of straggly bleached hair.’ The critic went on to say, ‘œThe English press didn’t know what was good fashion and what was ‘˜Venison fashion’ and they needed to be told. The maligned Barry Venison himself self-effacingly admitted to being in the dark about this; when questioned about why he’d chosen to look so awful for his television debut, he admitted ‘˜I was not trying to look silly on purpose, it was purely down to my bad taste.’ ‘ And this was well after the creamy-white Armani suit fiasco at the 1996 FA Cup final! He did in fact take on a much more conservative appearance later, with darker clothes, a much shorter hairstyle, and thick-rimmed glasses.
The man who was often described as being capable of wearing three different haircuts at the same time, and was advised that he should wear a crash helmet to hide his hair, was a permanent fixture with ITV for five years. Barry Venison may have made some serious faux pas on the fashion front, but for me I’ll always be able to have more of a laugh at what he sometimes said rather than what he was wearing. Just a few of the comments that he made (obviously without thinking first) were:
‘œThe Croatians don’t play well without the ball.’
‘œPSV have got a lot of pace up front. They’re capable of exposing themselves.’
‘œRomania are more Portuguese than German.’
‘œThe Newcastle back three, back four, back five, have been at sixes and sevens.’
‘œI always used to put my right boot on first, and then obviously my right sock.’
Barry covered the 2000 European Championships, as well as the 1998 and 2002 World Cups for ITV. It was revealed some time later that he had also been offered, but had rejected, the lead reporter role in a TV series called ‘Mullet Hunter’. He went on to be a Camp Director for Brad Friedel’s Premier Soccer Acadamies, and also started up the internet business Bid4sport while he was still playing. Bid4sport auctions off memorabilia that has been signed by celebrities in sports, film, and television, with thousands of pounds being donated to children’s charities.
In 2004, he emigrated to Redondo Beach, California, where he is apparently enjoying life as a property developer in Orange County, and has taken on the stereotypical California Lifestyle.’ According to one reporter who met him recently, He looks more like 23 than 43, and has a deep brown tan and is covered in tattoos. He’s been teetotal for about five years, and gets up at 6am every day and does yoga. Then he waxes up his surfboard and heads out to catch some waves.’ He also has other business interests, and has recently worked the US Tennis Association summer tour for Hawk-Eye Innovations, which is a ball-tracking technology that essentially tells if the ball is in or out of play.
Barry Venison may not have been included in the list of ‘100 Players Who Shook The Kop’, but he did make it onto The Liverpool Way’s ‘10 Players Who Shook The Kop (With Laughter).’
Even though he may be a legend mainly for his wild hairstyles and his questionable fashion sense, it should always be remembered that Barry Venison’s contribution to Liverpool’s great trophy winning sides that dominated the late 1980’s has never been in doubt.