Written By LFC Historian Kieran Smith
County Durham lies in the North East of England, a region famed for its coal mining, heavy industry, and breath-taking scenery. Its North-Western region was once the home of the Consett steelworks, a major employer in the area, which, at its peak in the 1960s, employed around 6,000 people. During this period, a future Liverpool title-winner was born within the shadows of the steelworks, the son of a mining father, as Barry Venison entered the world on the 16th August, 1964. A standout youngster would be Roker Park, the home of Sunderland F.C., where Barry would enter the world of professional football as he signed apprentice forms with the ‘The Black Cats.’ He was soon hitting the headlines, with the Newcastle Evening Chronicle referring to his display in a reserve match at Roker Park in September 1980 as ‘…one of the most eye-catching displays came from a 16-year-old apprentice – Sunderland’s competitive midfielder, Barry Venison.’ His combative nature, skill, and distribution were meeting high standards. The Sunderland boss Alan Durban moved him to the right-back position in a much-anticipated game against Leeds United in October 1981. Seen as a brave move by some, Durban told the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, “I have no worries about him and I am perfectly happy about playing the lad at right-back…He takes up good covering positions. He has a good attitude and he has handled well his first two First Division games.”
As he gained more experience, other clubs began to take in interest, with Chelsea one of his keenest suitors. Then, in 1985, Sunderland reached Wembley and the Milk Cup Final against Norwich City. With Sunderland captain Shaun Elliott suspended for the final, Len Ashurst, the Sunderland manager, handed the captaincy to Venison, making him the youngest captain to lead a side on the hallowed turf in a final. Clearly, Sunderland and its supporters had a very talented player on their books, but who, if anyone, could prise him away from the North East? It would be July 1986, and the current First Division title and F.A. Cup holders Liverpool where Barry Venison would be moving. The Liverpool Echo reported that England Under 21 international had travelled to Liverpool for talks as a free agent. With the Anfield giants only having two recognised full-backs in Steve Nicol and Jim Beglin, Venison would provide much-needed cover.
He signed on the dotted line for his new club. Barry was in the frame for a debut against Everton at Wembley in the Charity Shield on his 22nd birthday. Steve Nicol had picked up a stomach muscle injury in Mexico and had been admitted to hospital. Having failed to be fit, the able Venison stepped up, as over 88,000 witnessed the Reds and Blues sharing the shield following a 1-1 draw. The Liverpool Echo’s Ian Hargreaves later reported that Barry Venison was ‘…a striking figure with his Viking locks…fitting in well and distributing like an established Liverpool player…’ Barry had featured in every pre-season game, making his debut against a Danish Select XI. Having featured in the Charity Shield, it was clear he was more than capable of featuring in the starting eleven. He made his league debut in the season opener at Newcastle, as he came up against future Red Peter Beardsley. Liverpool won the game 2-0, with goalkeeper Mike Hooper also making his debut. During his first season, Barry played in 33 league games, but the Red’s went without any silverware.
The 1987/88 season would see Venison grabbing his first league winner’s medal. Despite making 18 appearances to secure his medal, injury blighted his season, missing two months due to Achilles tendon problems. Throughout his Anfield career, as much as injuries to other players offered an opportunity for first-team selection, so too did it hamper his own playing time. Liverpool finished the season nine points clear of Manchester United. Famously, or infamously, depending upon your allegiance, Liverpool was denied a second league, and F.A. Cup double at the hands of Wimbledon in the F.A. Cup final.
The 1988/89 promised to be a great one for Liverpool. The L.F.C. forward line was arguably the strongest it had seen, with Ian Rush returning to the club from Juventus, the Red’s seemed to be unstoppable. The idea of another double seemed to be more reality than fantasy. But, as we know, the season changed football, Liverpool Football Club and the city. The events at Hillsborough and its aftermath have changed, forever, the club and its supporters. The details, too horrific to discuss, are the legal proceedings that the families of the survivors have and still do endure. It was a season that made many question the importance of the game. Having been forced to play so many games in the aftermath of the disaster, the team secured the F.A. Cup against Everton in the most emotional match Wembley had witnessed. As a late substitution for Steve Staunton, Venison secured an F.A. Cup winners medal. Barry was an unused substitute as Arsenal took the league title back to Highbury on that infamous night at Anfield.
The Charity Shield was the usual curtain-raiser for the new season, and as the 1989/90 season got underway, Liverpool came up against Arsenal. With Venison in midfield, over 63,000 saw Beardsley score the game’s only goal, assisted by Venison. The season saw the emergence of Aston Villa as fellow title contenders, but Liverpool was too good to stop, finishing as league winners, nine points clear of Villa. Venison enjoyed a productive season, amassing 25 league games and, of course, a second league winners medal.
For the remainder of his time at Anfield, Barry faced struggles with injuries and the emergence of other players. The summer of 1992 saw Barry leave Anfield for Newcastle United, who were surging towards the Premier League under the management of Kevin Keegan. During his time at Newcastle, he secured two England caps in two friendlies against the U.S.A. (1994) and Uruguay (1995). In 1995, Galatasary boss Graeme Souness signed Venison before Venison moved back to England shortly afterward, joining Southampton. Shortly after his arrival on the south coast, Souness took over as Saints boss for the 1996/97 season. Sadly, Venison would soon be forced to retire due to injury. He entered the world of media and punditry before moving to America as a football coach. Barry now has a successful career in real estate in California. The career of Barry Venison was enjoyed by many of the Anfield faithful as part of a golden era under the management of Kenny Dalglish.