R.I.P. Barry John (1945-2024) | In the Dark

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I just read the terrible news of the death at the age of 79 of yet another icon of Welsh Rugby Union, the legendary standoff Barry John.

Five years ago I posted an item about Barry John inspired by this clip

The opening part of this clip had caught my attention because it was filmed near the bus stop just outside The Halfway, a pub on Cathedral Road just a few yards from the house in Cardiff in which I lived for many years; in the background you can see Llandaff Fields.

I had often wondered what became of Barry John. He was 74 when I wrote about him and no longer the slim young prodigy who was undoubtedly the best rugby player I ever saw. Since he played in a great era for Welsh rugby that included Gareth Edwards, J.P.R. Williams, Gerald Davies et al, that really says something. As the Guardian obituary aptly puts it, he “played Rugby from another world”.

As a sort of rugby equivalent of George Best, Barry John was incredibly famous during his career. Budding rugby players – even those not born in Wales – all wanted to play like Barry John. But suddenly, at the age of just 27, after playing just 25 internationals, he turned his back on all the publicity and adulation and retired from rugby. He found the pressure of being such a star in the amateur era too difficult to cope with.

So was Barry John really that good? Absolutely yes, he was. Slight of build but with superb balance, he had an extraordinary, almost magical, ability to find his way through a crowd of potential tacklers as if they weren’t there at all. In the memorable words of that great commentator Bill McLaren “he flits like a little phantom”. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Just look at him – and some other giants of the time – in these highlights of the classic Scotland-Wales tie in the Five Nations of 1971. Watch about 30 seconds in, where he wrong-foots half the Scottish three-quarter line before ghosting through three more and releasing the ball to his forwards. Will there ever be another Barry John? I doubt it..

I’m sure there are many of us who remember the excitement of watching Barry John play and feel enriched by what he gave us.

Rest in Peace, Barry John (1945-2024).

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