There are numerous examples of players representing both teams in a long-standing rivalry, although cases of players transferring directly from one rival to another are altogether rarer. When they happen, though, they tend to be remembered, not least by the supporters of the selling club. No Tottenham fan will forgive Sol Campbell too readily for joining Arsenal in 2001, while Carlos Tevez undid a lot of the admiration he had earned from Manchester United fans when he switched to the blue of City eight years later. Another who made a brave crosstown switch was Nick Barmby, who Liverpool signed from Everton 18 years ago.
The Hull native came from a footballing family, with his father Jeff briefly a professional player, and teenage Nick was signed by Tottenham in the early 1990s. His first team debut for Spurs came a month into the inaugural Premier League season of 1992/93 and it was during that campaign that Barmby established himself as one of the brightest young players in England. He was also lucky to be at Spurs during the reign of Ossie Ardiles, with the charismatic Argentine often fielding the youngster among five attacking players in his preferred line-up.
He moved closer to home in 1995, though, signing for newly-promoted Middlesbrough at an exciting time for the club, who had just moved into the Riverside Stadium. Having signed Barmby for £5.25 million from Spurs, the Teessiders sold him to Everton in late 1996 for £5.75 million, a reasonably tidy fee at the time. The England international’s first 18 months at Goodison Park were challenging, with the midfielder dogged by injuries and the Toffees surviving two uncomfortable relegation battles. There were days when Barmby reminded Everton fans of his considerable ability, such as the hat-trick he bagged against West Ham in 2000, but goals were generally hard to come by.
It was in the summer of 2000 that Barmby made the brave decision to move across Stanley Park and join Liverpool, the first player to directly switch from Merseyside blue to red since Dave Hickson in 1959. Inevitably he scored in the first derby played after his crosstown transfer, a 3-1 Liverpool victory at Anfield, and he was a regular presence in the three knockout competitions that the Reds won that season. Barmby came off the bench to score a penalty in the League Cup final shootout success against Birmingham, but was unlucky not to feature in the FA Cup and UEFA Cup deciders after playing an integral part in getting Liverpool to Cardiff and Dortmund respectively.
The 2001/02 season was a nightmare for the midfielder, who suffered badly from injuries and a loss of form. Liverpool accepted a bid from Sunderland in autumn 2001, but the player refused the move and decided to try and earn his place in the Reds’ first choice XI. When that never materialised, though, Barmby knew he ultimately had to move on and he joined Leeds at the start of the 2002/03 campaign. The timing of the transfer was unfortunate for him, as the Yorkshire club were about to slide into a downward spiral which forced them to sell their prized assets and culminated in relegation in 2004. Barmby had a brief spell on loan at Nottingham Forest in the months before Leeds plunged into the Championship and the player went a level lower for the 2004/05 season, signing for hometown club Hull, then of League One.
Now in the twilight of his career, Barmby thrived for the Tigers, helping them to earn two promotions in four years and reach the top flight for the first time in the club’s history in 2008. He matched a Premier League record that year, with Hull being the sixth club for whom he scored in the division. He suffered the second relegation of his career in 2010, but stuck with the Tigers for their Championship campaign the following season, which would be his last as a player. Indeed, Hull manager Nigel Pearson added Barmby to his coaching staff for 2010/11 with a view to him starting out on the coaching ladder.
When Pearson left Hull to take charge of Leicester in November 2011, Barmby was named as his successor, initially on a caretaker basis before getting the job full-time in early 2012. He was sacked at the end of that season, though, after criticising the club’s owners in an interview with a local newspaper. Barmby has not managed at a professional level since, instead devoting his time to coaching the under-14 team of Hull-based junior club Barton Town Old Boys. His son Jack became the third generation of the family to play professionally, having been signed by Leicester and loaned out to MLS club Portland Timbers.
Barmby tends to be one of the forgotten heroes of Liverpool’s treble in 2001, having only featured in one of the three finals, and even that was as a substitute. However, he scored some crucial goals in the cup competitions during that campaign, not least in Europe, and had it not been for injury, he would likely have played an even more prominent role. Also, scoring in his first Merseyside derby as a Liverpool player was quite a way to endear himself to the Kop and further antagonise those of a blue persuasion!