Thursday, 4th August, 2011
Born in the South Australian hills town of Mount Barker, Robert George Lavington Barnes moved with his family to Broken Hill while he was still a youngster.
This audacious sporting talent was known as Bobbie throughout his career.
He played his first senior football as a member of the West BH club, claiming the BHFL’s best and fairest award, the Kenwrick Medal.
He caught the attention of a number of Adelaide clubs when he came to the South Australian capital in 1918 to play in a challenge match for the Barrier against West Adelaide, but it would take a few more years before the Bloods could convince him to come to their club.
The general consensus at most of the Adelaide SANFL clubs was that while impressed with Barnes’ abundant natural football ability, they regarded him as being too small to succeed at league level.
West Adelaide secretary at the time, Bert Edwards, is credited as the person to entice Barnes to the Red and Blacks.
A clever, busy rover, particularly noted for his accurate disposal of the ball, it was not long before Barnes was earning rave reviews, and he was selected to represent South Australia in his debut season.
He was a hero and then team-mate of a later Bloods’ club champion Bruce McGregor.
A dual Magarey Medallist himself, McGregor said in Merv Agars great book on the West Adelaide Football Club, “Blood, Sweat and Tears” that Barnes was the best stab pass he had seen.
“Barnes could stab pass all the balls used at training through the single door of the change rooms,” McGregor said.
“And like Barrie Robran and Phil Gallagher, he could stand still and, with skilled evasion, defy opponents to catch him.”
In 1921, at 23 years of age, Barnes debuted at league level in Adelaide.
In his second season he secured South Australian football’s premier individual honour, the Magarey Medal, but he was unable to prevent his team from going down heavily to Norwood in the Grand Final.
The Bloods went down to the Redlegs mainly due to their incredible inaccuracy. The final score in the 1922 decider was Norwood 9.7 defeating West Adelaide 2.16.
To win the Magarey Medal Barnes was consistent - polling in eight of his 15 games - to win the prestigious individual accolade; with the runner up being perhaps South Australia’s best ever all round sporting talent, Victor Yorke Richardson.
During 1923 and ‘24 Barnes continued his fine form but due to illness only played six games during the 1925 winter.
He started the 1926 season as the captain of the club but in support of new president Edwards, he resigned and it was a sad end to a short, but equally stunning football career with West Adelaide.
On the field Barnes gave West Adelaide and the state of South Australia good service over these four and a half seasons, playing a total of 59 games and kicking 67 goals.
He also played eight games and also kicked eight goals for South Australia.
Barnes was West’s leading scorer in 1924, albeit with the modest total of 17 goals.
Sometime after Barnes departure, “The Sport” newspaper of the era paid a tribute to him.
“Bob Barnes was, I think, the best player we saw here for many seasons,” it said in an article on past greats.
“He was a born footballer with wonderful anticipation, which gave a great fillip to his sharking facilities.
“All the other fellows admired Bob so much that it was very rarely he was played a dirty trick.
“He was like a ‘will ‘o the wisp, - here, there and everywhere.”
Barnes moved to New South Wales in the mid 1950s and passed away in September 1967 at the age of 71.