Geoff Barnett, the original goalkeeper and last coach of the Minnesota Kicks, died Friday morning in Fort Myers, Fla., of complications from COVID-19. He was 74.
Barnett had been with Arsenal in England's First Division before signing with the Kicks in 1976 for their fledgling season in the North American Soccer League.
He was the official head coach for the final 26 games of the 1981 season, the Kicks' last, and had a 16-10 record. He had reacquired former teammate and close friend Alan Merrick, and they shared the coaching duties.
"Geoff was a brilliant human being," Merrick said Friday, through tears. "Everyone loved him, because everyone was important to him."
Barnett and his wife, Patty, owned the Channel Inn restaurant, with a bustling bar downstairs, on Gull Lake near Brainerd for a number of years. He also worked as a sales person and manager at Borton Volvo for stretches between 1985 and 2012.
"Geoff, Alan Willey, Steve Litt and I flew into the Twin Cities on the same flight in 1976," Merrick said. "There were four Kicks owners there to greet us, they took us in separate luxury cars to our condos in Eagan, and that was it.
"We would all marry Minnesota ladies eventually. We endorse them as the greatest wives."
Geoff and Patty had two children, Chelsea and Colin. They visited Minnesota from their Florida home at Christmas.
"We had a meal with Geoff and Patty," Merrick said. "Geoff said he wasn't feeling the greatest."
Barnett had tested positive for COVID. He wound up with a heart issue. He was put on a ventilator and died at 1 a.m. Friday. "Patty was able to be there with him," Merrick said.
The Kicks' first season in 1976 turned into a phenomenon, both in attendance at Met Stadium and in making a run to the NASL championship game. Barnett was the ironman goalie in the first couple of years.
Tino Lettieri was signed by the organization as a 19-year-old goalie prospect in 1977. Barnett was 30, the veteran standout, but he became a mentor rather than rival to the talented Tino.
"This is terrible news; he was such a likable guy in every way," Lettieri said Friday. "I was the younger guy and Geoff wanted to help. There was never animosity, even when I became the goalie … only friendship.
"He was quite the entrepreneur, too. He went back to England for a time to own a pub, then returned and had the restaurant and bar on Gull Lake. He wanted to create the old English pub in Minnesota.
"His English accent kept getting more rather than less. I'd say, 'When are you going to lose that English accent?' And Geoff would smile and say, 'Never. It's the reason people love me.'"