Chris Barker – A true and proper person, a remarkable man

PUBLISHED: 16:49 03 January 2020 | UPDATED: 17:26 07 January 2020

Chris Barker in action for Cardiff City against Reading in 2004 (pic Jane Mingay/PA)

Chris Barker in action for Cardiff City against Reading in 2004 (pic Jane Mingay/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

The clock trickles down, four minutes are all that remains of Weston’s New Year’s Day match with Truro City.

Scott Laird had earlier levelled the scores to cancel out substitute Daniel Rooney's opener, before Ryan Dickson restored City's lead with a header into the far corner.

The Seagulls, who had come into the game in good from with three away successive victories over Yate Town, Harrow Borough and Taunton Town, surge forward desperately searching for their second equaliser.

Suddenly a glimmer of hope as Isaac Pearce picks the ball up, the home crowd erupts hoping to push their side to get a point and stretch their unbeaten run to four games.

Substitute Pearce has his first appeal for a penalty turned down for handball, but he keeps the move going before being brought down by Austen Booth and the referee points to the spot.

Up stepped Laird, who again showed his calm and composure to score his 17th goal and make it seven from seven penalties taken so far this season.

Laird's goal seemed to give Scott Bartlett's side confidence and good work from Brad Ash saw the Hereford loanee's cross find the chest by debutant Mike Symons, who unleashed a thunderous shot into the net to lift the roof of The Optima Stadium.

Seconds later the final whistle is blown, much to the disbelief and shock of the crowd as Weston secured all three points in a grandstand finish.

However, just a few hours later news filters through that former player and assistant manager Chris Barker had died at the age of 39.

When I was 14, my dad and I headed to Ninian Park to see Cardiff City take on Luton Town on October 1, 2005.

It would be my first game watching the Bluebirds and in the starting line up that day was Barker, and although the Sheffield-born defender couldn't stop the Hatters coming away from South Wales with a narrow 2-1 win, he would go to enjoy another successful season with the South Wales side.

Months earlier Barker would be voted Cardiff City's Supporters' Player of the Year, having originally been on loan at Stoke City earlier on in the campaign, for his consistent displays and helping City concede 51 goals, which was the fewest they had conceded until their Championship-winning season in 2013.

Having signed from Barnsley in 2002, Barker played a key role in leading City to promotion a year later when he was in the starting line-up during their Football League Second Division play-off Final victory over Queens Park Rangers.

And after making 45 appearances in the 2005/06 season, which included an FA Cup third round tie at Highbury against Arsenal, Barker signed for Colchester United for the upcoming season on loan, before moving to QPR and then Plymouth Argyle.

Further moves to Southend United, Aldershot Town and Hereford soon followed, before he joined up with Bartlett during his first spell in change of Weston.

"This is a fantastic appointment and a real coup for the club," said Bartlett of Barker's appointment in October 2016.

"I have got to know him over the past few years in our roles at Forest Green Rovers and Aldershot and am looking forward to working with him and taking our club forward.

"He is vastly experienced as a player and a coach so brings a lot to the table. I think his experience will help our talented young players and I thank the board for backing me."

Left back Barker would go on to make a total of 15 appearances during his one and only season with the club.

His selflessness saw him leave the club on good terms to allow Marc McGregor the chance to form his own coaching staff.

"I will therefore be agreeing to terminate my contract with Weston," he said.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my year here both as a player and assistant head coach. I believe we have made good progress throughout the season and I hope the club continues to move forward."

Barker's next move would see him become the under-18s manager of Forest Green Rovers and again join up with Bartlett, where he would help the Gloucestershire outfit achieve category three status during his two years there.

He would also help the teenagers pick up the Merit League Two title last season. But his lasting legacy has seen tributes paid to him from people inside and outside the club.

Centre midfielder Dayle Grubb, who now plays for Rovers, posted on Twitter: "Absolutely gutted! A top man who played a massive role in helping me progress as a player and a person! RIP Barks. Thoughts go out to you and all his family."

Current player Sam Hendy also took to social media to pay his respects.

He posted: "RIP Barks. Thank You for everything you did for me on and off the pitch. Can't thank you enough. Cannot put into words how gutted I am. One of the most genuine guys I've ever met. Thoughts are with your family and friends at this awful time. Thank you for everything."

After the news arrived at half time during their New Day's clash with the White Tigers, first-team manger Bartlett, who said he was 'truly devastated' on hearing the news, told the Weston FC website Barker's death has left a massive hole at the club.

"We have lost a true and proper person with brilliant morals and strong principles," said Bartlett.

"As well as being a fantastic and caring person, 'Barks' had an unbelievable football career and then made a successful transition into coaching at Aldershot and Weston before becoming a strong, inspirational and much loved youth coach at Forest Green Rovers.

"Such was his dedication and loyalty to the scholars at FGR, I was unable to prize him away in the summer.

"I for one am very proud to have had him by my side for the last few years and have lost the very best of friends.

"On behalf of everyone at WsM, our thoughts are with his loving family and amazing daughter. We have lost a remarkable man. RIP mate."

As the Seagulls host Hartley Wintney tonight, they will do so with the fundamentals left behind by Barker.

The way he came across served as inspiration to each and every single player, member of staff and fan during his short time with the club.

While his death leaves behind a mark, his impact and work he has left behind with the Somerset club will help them continue to grow as the season progresses and for the upcoming future.

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