When you first think of Shaun Barker, it is hard not to remember the long-term knee injury that ultimately ended his career at Derby County. But there is so much more to the reluctant footballer’.
The defender made almost 400 first-team appearances for Rotherham United, Blackpool, Derby and Burton Albion over a career that spanned 15 years.
Not a bad number for someone who admitted he didn’t think he would make one senior appearance.
“I loved going out and playing football as a kid,” Barker said in his RamsTV Meets interview in 2018.
“That is what I found hard because the love for playing and just enjoying myself and expressing myself went. It became a job and what was expected. You end up having a role and are very dictated in what you can and can’t do. Football wasn’t about that growing up. All of a sudden it became very serious and I didn’t want football to be that way.”
He continued: “I always described myself as a student who played football for a living. I was very reluctant in the first place to play football. At 16 years old I was taken from my home in Nottingham up to Rotherham. For the first two years I really hated being away from home and didn’t like the feel of professional football.
“I got offered a first-year professional contract after a couple of years and the manager, Ronnie Moore, had me in the office and asked me if I wanted to be a Rockstar or a footballer. That is a bad question to ask me, so I didn’t respond. I think he knew what I’d rather be, but it was a great opportunity and a great position to be in. I felt very fortunate, even though I was reluctant I knew I was very fortunate to be offered a professional contract.”
It wasn’t until his senior debut for Rotherham against Brighton & Hove Albion in March 2003 that it felt more natural playing football, with the pressure and being thrust out of his comfort zone. To Barker, escaping from a regular ‘mundane’ life would have been through travel, or music, or art, but that game at Millmoor changed that.
“As soon as I made my first-team debut, I understood it a bit more, it made more sense,” he explained. “To experience the highs and the lows of that game made me appreciate what I had coming. It was an enjoyable experience; I felt the nerves and the tension in the build-up. I like being slightly uncomfortable and there is something quite special about that. I like something more than the mundane normal life, so experiencing that on a large scale was quite an experience and I thrived and wanted more of.”
After a move to Blackpool in 2006, where he helped the Seasiders to promotion to the Championship, Barker wanted a move closer to home to the East Midlands. Derby came knocking in 2009, so did Nottingham Forest, the team he had supported as a child.
He explained: “Nigel Clough took me to Morley Hayes, showed me around Pride Park Stadium and for a lad that never expected to play one game of professional football, all of a sudden getting taken around Pride Park and the training ground with my wife, we were looking around going ‘have they got the right person here?’ It felt quite strange to be seen as a player to play at a club like this.”
He continued: “My father was a Forest fan, all my friends supported Forest. I was never fanatical about football, but I supported Forest because it was my local club. It didn’t feel right, Derby just felt right. It upset some family and friends, but I felt that becoming a Derby player was the right thing to do. It felt more natural and more honest to me. I signed a three-year deal, but I was looking beyond that, I was looking at the long-term plan and what the club wanted from me.”
After two and a half seasons as a staple in the heart of the Rams’ defence, Barker suffered a serious knee injury in March 2012 that took more than four years to recover from.
His return, once again under Nigel Clough, ironically came in the colours of Burton Albion against Derby County in August 2016. where he received a standing ovation from both sets of fans.
To watch Shaun Barker’s full RamsTV Meets interview, simply watch the videos embedded within this article.