Following on from the success of our interview with Alan McDonald we were delighted to secure an interview with QPR stalwart Simon Barker. Many thanks to Simon for taking the time out of his day to do this and we hope you enjoy it.
QPRnet.com: You’ve been involved in the PFA all your career, was it a natural step to make that a permanent role once you retired?
SB: Yes I suppose it was, I must say I always fancied trying my hand at management or coaching, especially management, I really fancied doing that and at the end of my career when I’d retired at Port Vale I’d unsuccessfully applied for a couple of managerial jobs. At this time Gordon Taylor at the PFA had asked me whether I’d like to join them on a full time basis after working on the management committee for five years and being the delegate at QPR and Port Vale for the past twelve years. So I had to really make a decision about whether I just hung around and hoped I was going to get a job somewhere or whether I was going to take the PFA route which was something I had very much enjoyed. So I decided I would join the PFA and I’ve been there for the past three years.
I was originally going down the coaching route as I had qualified up to UEFA B coaching standard and I just needed the UEFA A qualification to then be fully qualified. With the change of career I had to change track and go down the academic route, and now I’m three years down the line to achieving a degree in Business Management. I’ve just another year to go and I can’t wait for it to finish! It’s hard work, I’ve got a young family and a “proper job” as my Mum calls it and trying to do this part time degree as well – it’s quite hard to fit everything in!
QPRnet.com: What are your responsibilities within the PFA?
SB: Basically looking after player’s rights and benefits. My specific job is to look after all the delegates within the PFA. Each club has a delegate to represent the players, so there are ninety-two delegates and my role is to look after all of them. Also it involves giving advice to players and members, representing them in disciplinary tribunals, advice with regulations, contracts, administrations and terminations, also I’m a licensed players’ agent so I can negotiate contracts and transfers for players.
QPRnet.com: Do you see this as a permanent career or would you like to get more involved in day-to-day football?
SB: It’s something I always thought I would like to try but I think I’m so far down the line with the football administration that this is probably going to be my career. But I never say never in life as you never know what avenues open up to you in the future so I will just have to wait and see.
QPRnet.com: At what point did you realise you had the ability to become a professional footballer?
SB: I always enjoyed kicking a ball around. When I was ten or eleven I started playing for my county Greater Manchester and when I was about thirteen I went on trials in the school holidays with all sorts of professional clubs as did many of the talented footballers of my age. I was training on a regular basis at Manchester United and was also offered an apprentice contract at Blackburn Rovers, who I decided to sign for as I thought I had a better chance of playing in the first team at a younger age. I think I was proved correct in that decision as I played over 100 league games by the age of 20.
Like every young kid I wanted to be a professional footballer, and I knew I was good at it at quite a young age but you’re never quite sure whether you are good enough. Maybe around eleven or twelve was the time I thought this is what I want to do and became very serious about making it happen, and I consider myself lucky to have lived out my dream.
QPRnet.com: What one person had the biggest influence on your career and why?
SB: I wouldn’t say there was one person, I would say I’ve had a few through my career. As a young schoolboy I used to have a Sunday league manager called Jim Madden who used to ferry me around everywhere for trials and matches which was extremely helpful at the time and much appreciated by myself.
Bobby Saxton who was my manager at Blackburn Rovers was a mentor to me in my earlier years and taught me the trade of professional football. I would also say that my mentor at QPR was Don Howe. I struggled very much when I came to QPR for the first year when Jim Smith, who bought me from Blackburn, left after couple of months in to the season and Trevor Francis took over the reigns. I was in the reserves for virtually the rest of that season and I think I would have crawled back to Blackburn at the time but I managed to stick in there. Don Howe came to the club in that summer as assistant manager and was always pushing for me to be in the side and I finally broke into the first team that season. Trevor Francis was sacked in the November and Don took over as manager and my career really took off from there.
QPRnet.com: So how did the move to QPR come about? Were you frustrated at Blackburn or just wanted to step up a level?
SB: It was the step up. Blackburn was a great family club, a lot smaller club than it is nowadays. We’d missed out on promotion three years on the trot, we’d been beaten in the play-off semi-finals by Chelsea and that summer my contract was up and I’d decided I was going to leave at the end of my contract. I’d always wanted to play at the highest level and test myself against the best players and I felt the time was right for me to go. I waited to see who came in for me and QPR did, Jim Smith was the manager then and they agreed what was at the time a club record fee of £400,000, which was for both clubs a record transfer fee. Jim Smith was a former Blackburn manager and I think he had spoken to Bobby Saxton and a few people around the game and they had recommended me.
QPRnet.com: Did the size of the transfer put any extra pressure on you then?
SB: I think anybody is under pressure when they first come to a club anyway, I’d gone there with the reputation of scoring goals as well but as I said it makes it even more difficult when the manager who had bought you and was obviously looking to play you decides to leave at a very early stage. Then a new manager comes in who has different ideas as to who he wants to play and that’s what made it very difficult for me in the first year I joined Rangers.
QPRnet.com: What was your favourite game you played in for QPR?
SB: Oh dear! I think I played around 350, it’s bit hard to pick one! I used to love the evening games at Rangers. Anytime there was over thirteen or fourteen thousand people in the stadium it was a crackling atmosphere. I can remember when we had a good run in the FA Cup in 1989/1990 and an evening game against Arsenal which we won 2-0 with goals from Kenny Sansom and Andy Sinton, it was a tremendous performance from the whole team. Probably most people remember me for the game against Liverpool in the FA cup quarter-final of the same season when we drew 2-2 at Loftus Road televised live on BBC. I still get people now who remember me for that game but it is not necessarily my favourite game. Another one of course was the 4-1 win at Manchester United (it became known as the New Years Day Massacre) that was very memorable and enjoyable.
QPRnet.com: What was your best goal for Rangers?
SB: There are a few I remember, the equalising goal against Liverpool in the match previously mentioned, also one at Sheffield Wednesday when I chipped the keeper, which was a goal of the month contender on Match of the Day and also a goal I scored against Everton in a 3-1 win at Loftus Road comes to mind. They’re the goals I can recall, I think I scored forty-one for Rangers but they don’t all come instantly to mind.
QPRnet.com: Who was the best player you played with?
SB: I played with quite a few good players in my time at Rangers and I could bore you with all the different names but if I had to pick one I think it would be a young Les Ferdinand at his peak who was the best. Especially for a midfield player like myself he was a dream to play with on his day because if the defence dropped off, he’d come short and get the ball off you and run at them. If they pressed up, he’d run them over the top so it was easy to knock balls behind the defence. If they dropped deep into the box his tremendous spring and hang time would allow him to win everything in the air. On his day, he frightened even the best of defenders, he was a very good player and a nice lad as well. Les has done a lot in the game and had a great career, but I honestly think that if he had believed in himself a little bit more I think he could have done even more. In my opinion he had more talent and more ability than Alan Shearer but I think Alan had a bit more self-belief than Les.
QPRnet.com: So you think he could have done better at international level?
SB: I believe so, although as I said he’s had a very good career in the game and should be proud of what he has achieved, I still think he had the attributes to be a truly world-class player.
QPRnet.com: Obviously the team we had in 1992/1993 was the best we’d had for some time and it maybe some time before we have a team like that again.
SB: Yes, we seemed to have a good blend of youth and experience. We had two very good full backs in Clive Wilson and David Bardsley which I always believe is the start of any attack. You had wingers like Andy Impey, Andy Sinton and Trevor Sinclair, midfield players like myself, Ian Holloway and Ray Wilkins. Up front you had Les who was going to score the majority of the goals but also young players like Kevin Gallen and Danny Dichio contributing goals along with Gary Penrice which made that team a very effective and attractive side to watch.
Like every manager would say maybe given a couple of players we could have done even better. Having said that looking back on the previous chairman Richard Thomson, he got a lot of stick at the time for not being perceived as a Rangers man, but you look at the financial state of the club a year ago and compare it to what he did in his time and I think he did a reasonable job. We lost a million and a half pounds every season because of the inflated wage bill which was used to bring in quality players, but by selling a player every other year he could recoup that money and keep the club on a good financial footing.
QPRnet.com: So you don’t really think we were in a position to add to that team and grow from there?
SB: I don’t think we were at that time as the revenue brought into the club through attendances, sponsorship and TV wasn’t enough to pay for the extra investment possibly needed in new players. Maybe if a Chris Wright came along at that stage then it could have given the club a big cash injection allowing Rangers to push on, but Chris came into the club at the wrong time because we had already been relegated and weren’t able to bounce straight back up again so it never quite worked out for him at the club.
QPRnet.com: What do you think made you so popular as a player with fans? You were always warmly welcomed back at Blackburn and were popular at Rangers.
SB: Maybe it’s not for me to answer that question, you would need to ask the supporters!
I had my spells where I wasn’t too popular at Rangers! I remember a couple of spells where from time to time I’d get booed from a section of the fans when things were not going well. I’ve always believed in any walk of life that you need to work hard and the one thing I’ve always done in everything I have done is to give it maximum effort. There may have been times when I wasn’t a fans favourite but I’d always keep telling myself to not hide and continue to look for the ball and eventually my game would come good. It is easy when things are going smoothly it is when things are going badly when you see the true character of people. I believe it is about mental strength and down to the fact that you have to believe in yourself because nobody else will. That’s the way I look at things and I hope that maybe that shone through. You’d always get 100% effort allied to a modicum of talent, I was a team player who worked hard for myself and the rest of the players and I’d like to think that all my team mates would say that about me.
QPRnet.com: Certainly no one could fault your commitment, so if you are there putting in 100% every game how does it affect you when fans get on your back?
SB: Well nobody likes that, people say footballs easy but if most people have a bad day at the office you don’t have fifteen thousand people telling you that you’re bad at your job. That’s the name of the game though, it’s a cruel world you just have to get on with it and if you can’t handle it you shouldn’t be in the game. You just get on with it and prove people wrong, that’s what it’s all about. You don’t become a professional footballer without having talent but there are a lot of people in this world with talent and you have to utilise that with hard work and mental strength as well.
I also know that fans are passionate about their club and if they see people not giving 100% for their club, which I don’t think they ever saw me doing, then they’ll let you know about it and that goes with the territory.
QPRnet.com: Who would you say was the best manager you played under at Rangers?
SB: Every one of them had their qualities and I learned a lot from all of them – good and bad. I would have to say it was Don Howe because tactically he was very astute and as every player will tell you if you have a manager who likes you as a player, he will pick you in the side and will always try to help your game. I think I had ten managers in the ten years I was at Rangers but he was probably the best one for me and the one I learned most from.
QPRnet.com: So how did your time at Rangers come to an end?
SB: Basically my contract was up, the new manager had come in, Ray Harford and I think I played one game under his reign. It was very disappointing as the team were battling against relegation and I could not get involved and help the lads. I now understood his position as his remit from the board was to reduce the wage bill and he was trying to sell players whilst still getting results. I began to realise that as my contract was up at the end of the season I wasn’t going to be offered a new one but I’d always hoped that I might have stayed at Rangers, for one playing because I thought I had a lot to offer the club and for two on the coaching side. Like I said before if you have a manager who believes in you and understands the type of person you are they might want to bring you onto the coaching staff, a bit like Niall Quinn at Sunderland, he’s a bright boy and has the right credentials to be a coach or manager because people look up to him for the person and player that he is. I don’t think that Ray Harford knew me as a person, and I’ve spoken to him since and he told me he regrets not using me more as a player and as an influence in the dressing room.
It’s disappointing but it happens, that’s football and that’s business. You move on and you have to get on with it and that’s what I did. I found myself out of a job for two or three months which was the first time in my life that I was unemployed and I found myself on trial at the ripe old age of thirty-three after playing six hundred league games! I managed to earn an eighteen-month contract with Port Vale and it certainly proved to be a bit of a culture shock compared with Rangers.
QPRnet.com: Good times at Port Vale?
SB: I met a lot of good lads there who I still keep in touch with now. John Rudge, who was the manager then was a good tactician. He worked very hard at that club and he is one of life’s great survivors. As I said it was a bit of a culture shock compared with QPR without a doubt and when Brian Horton came in as the new manager I was beginning to get a regular calf injury and I didn’t play too many games. So when I came to the end of my contract I was released. I had quite a few offers to play lower league and non-league but I had decided that was it for me. I’d had a good career, enjoyed every bit of it and didn’t want to fall out of love with the game so I retired.
QPRnet.com: You returned to Loftus Road while playing for Port Vale and scored! What did that feel like and did you know which way to run to celebrate?!
SB: (laughs) I remember when I scored the goal, it was at the Loft End and I spun away shouting “yes” with fists pumping then I found myself looking at the Loft and I put my hand out as if to say sorry, which I’ve never done in my life before.
Actually maybe I should have put this in as my favourite game because it was definitely one that brought great pleasure to me. At the end of the game I clapped all sides of the ground , and you hear people say it brought a tear to your eye and you don’t actually believe them, but it actually did. The reception I got from the Rangers fans was unbelievable, from all sides of the ground it was tremendous. When I left QPR I was slightly bitter, slightly at odds with the club, after being there for ten years I felt disappointed with the way I left, but it was really refreshing to feel that the supporters actually appreciated what I’d done for the club over the years. Somebody sent me a few letters that had been published in the fanzine ‘A Kick Up The R’s’ and again it was really refreshing to see what they’d written and what the supporters had to say and it gave me back a lot of pride in what I’d achieved at QPR and my love for the club.
QPRnet.com: What would you say are Ian Holloway strengths as a manager?
SB: For me it’s his work ethic, he was always a hard working player, one of the fittest lads I’d played with and was strong mentally. He is honest with players and this quality I believe earns him respect from his peers. He is a talented lad who has moved from being a player to a manager and has kept the same qualities that made him successful in his playing career. I hope he brings back the good times to QPR but if he doesn’t I know that it won’t be through lack of effort with Ian.
QPRnet.com: You were at the club as we fell from grace, when you look back now did you see things happening that you thought could have been handled better?
SB: You can look back at all sorts of things, it’s easy in retrospect. For me the simple reason we got relegated is because we never replaced Les Ferdinand’s goals when he left for Newcastle. I think he scored twenty-three goals in the Premier League the year before and Kevin Gallen scored ten, that was thirty-three goals. The following season, in which we were relegated, Danny Dichio came into the side and scored twelve or thirteen goals, Kevin got ten again and the rest of us chipped in with our usual quota. The ten goals difference was the reason we went down and when I look back now that was the key to the whole thing.
The following season Chris Wright bought the club and wanted to change things around. Ray Wilkins was sacked, as he wanted to bring in his own man as manager. We had a reasonable first season in the first division after just missing out on the play off’s and many people thought that we were going to be much closer the following season but that year after much upheaval we were nearly relegated, surviving only on goal difference.
QPRnet.com: Do you think they churned through managers too quickly in those days?
SB: It’s just the way the game is, people want success instantly. I can understand that chairman put their hard earned money into the club and if you don’t get success straight away I think all managers know what is waiting for them. You have to as directors and supporters have belief in a manager and allow him to manage his way and back his judgement of players. But I also know that as an owner and businessman once you lose confidence in a manager’s judgement you might have to change it quickly and that’s what happened.
QPRnet.com: Did you achieve all you wanted in your career?
SB: I would say that when you look back at any career you will have successes and disappointments. I have had a very good career, I always wanted to play at the highest level which I did for eight years in the Premiership and also had nine years at first division level as well. I played for England at under twenty-one level but probably my only regret is that I never played at Full International level. I was very close to realising my dream in 1990. Don Howe had told me at the weekend that I was going to be named in the forthcoming England squad and as luck would have it I broke my leg against Manchester City on the following Tuesday evening, which put an end to my International ambitions. It took me a couple of years to properly come back from the injury but the opportunity had gone. Probably the other big disappointment I had was getting relegated with QPR.
QPRnet.com: is there any one thing that if you could go back and change you would?
SB: Not really and I don’t think you can look back, you make decisions based on what you think was right at the time. Maybe leaving QPR in the way I did, although it wasn’t down to me, if I could change that, then that might have been the one thing. I didn’t want the way it ended to cloud the many good times and memories I had at Rangers.
QPRnet.com: Final question then, how do you see Rangers doing this year.
SB: Well I fancy Rangers to get promoted this year as the team finished strongly at the end of last season and the club has exited out of administration in a much stronger financial position, which might allow for further quality additions to the squad. I’m going to have a little bet that we’re going to go up and I believe the odds are 16-1 so I’m off to the bookies with my tenner!