Interview: Gary Barnett

Gary Barnett made 182 appearances for Fulham between 1985-1990, scoring 30 goals. Focus’ Daniel Smith spoke to our former midfielder to look back at his time with the club…

DSDid you always want to be a footballer and how did you get the opportunity to sign for Coventry City?

GB – All I ever wanted to do was to become a professional footballer, however, my careers advisor always said to me: “Don’t be silly! What else do you want to do?” My response was always the same: “Er, nothing Miss. I am going to be a professional footballer!” As a schoolboy, I was at Aston Villa but they let me go when I left school and then my careers advisor helped me get to Coventry City! 

DS – Am I right when I say that you didn’t get any opportunities in the first team at Coventry, is this why you moved to Oxford Utd as a teenager?

GB – The main reason I signed for Oxford Utd was that in the early eighties it was said that Jimmy Hill had used money from Coventry City to help a team in America called Detroit Express. As a result around 12 Coventry young professionals, including myself, were released. 

DS – Why did you make the decision to sign for Fulham?

GB – Oxford were on a roll at the time, signing players like John Aldridge, Billy Hamilton and Ray Houghton. I needed to play first-team football and Ray Harford had already signed me on loan so I knew he wanted me. 

DS – I’ve done a few of these Q&A’s now with the likes of Robert Wilson and Gary Elkins. I’m yet to find someone who has a bad word to say about Ray Harford. How did you find him as a manager and a coach?

GB – Loved him, we all did. He was a great manager and coach who was always trying to improve us not only as a team but also as individuals.

DS – Ray Lewington takes over, now there’s a name that is very popular with the fans. Was Ray a better manager or player from your experiences with him at Fulham? You can sit on the fence if I’m going to get you in trouble lol.

GB – Lew had trained and played with us, so we all had massive respect for him. We all wanted to do so well for him; he is a top, top man. 

DS – Did you have much interaction with Jimmy Hill?

GB – No interaction with Jimmy Hill. 

DS – Obviously in the late eighties, the club went through a disastrous period off the pitch. Were the players kept in the loop or were you as unsure about the turmoil and uncertainty as the fans?

GB – I don’t think anybody knew what was happening to the club in the late 80s. I did know QPR’s Jim Smith, who was the manager at Oxford when I was there. I phoned him when it was all going on and he said, of course, he would give me a contract as I was ‘alright Jack!!!’ 

DS – Was there a particular reason why you left Fulham in 1990?

GB – It was time to move, have a new start and try to improve as a player. I wanted a new challenge and Huddersfield were a very ambitious club at the time. 

DS – Who was your roommate and who were your closest mates in the team?

GB – A top man, Gary Elkins.

DS – Is there a particular match that stands out for you personally?

GB – There are quite a few matches but I guess the one I talk about most is Portsmouth away, where we drew 4-4 despite being 4-0 down at halftime. 

DS – Which former club do you associate yourself with the most and why?

GB – Oxford Utd and Fulham. Oxford because my daughter works there on match days and I have friends locally who support them. Fulham because Dave Gardener has entertained Jane and me more than once for matches and now an old friend Dave Daley is involved at the club, who has also entertained us for matches. I love watching games at the Cottage, it’s a great stadium.

DS – How about a favourite goal for the club, anything stand out?

GB – The 3rd goal vs Portsmouth in the 4-4 draw as above. A header!!!!

DS – Do you still keep in touch with anyone from your Fulham days?

GB – I’m still good friends with Gary Elkins. 

DS – How did you find management? By the looks of it, you were pretty decent winning the manager of the year in Wales with Barry Town three years in a row including getting the club into the first round proper of the UEFA Cup. That’s a rare occurrence so you must be very proud?

GB – I loved being a manager, I’m very proud of the history the squad left for Barry Town, being the first Welsh Premier League side to win a tie in Europe. Alongside the domestic titles we won, which was incredible.

DS – Did it sadden you to see the position Coventry City were in regarding their ground etc a few years ago?

GB – As a young apprentice player at Coventry City, I had great youth and reserve matches at Highfield Road. The old ground was special and I’m sure a lot of the old players will be sad to see the position they’re in now.

DS – What are you up to nowadays?

GB – Nowadays, I have my own business as a personal trainer and sports therapist. I am also director of football at a local team called Moreton Rangers, who I previously managed for 11 years. We are ambitious to climb the ladder of English football and it’s a really good challenge, I love it! 

DSFinally Gary, pie or pasty – which filling?

GB – Got to be pie, steak and ale for me.