In an exclusive interview we talk to former Valiant Simon Barker. Simon recalls his favourite moments and the influence of John Rudge on his career.
How did you arrive at Vale Park?
After ten years at QPR, I’d made the decision to move back up North but I was struggling to find a club. I was training with Man City when Joe Royle told me that John Rudge wanted to speak to me. John wanted me to play in Vale’s reserves that day which was obviously going to be hard after the training session with City.
But I thought that Vale had a good reputation as a footballing side that plays with wingers. So, I went to play for the reserves and I was pleased to earn a contract.
What was your impression of John Rudge?
He was unbelievable for that club. I was delighted to be part of the team that won four games on the trot for him after he was in danger of losing his job in August/September 1998.
It was a real shame when he left the club. After everything he’d done – helping keep the club afloat – and the money he’d generated for a club that size, it was a shame that he had to go to a tribunal to get the compensation that he richly deserved.
The club managed to stave off relegation whilst you were there – were you pleased about that?
Without a doubt. We’d sold again as Ainsworth had gone and we didn’t have any money to replace him. We’d lost our main provider of goal and it was always going to be a struggle. So it was nice to be part of it as I’d been relegated with QPR before and it wasn’t nice.
Did you feel you had a good rapport with the Vale fans?
I hope so. Vale have a faithful group who care passionately about the club but unfortunately I never got much of a chance to meet them at meetings or events.
Did you score a goal versus your former club QPR when playing for Vale?
Yes. As you get older your goalscoring becomes more infrequent although I used to be an attacking scorer from midfield during my QPR days. So it was quite an experience to score for Vale at QPR. It was one of the highlights of my career!
Were you sad to leave Vale?
Very sad. My contract ended in November and Brian Horton gave me another month to prove myself. But I got injured during it so I decided to retire. I was disappointed that I didn’t feature as much when Brian Horton took over but I can understand that he wanted to make changes and bring in his own players.
You were Vale’s PFA rep whilst you were there. Did this stand you in good stead for your present role with the PFA?
Yes. I’d been QPR’s rep for nine years before and I took over from Neil Aspin at Vale. I’d also been on the management committee for five years so I had a good understanding of its role. After I left Vale, Gordon Taylor approached me about playing a role within the PFA. I believe Martin Foyle is the rep at Vale now – he’s a great servant for the club and I wish him well.
How important is the PFA’s role within the game?
We’ve fought for player’s freedom of contract and people don’t realise that we’ve done lots of work for a very long time for players. Practically all footballers will benefit from the PFA’s work and I feel we provide a valuable safety net.
I think it’s important to have as many full-time clubs and players in the UK leagues as that makes our football what it is. The PFA also initiated football in the community programmes in 1983. It started off with just six schemes but has now grown to 90 schemes.
Where can youngsters who are interested in becoming professional footballers or indeed the general public get information about the PFA?
We’ve got a site at www.givemefootball.com. You can find lots of information on there or you can write to the PFA for a brochure which highlights the benefits of the PFA and gives a useful bibliography of books you can read on the subject.
Finally, have you taken a look at www.onevalefan.co.uk – what do you think?
I had a look this morning and I enjoyed it. It was nice to keep up with the Vale news as I’m still in touch with some of the lads such as Kevin Pilkington and Richard Eyre from my time at Vale. Here’s looking to a decent season for Vale.
Simon, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions – it’s very much appreciated.
You can contact the PFA site at: www.givemefootball.com
Many thanks to Simon Barker for taking part in this interview