With his never-say-die attitude, excellent choice of music, and down-to-earth persona, Shaun Barker has gone down in Derby County folklore as one of the most committed players to have ever sported the famous black and white shirt. We caught up with Shaun to discuss his love of Raf Simons, impressive vinyl collection and his well-documented comeback from serious injury…
Morning Shaun, how are you today?
Very well mate, you?
Great, for those who may not know you, can you give us a recap of your career within football and your projects now you have retired?
So, when I finished my career I went straight into coaching in the Academy at Burton Albion. The Academy manager asked me at the time whether I would be interested, I was a little bit hesitant to start but ended up agreeing to do it as a part time job, which resulted in me making my own role; a player performance coach. In theory I’m like a mentor for the 16 to 18 year olds and work with the players individually, looking at their IPS, which are individual action plans and then their strengths, weaknesses and what we feel they need to work on to get to professional levels.
I’ve also got the Shaun Barker foundation which I set up when I got injured to try and help kids in and around the Derbyshire area and finally, before I got injured, I set up a company called “With The Gods” and I’ve started to work on that again recently. It’s a t-shirt fashion company that provides garments for fans that want to wear something other than a club shirt, a kind of fashion/club mix. The clothing has got the soul of individual clubs and is bespoke to the club themselves.
So yeah, three different things that I’ve been working on since I hung up my boots.
How did you find the whole football process as a youngster? Did you ever have any doubt you wouldn’t make it?
I was really reluctant to play and didn’t really enjoy it as a 16-year-old, so probably 22/23 years old is when I really became to realise, I would make it. I’m a fairly confident guy but I lost a bit of confidence with my ability as a player when I was younger. I always knew I could defend and could head the ball well, and I was always brave in the defensive areas but never thought I was technically good enough to make it pro. So yeah, definitely doubts I would make it but because I wasn’t driven to do it as a career at the start, it probably helped me and it kind of made it easier to make that transition into a professional environment, if that makes sense.
I’m obviously a big Derby fan, and with your time with us you became a fans favourite, why do you think this was?
If I’m honest, I think Derby fans look for honest, hard working players in the side and when I joined the club there were probably no old fashioned centre halves. All I wanted to do was head and kick the ball, and defend well, and I also think because I’m kind of relatable – I’m not this kind of big time Charlie that drives around in posh cars and shows pictures of watches and jewellery and branded stuff – it probably felt I was a little bit more connected to the fans. I think that’s the main reason players like myself have always had a good connection with the Derby fans
Without bringing up bad memories, when you suffered the serious injury against Forest back in 2012, did you realise at the time just how bad it was?
I didn’t realise just how bad it was at first, I knew it was bad and I felt the pain, but I could feel the adrenaline running through my leg which masked it a little. My leg was literally the wrong way round at the knee but I didn’t really grasp the magnitude of it originally. The specialist told me they normally see this type of thing in car accidents. I was first told it would take 18 months to two years and because I’m a pretty positive person I believed I could get back within that time. It was only really when I began the process of trying to come back that you understand that, yeah, it was a lot more severe than I first realised and I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to walk properly, let alone get back on a football pitch for a brief period!
The injury ended your Derby career, do you think you were in a condition where the club could have played you before you left?
Yeah 100%, I kind of knew that the severity of the injury meant it would take a long time to come back, I just really thought I could have played towards the end. I was playing in the U23’s and felt physically fit and strong, but at that point, with Steve (McClaren), you could just tell that he wasn’t really interested in playing me, so I knew I wasn’t going to get a chance to get on the pitch. It was extremely disappointing but that’s football, that’s how it works, if you’re not in the manager’s mind to play in his first team then ultimately you won’t get back on the pitch to play for the club. I do think if Nigel (Clough) had still been the manager there, I might have had the opportunity to play, but it wasn’t to be!
What did it feel like to join Burton and make your debut against Derby?
When I joined Burton the connection with Nigel was obvious and I really appreciated him giving me a chance to play football again. I have to say the moment for me to come on for Burton, against Derby, for the last couple seconds was huge. It was the first time Burton had faced Derby in the league, and to beat them 1-0, and to come on and head the last ball out of the box, was the biggest achievement I’ve had in football. To get on the pitch just shy of five years after getting injured, was a massive moment, for not just me but for my friends, for my family, for my kids, Mum and Dad and probably even for Nigel! He will have known he was a big part of the process that allowed me to get back on the pitch. Something I will never forget.
You have been managed by Nigel Clough a few times and he has obviously played a big part in your career – do you think he receives unfair criticism from some fans and a selection of pundits involved in the game?
I don’t think people understood the vast size of the job, and the severity of the job, Nigel faced at Derby. When he took over, the club was in an absolute mess, a complete shambles really, in terms of the players that were there for the money and lacking the fight. The players had downed tools on performing for Derby County and he had a big job changing that kind of mentality and changing the DNA. When he left I don’t think anyone could say he did a poor job, it was just probably taking longer than the fans liked.
I think football clubs are a bit like watching soaps, you always want to be excited, in a good way; or a bad way. At that point we were very consistent in the League, we would probably have been a top ten side but ultimately the decision was made that he was not going to be involved. I’ll say now, a lot of the players were very disappointed and for me I thought that was our best chance of getting promoted that year with the squad that we had with Nigel at the helm.
The impact of your injury led to a documentary being filmed about your road to recovery, how did this come about?
It came about after a guy called Ashley Carter, a Derby fan, contacted me about filming a 10 minute short video about me and my journey recovering from the injury. He wanted to come see behind the scenes almost, but in the end it became a 2 hour feature-long documentary! Everyone he asked for interviews accepted and he said he had hours and hours of footage, to the point where he had to let it all out and at one stage he was struggling to get rid of stuff to cut. All of a sudden he’s made a full length film, it was great to work with him, he’s a lovely guy who has kept in touch since and he donated all of the profits he made from “One More Time” to the Shaun Barker Foundation. A lovely gesture from him and he made an absolutely brilliant film.
As part of the testimonial from the club, you put on a Happy Mondays, Cast and Bluetones gig – talk us through how this happened?
I wanted to do something regarding music, for my testimonial, everyone knows I have a love of music, I know a few people in the city that can book bands and artists, and are in that kind of world, and obviously with the arena just opening up for live music it was a great opportunity to put something on. I have to say that the the gig was unbelievable and the sound was brilliant.
Why the Happy Mondays, Cast and Bluetones?
It’s music I was listening to when I was growing up and also it just felt like that was the right kind of gig for the city. I’m a huge fan of the Happy Mondays anyway, so watching them from the side, they were incredible on the night. I just wanted something that was a little bit more than just a gig, it felt more like a kind of indoor event and we had three local bands as well as Cast, The Bluetones and Happy Mondays and it worked an absolute treat.
Obviously music has played a big part in your life – who are your top three artists of all time?
Three artists! That’s an impossible answer! David Bowie would be up there, Rage Against the Machine are probably one of my favourite bands, I would listen to them on the way to football games, their first album is just unbelievable. I love Manic Street Preachers, I have seen them numerous times, so I’ll give you them three but they are not my definitive list.
Moving onto fashion, you don’t dress like your stereotypical footballer – how would you define your style?
Yeah I don’t dress like a stereotypical footballer! How do I define my style? I’m just probably a student who played football, yeah maybe it’s just student vibes. I’ve kind of always been influenced by music, so when I was 16/17 I was in South Yorkshire, Rotherham, and had kind of spiky hair. I’ve had bleached blonde hair from the Bowie type vibe and have had skin heads! I’ve had a bit of everything really, so there’s nothing in particular that’s defined me but a lot of it will tend to be music influenced.
What are your favourite clothing brands and why?
Raf Simons, the Belgian fashion designer. Two main reasons for that, my best mate lived in London and was a buyer for Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, and he had a big part in my fashion journey. He would let me know new brands and designers to look out for and Raf was one. He had a period where music played a big part in his designs and styles and I loved it. He is also at the forefront of most fashion trends, anyone that’s anyone will know that he’s kind of the main guy in fashion, so I’ve got few of his bits, normally in the sale, or after my mate gets me some discount!
You’ve launched your own clothing label – With The Gods – talk us through the brand?
The name comes from that kind of connection with the fans in the stands, that kind of wanting to feel like you are part of the football club and part of the club’s DNA. The players are sometimes idolised like a God, and football itself can feel kind of like religion. We use legends of the clubs for our designs, for Derby for example we have got the Popside on one design and Igor Stimac on another. It’s normally based on the heritage of the club, the legends of the club, and then twisted with a bit of a fashion kind of vibe. It’s not your usual football clothing type of thing.
You’re back at Derby County, working on Rams TV. Are you enjoying the punditry?
Yeah I’m really enjoying it, I felt a bit nervous at first but when I’ve done bits on Sky and the media side of things in the past, I’ve always enjoyed it and the last four/five months I’ve been covering every single game for the Rams. It’s just nice to watch football as well, it’s strange without having the fans there, but all in all I’m really enjoying it and getting some decent feedback as well, which is always nice.
What was the best, and worst, thing about being a professional footballer?
The worst is probably people judging you, they decide that you’ve got a certain life at home, or you’ve got certain cars, or that maybe you don’t appreciate what you’ve got. A lot of that is obviously untrue, especially with myself. So for some players that’s the hardest thing.
The best thing? I liked the pressure. I liked the expectation that you’ve got to perform. I liked the fact that your emotions are kind of always high and low and that’s one thing I’ve struggled with since I finished. That feeling you’ve made 30,000 peoples’ weekends great or you know that you’re responsible for people having a tough weekend. I loved the pressure. I really enjoyed that and I do miss that
What does the future hold for Shaun Barker?
I don’t know, I’m a pretty busy guy, I’m always doing bits and bobs. I’m hoping one day that me and my wife can have a bit of time to kind of enjoy just chilling out and doing normal stuff but in the immediate future I’ve got lots of things that I’m working on. I enjoy being super busy and trying to create the best future for my family; so I’m not sure I will be relaxing. I’m enjoying my job at Burton, working for them as a player performance coach and I’m loving my Rams TV stuff, so everything I’m doing, I’m enjoying. At some stage it would be nice to just step back and have a little bit of a breather but I can’t see that in the immediate future
Describe yourself in only 3 words…
Can I have 5? A student that played football.
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