Opinion: Barker’s memories show him rewards on offer

Richie Barker. Picture: Allan Hutchings (133396-599)
Richie Barker. Picture: Allan Hutchings (133396-599)

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He turned towards the Fratton End and let his mind wander.

Richie Barker was just preparing to go through the obligatory scarf shots on the pitch at PO4 after being unveiled as the club’s 33rd manager.

But first, he travelled back a decade to revisit memories of one of the greatest nights in Pompey’s history.

Richie Barker was one of the Rotherham bridesmaids at an exultant Fratton Park on Sunday, April 27, 2003, as Harry Redknapp’s side secured the division one crown.

The new Pompey boss was leading the line for the Millers, who actually made a real fist of the game before succumbing to a 3-2 defeat which really got the party started.

Barker looked on as the incomparable Paul Merson was chaired from a teeming pitch of joyous supporters after lifting the title.

It’s an evening which left an indelible mark on those who witnessed it. Barker is no different.

Then the 38-year-old fast-forwarded to an all-together more unspectacular occasion on Boxing Day last year.

The former Crawley manager, as is his way, was in residency in the away technical area at Pompey’s home as his team took on opposition in freefall.

The grim 23-match winless run was boring deep into the bleakest of winters as his side picked up a 2-1 victory.

But the moment the Reds grabbed their decisive goal was to have a resonance with Barker.

Billy Clarke’s winner was met with glorious indifference by the home fans, who didn’t miss a beat of the chants backing their team.

‘It was probably as impressive from the fans as when they won the championship,’ said Barker looking back.

‘They didn’t stop and start – they just didn’t stop. There’s not too many places that would happen.’

It’s those moments which tell Barker everything he needs to know about the club he is now leading on the pitch.

And they were a couple of occasions he was to explore in detail, as he spoke to The News in the wake of his appointment on Monday.

First, Barker delivered a lengthy round of interviews with other members of the radio, television and written press.

No doubt, the attention he received was a little different to the previous two appointments in his young managerial career.

But Barker took the hooplah in his stride with a sturdy opening performance.

All the repetitive questioning was handled with patience and a Mona Lisa smile.

And the trickier subject matter of coaching appointments, player turnaround and ambitions for this season were tackled with a Newsnight political savvy.

The guard was kept high – and only slightly lowered on a couple of occasions.

The first was at an innocent suggestion from a photographer he wore a pair of shorts instead of a suit when sitting on a wet dugout seat.

Barker half chuckled, believing it to be a reference to a journalist remarking on his choice of match-day attire at Crawley, which caused some consternation.

And the second revealed a slight grimace at the umpteenth mention of Steve Coppell’s role.

It was an understandable flicker of frustration.

Barker is the man in charge, yet there was almost as much time 
spent talking about a man absent from the top table at the Montgomery Lounge.

We are told Coppell will have a meaningful role at Pompey, however, and his name does give the appointment a kudos which has satiated most supporters.

So the auditions are now over and the dress rehearsals complete, for the latest man to carry the hopes of the Fratton faithful in his hands.

Expectations are high but Richie Barker has seen first-hand the rewards for the man who can galvanise this proud football club again.