Ex-Portsmouth and Coventry man Adam Barton: I was an international wanted by Liverpool. Now I'm playing part-time and working on building sites - and never been happier
Storie Barton has already demonstrated an appreciation for football, illustrated by 14 balls strewn across the back lawn of his Clitheroe home.
His father concedes the three-year-old will be steered towards Burnley affiliation, a fate decreed by the Turf Moor devotion of wife, Amelia, and her parents.
Their second son, Bowie, was born four months ago. There’s a distinct inevitability he will be lured along the same path.
Having opted to quit the professional game at the age of 29, Adam Barton revels in the family life he feared football would deprive him of.
As a talented teenager with Preston North End, he was capped by Northern Ireland and the subject of bids in excess of a million pounds from Liverpool and Stoke.
Yet life off the pitch had begun to smother his spirit, crushed by the drudgery of a footballer’s life on the road. With six clubs in four unsettling years, Barton craved stability.
Intent on devoting more time to loved ones, the ex-Pompey man chose to drop into the part-time game with non-league Farsley Celtic, while supplementing income on the building site.
Now he’s present for every first step and each errant ball booted into the garden shrubbery. It's a new lifestyle he cherishes.
‘I was actually playing Fifa on the Xbox when it hit me. I guess you can call it my Eureka moment,’ Barton told The News.
‘I’d left Wrexham a few months earlier, they were trying to cut wages so offered me a lump sum to end my contract. It allowed me to move on, which made sense.
‘Then Covid hit, I was stuck in the house and nobody was signing players. That day, the thought struck me: “Do you know what, this is great. I can actually wake up whenever I want, have a nice coffee, go for a walk”.
‘Previously I couldn’t do that ever. Maybe the odd Sunday, but you’re shattered from the game the day before. Besides, I could wake up grumpy and sore.
‘It takes that one thing to realise “Is this it for me now?”. Covid was like a blessing for me, it made me re-evaluate my life.
‘I loved spending so much time with my family and suddenly it was “I don’t know whether I really want to go back into full-time football”.
‘My brother, Liam, advised me to go part-time. At first I couldn’t see the point, yet he convinced me to try it.
‘An old friend of mine who I’d grown up with has a brother who managed Farsley, so I kind of knew him. He told me to go along and see if I enjoyed it.
‘You train on Tuesday and Thursday nights, then it’s the game on Saturday. Basically, I have every day off and train a couple of evenings a week, that’s it.
‘I even help my brother sometimes with his building work, just to get me out of the house.
‘It sounds crazy, but you lose many friends through football. You drift apart from people you grow up with because you don’t have time to spend with them, they just fade away.
‘There’s only so many times you can text your friend and say “Hi, how are you doing? What are you up to?”.
‘Covid made me reassess my life. If I hadn’t, I imagine I would have jumped straight back into a full-time team and probably gone through the motions of another season because that’s the path it was going down.
‘I’m back to loving football again. I’m still getting paid for it, while have all this time to spend with my family. It’s what I wanted and I’ve never been happier.’
Barton arrived at Fratton Park in June 2015, the fifth signing of the Paul Cook regime.
Captured on a free transfer following 73 appearances during three seasons at Coventry, his comfort on the ball and passing attributes saw him surprisingly converted to a central defender.
Indeed, when Adam Webster and Matt Clarke were ruled out of the two-legged League Two play-off semi-final against Plymouth in May 2016, it was Barton who deputised.
Then, two weeks after moving into a new home in Chichester, he was informed on transfer deadline day of interest from Scottish side Partick Thistle.
In August 2016, Barton departed Fratton Park for an undisclosed fee after 26 appearances.
And a disillusionment with football began to gather pace.
The 30-year-old added: ‘Believe it or not, I probably know more players fed up with football than I do those who go into training every day, running around loving it.
‘Considering the amount of training sessions we must have done over the years, you’re going to get bored of it sometime.
‘I had become fed up of football. I really enjoyed the 90 minutes, it’s the other side I grew to hate, the football lifestyle which people don’t see.
‘It’s the travelling around, staying in hotels, not spending time with your son for his birthday. Last Christmas was the first time I’d been at home in about eight years. I tend to be on FaceTime in a hotel.
‘The summer holidays were great, you’re buzzing to get back to playing football. Then, during the season, you get to the point where you think “I need a break from this”.
‘It’s like any job, there are people who sit in an office all day and will get bored eventually, especially 10 years down the line of doing the exact same thing.
‘A lot of players also feel like that. You get the odd ones who watch every game on TV, but, believe it or not, that’s very rare.
‘People say you are lucky to do what you do, but, at the same time, I haven’t been given it. You’ve had to work so hard and had so many put downs from a young age to make you go again.
‘While at Dundee United, I decided to get a house where I wanted to settle down, with my children growing up near the family in Lancashire. So bought somewhere in Clitheroe and looked for clubs near there.
‘I put my family first.’
A loan spell at Welsh Premier Division side Connah’s Quay Nomads in February 2019 signalled a decade since highly coveted by Liverpool.
At the age of 19 and contracted to Preston, Barton was handed his debut in a 3-2 win over Scunthorpe in April 2010.
He became a first-team regular in the Championship the following season, eye-catching progression which earned Northern Ireland recognition in a friendly against Morocco, having qualified through his Belfast-born grandfather.
Premier League clubs were also stirring, culminating in bids from Liverpool and Stoke around February 2011.
He said: ‘Nothing came of their interest – and that disappointment affected me for the rest of my career.
‘I had met Stoke with my agent. Preston turned the first offer down – and Stoke weren’t willing to pay any more.
‘Then there was talk of Liverpool coming in and paying £2.5m. I’m a Liverpool fan, it comes from my brother, I grew up with Liverpool everywhere. It made what happened even worse.
‘As far as I know, Liverpool put in a lower bid and Preston turned it down thinking they would go up to £2.5m. They never did.
‘It made the papers. I’d rather it had been nothing more than paper talk, at least I could think “Well, it wouldn’t have happened anyway”. But it was all true, Liverpool had been watching and tried to buy me.
‘There was all this talk going on. Where would I be going, this club would be great, this club would be better. Then nothing happened. That was it, that really was it.
‘Mentally you have to be strong in football, you shrug off set-backs and carry on, but what happened nagged at me. It was “Oh no, I’ve missed my chance”. I still say that even now, that was my chance to go.
‘Every time I got down, I just kept saying to myself “I’ve missed it, I’ve missed the chance”. Once you’ve got something like that in your mind, especially in football, it’s really tough.
‘There were times where I went home and just wanted to go to bed, close my eyes and not think about it.
‘It affected me, that played on my mind for many, many years. I learnt that if something doesn’t happen, don’t worry about it, it is what it is. You can’t beat yourself up over something you are not in control of.
‘Yet every time you are told you have to leave a club, it comes back into your head, that feeling again about having missed your chance. You go home and say “Hi” to your wife and try to smile, but the next day you’re not going to be at that particular club.
‘I kept thinking I wouldn’t be at this club if Liverpool had happened. It’s a bit pathetic me saying that, but it had an effect on me as a young footballer.
‘It happens to so many players, even worse on some occasions. When I was at Partick, a guy called Stuart Bannigan told me he was once on the verge of going to Middlesbrough, only to break his ankle.
‘That’s life changing for him. Stuart is the liveliest guy ever, so obviously it didn’t affect him too much, but some people would have probably packed it in.
‘There’s nothing you can do. If there’s something you’ve done wrong then you have to look at yourself and admit it’s your fault. In my situation, it was out of my hands and that hit me hard.
‘Once I started playing part-time, though, I realised that football isn’t everything. It had played on my mind all that time in football, yet suddenly was gone.’
After signing for National League North team Farsley in December 2020, their season was cut short by the pandemic, restricting Barton to four appearances.
He has now committed himself to the forthcoming campaign, penning a one-year deal, with training having resumed on July 1.
During the off-season, Barton has been playing five-a-side on Friday nights with his brother, a routine which will be shelved when the season kicks off.
Meanwhile, he boosts his part-time football wage through helping his plasterer brother work on houses.
Barton has already converted a garage at his own home and has ambitions of one day personally renovating a run-down house from top to bottom.
The concept of rebuilding does not intimidate the central midfielder.
He added: ‘I have other things to think about now, having children massively changed my outlook on life.
‘I’ve been quite fortunate to be able to build up a bit of a property portfolio, I've never been one for spending money on clothes or cars. It’s almost like it’s not mine, though, it’s for my kids.
‘They mean everything to me – everything I do is for them. You buy something and it's for your kids, you sell a house and it’s for your kids.
‘I didn’t expect my career to be this short, I didn’t anticipate going part-time at the age of 29, but everything’s just worked out like that - and I am happy.
‘That’s the problem with football, there are so many negatives, but you’ve got to keep going and eventually you’ll find it. It’s the same with life.
‘My story has a happy ending.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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