Fuller glad of second Gills chance
Fuller glad of second Gills chance

Just when Barry Fuller thought his woes were over after recovering from a knee injury that would have ended most player’s career, he was told that his contract at Priestfield wasn’t going to be renewed by then manager Martin Allen.

In the final part of our exclusive interview, Barry reflects on his departure from Priestfield, the intervening years – including a third triumphant trip to Wembley – before the most unexpected phone call of his career…

“The most frustrating bit about it all was that I’d done the whole pre-season after being told that they’d be a contract waiting for me if I managed it,” Barry told us.

“I remember going on tour to Le Touquet and playing in a lot of the pre-season friendly games – I played in games where you start to get up close to the start of the season, they start to play their so called “team” – I felt good – hadn’t missed a session with my knee and thinking that the Gaffer likes me and hopefully I’m going to get the contract – at least a year to prove myself again and my fitness.”

“Two weeks before the season, I get a phone call asking me to come and see the Gaffer on the Monday. I thought he was going to offer me a contract, but it was the opposite! He said that the reports from the specialists said I may never play again, and thinking on a business point of view the Club, the Chairman didn’t want to take that risk…”

“I remember at the time thinking that I’ve got kids at home and a family to provide for. Do I sit around moping about it or do I get myself as fit as I can be while there’s not a club or do I ring round clubs straight away?”

“Luckily enough within 48 hours, Mark Robson rang me (the Barnet manager) offering me a year there and then. I went and had a chat and signed that day. It was an emotional 48 hours where I’d left a club that I loved and had spent four and a half years, to everything that had gone through the twelve months recovering to be told and then be at a new club within 48 hours. It was crazy and I didn’t really know how to take it all!”

“But then I just had to focus and play as many games as I can. Sam Church (the surgeon who had rebuilt Barry’s knee) told me that if I did come back, I’d probably play twenty games season. He told me that you’ll probably play twenty games a year for the rest of your career… And that was eight years ago, and I’ve played twenty games plus at least every year!”

“I was at Barnet for one year with Edgar Davids in charge at the end of that year and wasn’t really enjoying my football by then, and there was an option for Barnet to take a second year.”

“I had a discussion with Edgar and the Chairman and asked them not to take up the option and they agreed as I wasn’t happy. He was looking to bring someone else in so it was best for both parties to part and then the same happened again as when Martin Allen had released, I got a phone call this time from Neil Ardley at Wimbledon asking me to go and see him for a chat.”

“I went there with my Dad – I’d left my agent as I felt that I was at the stage of my career that I didn’t need one – I really like the training ground and the ground; really liked what I saw, and when he phoned me three or four days later with a contract offer, I went in and negotiated and signing that.”

“The highlight of my time there was another trip to Wembley for a Play Off Final – another great day when we were massive underdogs. Come Christmas we were 16th or 17th in the League having a tough time. We had a meeting saying that the form was unacceptable and the performances for the standards that we set ourselves and we went on a crazy run to eventually sneak into the back door of the Play Offs when no one expected it!”

“As soon as we got in it, we knew that we were going to win them, no-one’s expecting us to win and that’s why we’re going to win! We had massive character in that dressing room – twenty men all believing the same and thinking the same, which took us on that journey so that when that day came, we knew we’d run all over them (they being Plymouth Argyle) and get promotion.”

That was in 2016 and Barry went onto play a further seventy games for the Dons in the next two seasons before being released in the summer of 2018 when he received a phone call out of the blue – one that brought him “home”.

He recalled that day – “It was very surprising to get it, as I remember after leaving Wimbledon after five years, I thought that was it. I was a little bit older than before – a settled family and I didn’t want to move away which straight away left me limited on who I could play for!”

“I said to my wife that I wasn’t moving from her or the kids at 33/34 – if I had to, I would have dropped into Non-League because I want to provide for my family. I still felt that I could offer something to a team if it was a case of dropping to the Conference to provide then I would.”

“I worked very hard in the gym that summer making sure that I was in the best condition I could be if the phone call came. And it was strange coming from Steve (Lovell) to be fair because I remember leaving Wimbledon, I bumped into Patto (Mark Patterson) in Ashford one day and he said that he’d drop it in for me.”

“But at that time, they had Luke O’Neill, and the budget and stuff like that, and he thought Steve would go for someone younger and possibly a bit cheaper who would be willing to be a number two right back.”

“I didn’t hear anything for a couple of days and then got Steve’s phone call in the gym. He told me that there might not be anything for me, but still asked to come and see him.”

“I came – loved the way he was talking; loved to walk back into the door anyway, but without having my hopes up. We had a long conversation and a couple of days later, true to his word he phoned and told me that they wanted to offer me something and I think within a week I got a contract offer. And in my head, I think I would have accepted it either way (1) because I felt that I had unfinished business at Priestfield and (2) it’s a club that I wanted to come back to and would love to finish my career at being so close to home.”

“Of course I don’t think that I expected the season to go that way in respect of winning so many awards, but I remember that first day I walked into the dressing room it was young, really young, and I remember thinking a bit of experience around the camp will help the young boys. Forty odd games later to win the awards was amazing!”

And so, to the new season and another manager for Barry to impress. “A lot of the managers who I’ve played for are very different, and as a player now you have to be able to adjust to different philosophies when new managers come in and want to change certain things from possibly the manager who’s just left or the manager before that.”

“Players sometimes find it hard to adjust to what the new managers want, but being a bit older and around a few managers it’s a little bit mentally easier for me to adapt than the young boys who may not have come across anything like the Gaffer was when he first arrived.”

“It was really intense and demanding which I think is what we needed – I think that you’ve got to be demanding a lot most of the time for them to improve and make sure that you can push them to be the best that they can be, and I think that that’s what we get here now with the management!”

We finished by Barry telling us all about the Barry Fuller Football Foundation. “The whole reason I set up my own Academy was that I think especially Ashford is a quite overlooked area,” Barry told us.

“To try and give kids the best opportunity to play the game and fill their dream. It’s not always looking for the best players – we’ll take all abilities; we’ll try and help kids get into their school teams, to their district, to their County and then obviously if we can get a few kids go into pro clubs then it will have been a success.

“At a young age, I’ve always said that it’s more of a commitment for the parents than it is for the kids – the kids get in the car and chill out on their phones or their consoles these days and get there and just have to play football, whilst the parent goes to work nine until five, feeds them, get them ready, get them up there and then drive them, get themselves up for work afterwards.”

“So it really is a big commitment for the parents and we’re hoping that we’re the stepping stone at the Academy where we can help ease that travelling until that opportunity comes where maybe they get a tap on the shoulder and their kid does get invited to a pro club.”

“We’re there as well and I’ve got coaches who have been as well – I’ve been through it, and now hopefully we can give the parents advice now as well as the kid.”

We’d like to thank Gillingham’s Head of Media and Communications PHILL CATTERICK for arranging the meeting and of course to BARRY for his time…

For full details on Barry’s Academy, please visit the BARRY FULLER FOOTBALL ACADEMY on FACEBOOK

Picture supplied by Gillingham Football Club.