Fuller poised for 500th league start
Fuller poised for 500th league start

In the week where he’s poised to start the 500th League game of his illustrious career, KSN have been talking to Gillingham’s Player of the Year BARRY FULLER about his career, both the ups and the downs.

In the first of three parts this week, Barry has been talking to KSN chief football writer Mike Green about his early days and how he came to Priestfield for the first time.

We started by talking about his recent plaudits for reaching 250 games for the Gills.

Barry told us, “As a footballer when you start off, you always try and have a certain figure of appearances that you’d like to hit – a milestone that you’d like to get to at some stage in your career and if you get anywhere near that, then you look back over it and probably think that your career has done well and it’s been quite successful and I think that any players who hits five hundred career appearances would have had a top career over a ten – fifteen year period – it’s a target that I set myself as an eighteen year old when I read a story about someone playing five hundred games and I remember thinking “that’s a lot of games!” and I remember thinking that I’d like to get somewhere like that and obviously, I’ve been fortunate enough to do that.”

“I didn’t have any opportunity to join the Gills as a kid. The first time I was scouted I was ten or eleven and it was by Wimbledon and was there for about a month – but I didn’t really enjoy it very much; I think the travelling was quite a lot and the stress on my Dad coming home from work trying to get me all the way over to Richmond Park at Wimbledon was too much for him as well.”

“I was fortunate enough that six or seven months later, I was picked up by Charlton where I signed when I was thirteen. It was a six-week trial and in the end spent seven years there until I was twenty and had a great time – I learned my trade there and did the tough jobs of the YTS and the stuff like that.”

“But it was a great club and I loved being there and it was a time when I turned twenty I sat down with Alan Curbishley when my contract was coming to an end and he felt that he liked me, but it was time for me to try and find first team football at the age of twenty rather than playing for the Reserves or travelling to just sit on the bench.”

“It was frustrating as you want to play football, but as a young man you know that you’ve got to earn the right and obviously they were an established Premier League club at the time, so you know it’s going to be tough.”

“I went out on loan to Barnet for three or four months; came back and I thought that that pre-season I’d done really well, been in and around the first team and travelled a bit the season and then there was an honest chat with him, saying “I think you need to play first team football and obviously we can’t guarantee you that here.” And so, it was a decision that I respect and obviously helped my career in the end!”

“From there Mark Stimson signed me for Stevenage Borough. I was fortunate enough to play in the very first FA Trophy at the new Wembley Stadium in the first competitive game (the FA Trophy Final) and that was a great competitive experience, and to win it being two-nil down at half time, only to come back to win three-two (against Kidderminster Harriers) was an amazing experience in front of I think around 53,000 was amazing.”

Stimson was the clearly the catalyst for Barry’s eventual arrival at Priestfield – something Barry conceded, “He was massive. As soon as he got the job, I was praying a phone call would come, (1) it was a couple of Leagues above and (2) it was a club that I always wanted to play for being a local lad from Ashford and the Kent area.”

“It was close to home – I went and watched the Play Off Final as a kid when they beat Wigan and I always followed the club results. So as soon as Mark got the job, I thought that it could be a great opportunity and hoping that my phone would ring at some stage.”

“He got the job in October, and I got the call – it might have even been Boxing Day – and he told me not to eat too much over Christmas because when the window opens, he was going to get me in and bring me to Priestfield.”

That season will always be remembered for Gillingham’s Play Off win over Shrewsbury Town at Wembley.

“I remember a lot as it had been a rough ride for me that season,” Barry admitted.

“I’d had pneumonia in the January and was told that my season was probably over and was in hospital for eight days in a real bad way. So I was told that my season was done but managed to get myself back and fit and I still remember it to the day – I came back training and probably wasn’t meant to play any games; I remember Stimmo saying that the right back got injured in training and there was no-one else.”

“I’d been out jogging round the training pitches and was “just chuck me in – if I last for sixty minutes, I last sixty minutes. I think I’d lost a stone and a half, and they were saying that I looked like a little boy, and we don’t think you’re ready!”

“I trained for that whole week easing myself back in, but I think we had a real injury crisis and I was “just play me!” and it was Rotherham away at the Don Valley Stadium with the athletics stadium around it.”

“And I remember it to this day, we went there, and I think we picked up a one-nil victory, but it was tough, and I was zapped literally – I played the whole game but managed to get through.”

“It was a bumpy road that season and obviously it came to that in coming back, and I think it may even have been Valentines Day when we played Rotherham, so I got myself fit and then we had that little surge to get into the Play Offs and then to go to Wembley and win it of course.”

“Looking back on the year when I was laying on that hospital bed, I never thought that would happen… and then five weeks later I got married! That whole six weeks of the Play Offs, then getting married is probably something that you could write a book about – it was amazing!”

Remembering Simeon Jackson’s last-minute header that won the Gills, promotion, we were asked Barry his memories of the goal.

“He (Jackson) was normally in front of the keeper,” said Barry smiling. “But it was one of them really in the 89th minute that you’re just hoping really that something hits someone and goes in. It was a real tight affair all game – there wasn’t many chances in that game. And for someone who’s always back for corners, it seemed like slow motion when he was up in the air – I think he was on his way down when he heads it – but got enough contact on it with a man on the post, it just sneaked in between the two.”

“Just to run and celebrate and then watch that Blue end erupt and then seeing that they’d put five minutes up – it seemed like another half hour!”

“I still remember that they had a great chance with Grant Holt at the back post in about the 94th minute which hit the side netting. I think the body was beginning to shut down and cramp up that we wanted the whistle to go. And when it did, you don’t know what to do – you feel sorry for the other team being in that situation, but we were underdogs a lot of the time that season. We snuck in the back door for the Play Offs but then we always had belief!”

“Stimmo was a manager who got stuck into you and whatever game you went into, regardless of who we were played. He was a character who got his teams up and he believed we could beat anyone. We got beaten seven-one at Shrewsbury earlier in the season and so that was virtually his team talk – if that didn’t hurt you enough getting beat seven, what better way to put one over them by beating them at Wembley and the end of it was a fairy tale!”

Sadly, for Barry it was a fairy tale that was going to come crashing down as just months after Wembley, he faced a potential career ending knee injury. Tomorrow, we’ll continue Barry’s story through the darkest stages of his career…

Picture supplied by Gillingham Football Club.