LEE’S ‘HOME’ AND IS ON THE THE HUNT FOR GOALS AGAIN
BARNARD GOES BACK TO HIS ROOTS FOR
NO matter where Lee Barnard has played home will always be Southend – and the forgotten man is desperate to play the local hero once more.
The striker is on a mission to reignite his career after coming full circle to sign an end-of-season loan with the Shrimpers, the hometown club he left for Southampton in 2010.
An ankle injury put paid to a promising start at the Saints but, following almost three years out in the wilderness, Barnard jumped at the chance to return to Roots Hall.
A graduate of Tottenham’s academy, he had mixed success from a succession of loans before finding his feet at Southend in 2008.
And while it may take a while before the Shrimpers’ support is treated to the Barnard of yesteryear – having plundered 37 goals in his first spell – the 29-year-old is not planning on taking a backseat for long as he bids to earn a permanent stay.
“When I was at Tottenham I was going on loan to learn and didn’t really settle anywhere, but that wasn’t the case at Southend,” said Barnard, who made his first start back at Roots Hall against Newport last week.
“It’s when I started to enjoy my football more and with that I started to do well. I was playing week-in, week-out and we had a good team and good players. When I was younger I went to a couple of their games but I was at West Ham a lot of the time, but I always looked out for their results so it’s nice to be back in my hometown.
“It’s going to take me a few games, I’ve got to get on the pitch first – I feel fit but not match fit.
“It’s amazing being back, I’ve had a great reception. The fans have always been behind me and though I’m not quite where I want to be yet it’s been fantastic to have their support.
“Though I love the club I wanted to make sure the manager (Phil Brown) wanted me and he said all the right things, he has a great record, a great reputation and really made my mind up.
“I still have ambitions myself and it’s important the club and I were on the same wavelength, getting back to League One is the biggest priority.
“I can’t live on what I have done, I’ve got to prove myself again now I’m here. There’s talk of a permanent move so fingers crossed, but it’s one of those things that’s out of your hands. I’ve got to concentrate on getting back playing.”
While Southampton have enjoyed a thrill ride back to the Premier League, Barnard says his own time at St Mary’s was a rollercoaster of a different kind.
Rickie Lambert may have been the saviour on the South Coast yet Barnard proved himself an able foil to the big man with 23 strikes in an 18-month period, ending in promotion from League One.
However, while teammates Lambert and Adam Lallana, right, have gone on to sparkle in the top flight and with England, Barnard’s own story took a sour turn at the peak of his powers in 2011.
He ruptured ankle ligaments just a few weeks before the Saints booked their place in the Championship – and Southampton had arguably moved on by the time Barnard found his way back onto the pitch seven months later.
Only last year did Barnard return to regular first-team action – on loan at Bournemouth and Oldham – but despite his rotten luck, he certainly does not regret his time with the club.
“I probably didn’t have a fair crack at the Championship,” he added. “I had a bad injury, going over and rupturing all my ankle ligaments towards the end of our last season in League One.
“At the start I didn’t have surgery but it was not good, it definitely didn’t feel quite right. After I came back it took a little while to get back up to speed, and then I was told I was surplus to requirements.
“It was disappointing, I was told to go out on loan but still thought I could have had a big chance to make it in the Championship – that’s how football can go though.
“It was good to go out and get my fitness back and I still had some years on my contract. But I had some good times there, even if it didn’t really work out for large parts of it.
“The initial move was good for me and financially for Southend, and it was one of those things where I was very ambitious and when a club like Southampton came in I had to go really but I’m glad to be back.”
NOW A GULL: Jack Rudge BACK IN TOWN: Lee Barnard, right, celebrates a goal in his first spell at Southend