BARKER’S BATTLE

Derby’s Shaun on the blood, tears and sweat shed to get back on a pitch

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

PROPPED on a hos­pi­tal bed an hour af­ter his lower leg was re­duced to a use­less sack of bone and car­ti­lage, Shaun Barker stared into the abyss.

“That was the worst mo­ment,” says the 32-year-old Derby de­fender. “I had an hour or so where I was com­pletely in­con­solable. I couldn’t speak to my wife, I couldn’t speak to my dad. I just shut my­self away while I tried to come to terms with what I was fac­ing.”

What he faced was be­yond ev­ery foot­baller’s worst night­mare. An ac­ci­den­tal col­li­sion with Rams goal­keeper Frank Field­ing dur­ing a derby against Not­ting­ham For­est in March 2012 had all but oblit­er­ated Barker’s right knee.

Of­fi­cially, the di­ag­no­sis was a dis­lo­cated kneecap, com­plete rup­ture of the me­dial, pos­te­rior and an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ments, a torn lat­eral lig­a­ment and a se­ri­ous chon­dral de­fect. Unof­fi­cially, Barker was re­garded as a write-off.

“What I did was pretty much un­heard of,” says the for­mer Black­pool man. “The top half of my leg was held on to the bot­tom half by skin alone. Ev­ery­thing else was rup­tured, snapped or sep­a­rated. I knew no­body else had ever re­ally come back from it. I knew ev­ery­one thought I was fin­ished.”

But re­mark­ably, Barker de­fied those odds. On Fe­bru­ary 11, he played 45 min­utes for Derby U21s, his first game in al­most three years. Last week, he com­pleted his sec­ond full 90 min­utes. First-team foot­ball is now a gen­uine goal.

It is a jour­ney that tested Barker’s body and mind to the limit, put his wife Bec and six-year-old daugh­ter Eleanor through hell. Yet one which he al­ways be­lieved would end on the grass of Pride Park.

“Those first hours were dark,” ad­mits Barker, also dad to ten-mon­thold Blanche. “But when I spoke to Andy Wil­liams, the sur­geon down in Lon­don, he wasn’t fazed. When I saw that he be­lieved I could play again, that was all the en­cour­age­ment I needed.

“I re­mem­ber walk­ing around pos­i­tive and smil­ing. I heard peo­ple say­ing ‘I don’t think Shaun re­alises how se­ri­ous this is’. They thought I was in de­nial. But I wasn’t – I just had to keep that be­lief, even if no-one else did.

“I re­mem­ber see­ing the sur­geon af­ter 18 months and when I looked in his eyes I could see even he wasn’t sure if I’d make it back or not. But I told him to stick with me. I told the phys­ios to stick with me. I told them all I would do it.

“My first year-and-a-half was just try­ing to get back to a de­cent day-to­day life. For 18 months, I couldn’t stand up for more than five min­utes with­out my knee be­com­ing swollen, hot and painful.

In­cred­i­ble

“I couldn’t play with my daugh­ter, who was three years old. I couldn’t kick a ball around or pick her up.The only sav­ing grace was that I couldn’t cook din­ner, be­cause my wife is a much bet­ter cook than me!

“It’s funny – peo­ple know I’ve been out for a long time but they don’t re­alise what Bec’s had to go through. I was on re­hab ma­chines for 12 hours a day for nearly five months. I was on crutches for an­other six. I couldn’t do ba­sic things for nearly two years. It com­pletely changed my life and hers. She’s been in­cred­i­ble.

“That’s why that first game back was such an emo­tional day. I left the house in the morn­ing and as we stepped out of the door, I looked at Bec and we kind of nod­ded at each other in ap­pre­ci­a­tion of where I’d got to. With­out say­ing any­thing, we both ac­knowl­edged it was a huge day.

“When I came off af­ter 45 min­utes and kissed my wife and daugh­ter – that’s one of the best mo­ments of my life and prob­a­bly the proud­est I’ve ever been on a foot­ball pitch.”

Barker be­lieves his battle through the dark times was aided by his un­con­ven­tional child­hood in Trow­ell, Not­ting­hamshire. Par­ents Dawn and Stu­art be­came foster car­ers when he was just three years old and have since opened their doors to an in­cred­i­ble 180 chil­dren.

“They were all dif­fer­ent ages, all dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties,” re­calls Barker. “We had kids that were autis­tic, down syn­drome, spe­cial needs. Some came with drug or al­co­hol prob­lems, oth­ers had suf­fered fam­ily abuse. It was re­ally tough to see the lives that they’d missed out on. That’s what our fam­ily try to give them back.

“It makes you grow up quickly. From a young age, part of my job as a brother or sis­ter was to help out th­ese kids and be re­spon­si­ble for them.You learn how for­tu­nate you are to be in a lov­ing fam­ily and when things go against you – like this – that kind of per­spec­tive re­ally helps.

Re­mark­able

“A lot of them have kept in touch. We see them on oc­ca­sions when they come round for par­ties or Christ­mas.

“It’s al­ways good to see them do­ing well – and to re­alise what a dif­fer­ence our house made to them. What my par­ents did was re­mark­able.”

And in­spi­ra­tional. Determined to carry on their good work, Barker spent much of his time on the treat­ment ta­ble si­mul­ta­ne­ously set­ting up a char­ity, the Shaun Barker Foun­da­tion, aimed at lay­ing on free ac­tiv­i­ties for dis­ad­van­taged kids in Derby.

“It’s got three main ar­eas,” says Barker, an avid vinyl col­lec­tor who has also set up a busi­ness designing fash­ion wear for sev­eral Foot­ball League clubs.

“One is so­cial care, due to my par­ents. One is arts and cul­ture be­cause that’s the route I’d have taken If I hadn’t played foot­ball. And the other is sport in the com­mu­nity be­cause foot­ball has given me a good life.

“I’ve been lucky to earn good money and now I want to help grass- roots foot­ball as much be­cause some kids do had – money for subs drove me round ev­eryw “Set­ting ev­eryt re­ally kept my ball and so m want to he al­most be time job.”

Al­most, Some­how, re­mains h oc­cu­pa­tion. N step re­mains who last pulled on arm­band 37 months ago

“Six months ago, I cou kick a ball,” says Barker spent time train­ing at Sh

h as pos­si­ble n’t get what Is, a dad who where. thing up has mind off foot-many peo­ple elp that’s it’s ecome a full- but not quite. , foot­ball his pri­mary Now, only one for the man that cap­tain’s o. uldn’t train or r, who has also heffield United un­der for­mer Rams manager Nigel Clough. “Even three or four weeks ago I was un­com­fort­able twist­ing and turn­ing. Now, I feel like I did be­fore – at­tack­ing balls, be­ing ag­gres­sive. I feel ready for the first team, here or else­where.

“I’d love to play for Derby again but that’s not up to me. I’ve only got three months left on my con­tract and, what­ever hap­pens, I hope peo­ple have seen that I can still play foot­ball and that I’ve still got some­thing to of­fer.

“I can head the ball, I can tackle, I can do all the ba­sics as well as be­fore. All I need is the fit­ness and sharp­ness. At one stage, it looked like I had no fu­ture in foot­ball. Now, I’m ex­cited about what it holds.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images/ Shaun Barker Twit­ter

LEADER: Shaun Barker in ac­tion for Derby be­fore his in­jury. Inset, from left: Barker is in­jured against Not­ting­ham For­est, his knee af­ter surgery, in re­hab and with his daugh­ters Eleanor and Blanche MULTI-TAL­ENTED: Barker’s range of Derby t-shirts and, inset, his foun­da­tion’s sym­bol

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