Paul Hayes tells the story of his friend and clubmate, Barry Dagger
Paul Hayes profiles Barry Dagger, a diminutive and hugely successful Olympic airgun champ
In ‘Target Shooting’ magazine, Issue No. 1, Nov/Dec 1979, the very first article was ‘The Barry Dagger Story’. Barry, at only 4’10” tall, was already a giant of the sport, but was to achieve much more, including an Olympic bronze medal in 1984. Now, at 81 years young, he’s still setting the standard for which the rest of us fall short.
Barry competed all over the world and I love listening to his stories and anecdotes. A favourite is about the Russia Olympics of 1980, which Margaret Thatcher’s government wanted people to boycott, hinting, “We’ll see you’re all right” (wink, wink). Barry’s preparations and training had cost him a fortune, and having boycotted as requested, he was expecting compensation. “Margaret Thatcher still owes me £13,000!” “… but Barry, she’s passed away.” “I don’t care! She still owes me £13,000 and I want it!”
At the 1974 World Championships, Barry was shooting .22LR rifle when he saw 10m air rifle for the first time. ‘I could do that!’ he thought. He fancied a Feinwerkbau rifle ,but was embarrassed to ask about one because he didn’t know how to pronounce it. Instead, he approached another well-known German maker, but received a disinterested response. “Never mind,” said the team coach, “Let’s have a look at Feinwerkbau.”
“So that’s how you say it!”
The Feinwerkbau people couldn’t have been more helpful and offered a selection of left-handed rifles. So how do you get a match air rifle to fit a 4’10” southpaw? Easy! Just chop a chunk off the stock with a hacksaw and practise at home by shooting from one room, across the landing, and into another room. By the following year, he was British champion. Barry was later to receive an award from Feinwerkbau for taking the British record for 10m air rifle – 394 out of 400. Remember, those guns were all springers, there were no PCPs in those days.
Following a meeting with Dieter Anschutz, he acquired the Anschutz 380 with which he won his Olympic bronze in 1984, although the wins that gave him the most satisfaction were getting the silver in the 1978 World Championships in Korea, and bronze the following year.
Barry has a great sense of humour. When
he was called up for National Service, he was asked which unit he would like to join. Needless to say, he replied, “The Guards.”
At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the temperature was peaking at 116ºF and wearing target shooting clothing was agony. During a break in practice, the team manager brought Princess Anne to meet him. “I bet you’re hot in all that stuff,” she said. “Hot! I was six-foot-four when I arrived.” As the team manager led the Princess away, he hissed at Barry through gritted teeth “I knew I should never have brought her near you!”
Barry’s international career ended later in the ‘80s when his beloved mother became terminally ill and he didn’t want to be away from home. He became increasingly involved in coaching, particularly with the Great Britain Juniors. He has special memories of one particular, very highly talented young guy.
“He came to our club with his school rifle team because his schoolmaster was a club member. I saw him shoot and he joined us, also shooting air rifle at the range belonging to the company for which I worked. I asked him if he wanted to be in the Junior Squad. That’s how he became a Great Britain Junior and shot major matches for the GB Juniors.” The young man’s name? Some guy called Gary Wain.
Barry is always happy to share his knowledge if asked to do so. When I refer to his amazing talent, he disagrees.
“Success comes from endless hard work and practice. If you want to be the best, it’s going to hurt. If it’s not hurting, you’re not working hard enough. It’s funny how ‘naturally talented’ you can become if you practise every spare minute for years on end.
HALF-CENTURY CLUB MEMBER
Barry has been a member of the Springfield Rifle and Pistol Club at Ancaster, Lincolnshire, since shortly after its formation, 50 years ago. The club has three outdoor target ranges and we shoot pretty well anything short of depleted uranium, but a significant and increasing proportion of the guns seen there are airguns. Barry shares our editor, Terry’s, wish to get airguns out of back gardens and into proper clubs.
Our ranges facilitate targets being erected at 10 metres, 20 and 25 yards and 50 metres and we are about to build a 10m indoor range. Our biggest range (50m, 20 firing points) is an ‘echelon’ range – targets can be set up at different distances, all at the same time. You can be shooting an air rifle at 20 yards whilst the guy next to you is shooting a .303 at 50 metres. Bench-rest shooting is becoming increasingly popular, especially amongst those like me who are becoming increasingly older. More info can be found on our website – www. springfieldrifleandpistolclub.co.uk.
Alternatively, you can write to The Secretary, Ancaster Ranges, Pottergate Road, Ancaster, Grantham. NG32 3QZ or ring the clubhouse on 01400 230985 and leave a message. So, let’s summarise Barry Dagger: Talented? Yes. Modest? Yup. Friendly? Sure is. Funny? Very. Most of all, he’s a real character and in this modern, humdrum world where everything conspires to make us all look and behave in the same way, the supply of true characters is dwindling. In the shooting world, at 4’10” short, Barry Dagger is as big as they get! A real giant!
ABOVE: Barry back in the day. INSET: That Olympic Bronze. Barry was the real deal then, and he is now.
Barry and Paul’s granddaughter, Harriet, show off just a few of Barry’s medals.
Yes, you could say Barry’s won a gong or two!
Comfy clubhouse. No wonder Barry’s been a member here for half a century.
Springfield Rifle and Pistol Club has superb range facilities.
Barry says it’s all about the training - and Springfield is just the club to help you make the most of it.