A Game for Barks: Richie Barker hoping match in memory of brother Chris will help others seek help

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Rotherham assistant Richie Barker has one hope ahead of Saturday’s charity match in memory of his brother Chris – that it results in at least one person seeking help if they are struggling.

‘A Game For Barks’ will take place at Southend this weekend with all proceeds going to the South East and Central Essex Mind charity.

Chris Barker, who was born in Sheffield, spent three years at Roots Hall and made more than 100 appearances for both Barnsley and Cardiff. He took his own life in 2020.

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Almost two-and-a-half years on, his former team-mates will come together to generate funds for a new ‘somewhere to turn’ service, but equally as important to raise awareness of why it can make such a difference to speak out.

Sheffield-born Chris Barker, who died in 2020, in action for Barnsley in 2001Sheffield-born Chris Barker, who died in 2020, in action for Barnsley in 2001
Sheffield-born Chris Barker, who died in 2020, in action for Barnsley in 2001

“The one thing that enables me to do these interviews is that if one person reads this and it helps them pick up the phone then it was worth doing,” the eldest Barker brother told the PA news agency.

“If one person comes to the game on Saturday or even reads about it and that helps that person to pick up the phone and speak to somebody then the game was worth its while.

“One of the first things I thought about within a couple of weeks (of his brother’s death) was I want to try and raise awareness to ensure that no one has to go through what I have and what our family has been through.”

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A lot has happened since Barker lost his brother. The coronavirus pandemic started and is not yet officially over while his Rotherham side have secured two promotions and also been relegated from the Sky Bet Championship, which is where they will ply their trade again next season.

Rotherham United manager Paul Warne (right) and assistant manager Richie BarkerRotherham United manager Paul Warne (right) and assistant manager Richie Barker
Rotherham United manager Paul Warne (right) and assistant manager Richie Barker

The shock New Year’s Day death was “by far the hardest thing” the 46-year-old has ever been through but he acknowledged the world does not stop.

Barker said: “People do say time is a healer but I don’t know. I don’t think it ever really heals, it just makes certain days a little bit easier to get through.

“For the first six to eight months every day was difficult and as it goes on, bizarrely you realise the world carries on turning and you have to be a part of that.

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“The world can’t stop so you have to carry on with every day duties but obviously it had a monumental effect on everybody and still does with my family and his family. That will never go away and won’t change. It will continue forever but in terms of over the two-and-a-half years, some days are just a little bit easier than they used to be.

“I think that is the only way you can explain it and sometimes you can get through a day without certain things occurring or appearing in your head. Whereas for the first few months those days didn’t exist and every day was a slog and a grind.”

The Millers coach has spent close to three decades in the professional game and while the industry has improved its understanding of mental health, he is one of the few to be open about speaking to a counsellor in the wake of his younger sibling’s death.

Barker saw two different counsellors, one immediately after Chris died before going through the Professional Footballers’ Association again a year later and felt it lifted a huge weight off his shoulders.

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“I suddenly realised there were certain things that still weren’t very comfortable or easy,” he said.

“Nothing was ever going to be easy but thankfully through the PFA I contacted them again and asked for more help so they assigned me another counsellor which definitely helped me.

“I would have no qualms about admitting seeing a counsellor but I do agree over the last so many years it has probably not been quite so easy to admit that you need to share your thoughts with somebody because of the stigma attached to it and the worry that people will think ‘what is wrong with you?’

“But I used to think when I walked out from my counselling that I felt a stone lighter. I felt like whatever it was that I had to attack for the rest of the day, it was just easier because the questions I had and the stuff inside me was out.”

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The former Portsmouth boss’ sentiments occurred during a week where former Sheffield United forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin revealed “talking saved my life” following a difficult season on and off the pitch.

“It really surprised me as I am sure it did a lot of other people but what it does show is there are no labels when people are going through these sort of things and there is very often no tell-tale signs,” Barker said.

“The pressure that is put on these people plus the external stuff of social lives and social-media, I would imagine he is probably not the only (Premier League) player but fair play to him for admitting to it and for advertising the fact that talking had been really beneficial for him.”

‘A Game for Barks’ will see Chris Barker’s old Southend team take on a mixture of ex-team-mates and players he coached at other clubs. Tickets are £5 with kick-off at 3pm.

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“It will be a big moment for me and my family,” Barker admitted. “It will be great that everybody on that pitch was influenced by Chris during his life.”

- Further details are here: justgiving.com/fundraising/amatchforbarks