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Goal-den moment for Bears champ Keith Barker

Keith Barker admitted that a few years ago he was only thinking of winning football medals so he describes lifting the LV= County Championship cricket trophy as ‘an amazing achievement’.

Keith Barker admitted that a few years ago he was only thinking of winning football medals so he describes lifting the LV= County Championship cricket trophy as ‘an amazing achievement’.

The former Blackburn Rovers striker was part of the successful Warwickshire cricket side who took over Lancashire’s league title this season.

And the ex-Enfield Cricket Club star took 56 wickets along the way to play a crucial part for the Bears, who finished runners-up last season to the Old Trafford side.

"It has been an amazing turnaround in my life," said Barker, now 25.

"A few years ago I was only thinking about winning trophies in football so to win the county championship – I can’t describe how it feels as it just hasn’t sunk in yet, it just hasn’t hit me what an achievement it is."

It’s been an up and down road for Barker, who this year signed a three-year contract with Warwickshire so he does now know where his future lies.

Barker, whose dad Keith Barker senior was professional at Enfield in 1965/66, came through the ranks at Rovers, scoring goals in their academy, while also playing for Lancashire Cricket Club at various junior levels from the age of eight and competing in the Lancashire League for Enfield.

Rovers offered the striker a professional contract aged 18 – and just days later Lancashire CC did the same.

"I made that decision to play football and stuck with it. I have always been the same with sport and once I decided on football I just focused on that and gave my all," said Barker, a former pupil of Peel Park and Moorhead.

While at Ewood, he went on loan to Rochdale and scored a volley against Crewe in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

"Luckily I can remember the wickets better than I can remember that goal!

"I think there is only Martin Olsson still at Blackburn who I came through with and I can’t even remember my manager at Rochdale at the time!"

He then went to Ireland with St Patrick’s on loan and had a brief spell at Northwich Victoria but, at the end of his contract at Blackburn and, after a niggling injury, Barker made the decision that his football career was over.

So he returned to Enfield in the summer of 2008, where brothers Gary and Andy had also played, and re-ignited his passion for cricket.

"At that time I never believed I had a future in cricket except playing with my mates at Enfield and getting a normal job," said Barker.

"But I was doing okay at Enfield and was invited for a trial at Warwickshire and I haven’t looked back.

"It’s a great achievement to win the county championship, especially after finishing second last year.

"After last year we took a step back and had a look at how we performed and how we should have got a few more points in certain games and worked hard to rectify that and thankfully it has paid off.

"Luck went our way as well. We won a few close games and other teams had games rained off at good times for us so things have gone our way.

"Then we knew if we beat Worcestershire we had won it and that was a great day.

"Personally I have doubled my wickets from last year so I am pleased with how I have done and hope to build on that now."

And he admits he has no regrets at taking Lancashire’s title, the team he grew up playing for.

"I have nothing against Lancashire and it is sad to see them get relegated but I am sure they will bounce back up again in the next couple of seasons.

"I did though give one or two of my friends in Accrington abuse as, when Lancashire pipped us for the title last season, they sent me abusive texts so it was enjoyable to give them back!"

The one blot was Warwickshire losing in dramatic last-ball fashion in the CB40 final at Lord’s to Hampshire last weekend but Barker didn’t play.

"I was gutted but I had an injury to my ankle," he added.¿"I did have an injection so that I could be the 12th man and come on if necessary but I wasn’t needed. It was hard to lose like we did – we needed to score off the final ball and we didn’t so lost by fewer wickets – but it’s part and parcel of cricket.

"To be honest Hampshire won the T20 and CB40 and we won the Championship and I wouldn’t swap. I am sure Hampshire would rather have won the Championship.

"Now the aim next season is to defend the title – although primarily it’s to stay up first!"

And does he pass on any football tips to his Warwickshire team-mates?

"I do get the mickey taken out of me because of my past – they ask me what I am doing playing cricket when I could be trying to make a fortune playing football but I am fully focused on my cricket.

"I am funny like that. When I was playing football, I lived and breathed that and now for me it’s all about cricket and I don’t even follow football anymore.

"I did try and give some of my team-mates football tips in practice but they banned football because of the injuries which is a shame as I certainly scored more in practice than I did in my football career!"

And maybe he can teach his former Enfield team-mates about clinching a title after they were in the running for the Lancashire League crown until they lost pro Werner Coetsee for the final three games and slipped out of contention.

"Maybe," he laughed. "But they did finish third, which is probably their best finish for a while so it was still a good season for them."

Sadly Keith Barker senior passed away in 2008 before his son made it big in cricket but the junior Barker said: "He will be looking down on me and be happy."

 
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