The Ex-Files: Scott Barron
Tuesday, 14th Jul 2015 12:00 by Blair Ferguson
In the 19th part of our regular series, The Ex-Files, Blair Ferguson caught up with former left-back and Academy product Scott Barron who, following his premature retirement due to injury, now works in player performance management.
Scott Barron is one of the many players to have rolled off the Ipswich Town Academy production line over the years.
Having joined the club as an 11-year-old, Barron, along with Scott Mitchell, Daniel Flack and Andy Wool, travelled to Suffolk from Cambridge for training every Tuesday and Thursday night.
Unlike some youngsters Barron wasn’t overawed by the surroundings but excited and eager to make his way into the only job he ever wanted to do.
“It was great, I loved everything about it,” he began. “It felt a lot bigger than it does now but Playford Road wasn’t built at the time, we used to train at Bent Lane across the road, changing in a little hut.
“I remember the pitches being perfect and I just loved it and it grew as a club as I was growing with it.
“They went into the Premier League in 2000 and built a new training facility [Playford Road] and we were one of the better academies around when I was a young lad.”
Part of the reason Barron didn’t feel apprehensive on joining the Town youth system could be attributed to the atmosphere. He says enjoying football was the main priority for the younger age groups, and that’s something he believes is missing from a lot of academies now.
“I think the environment at Ipswich was perfect,” he recalled. “I’ve got a lad now and I think about putting him into an academy at a young age and it’s a lot of pressure for a young boy.
“You’ve got to deal with pressure as you get older but as a young boy it’s about enjoyment and that’s what it was based on at Ipswich, it wasn’t a pressure environment, results didn’t really matter until you turned 16, I don’t think we even recorded results before that.
“Some people argue that you want to instil a winning mentality but I think that’s what you’re born with naturally, to be honest. I think you’ve either got it or you haven’t and you should enjoy it as a young lad and let the pressures come later if you get to that level.”
During those formative footballing years Barron was coached by current Academy director Bryan Klug, who has mentored so many of Ipswich’s youngsters over the years.
Barron holds him in high regard, citing him as the best coach he’s worked with and the reason many of his contemporaries have returned to the club in recent years.
“Out of everyone who I have worked with up until now I’d still say he is one of the biggest influences in my career,” he said.
“He’s a really good coach and dealt with young people really well and I think that shows because a lot of my age group are still at the club coaching younger players because they learnt from Bryan.
“Liam Manning took the U16s [before his recent move to West Ham] and Gerard Nash who takes the U18s were in that team, and Adem Atay who takes the U14s.
“The only other one to go on and make it from our age group was Dean Bowditch, and I think he’s the only one who’s still playing.”
During his years in the Academy many players came and went, even those at one time considered the best in their year group.
“You had some that stayed throughout, myself and a few others, but you saw lads come in that you thought were nailed on to make it and they fell by the wayside, whether it was down to growing, desire, injury or different reasons.
“But you’re young and naïve so you don’t realise that as much until you get a little bit older and think that maybe you were a bit lucky to make it because back then you are a bit blinded by your own belief that you’re going to make it.”
Having made his way through the younger age groups Barron reached the level where the pressure intensifies and football becomes serious.
At 16 years old Barron started training with the first-team players he aspired to join. And straight away knew that he had to work even harder to continue his progression.
“I think it’s a shock to the system, quite an immediate change,” he said. “It’s intense because you’re training full-time and it just becomes real.
“You’re seeing the first-team players around you every day and you’re close to it but you’re still 16 and a bit of a boy.
“You’re seeing people who are a year older than you training with the first-team every day and it just becomes a bit more realistic as you are that close.
“I think it then kicks in with certain people, that desire to get there or you just fall short.
“I can understand why some 16-year-olds get there and think they’re already there because it is hard to realise that you actually have to work a lot harder to get to the next level.
“I think the pressure really intensifies when you reach 16. I wasn’t one for feeling pressure but I think other lads might have felt it a bit more.
“I enjoyed it but looking back now and at other clubs I’ve been at, I think it’s maybe more intense at other places than it was at Ipswich.
“It isn’t a pressure you feel every day because you’re still there with 10 of your mates from the same age group loving playing football. You’re in a little bit of a bubble and you aren’t exposed to it fully, but when you get into the first-team all of a sudden it hits you.”
Barron’s natural progression continued as he moved into reserve team football where he was met with a more physical challenge, although he insists the jump in standard wasn’t too high, just the mentality.
“When I was in the academy we played U17s and U19s football, whereas now it’s U18s, but U19s football was as competitive as reserve team football I felt,” he explained.
“Nowadays the system has changed and [in the reserves] you had first-teamers who were just getting through 90 minutes, so it was never that hard to adapt ability-wise.
“In U19s football it was competitive and everyone was playing for the same reason, which was to impress and get a contract, whereas when you went into reserve team football you had 11 different players for 11 different agendas.
“So the standard wasn’t a massive increase but physically for myself, being quite a small, slight guy, that was the most demanding thing.”
Another challenge Barron faced in his first reserve game was a change of position.
“I played left midfield and centre midfield most of the time in the Academy but I can’t remember who decided that I should change. I remember speaking to Bryan and he played it down and said ‘Yeah, you’ll be all right’.
“I think there was an opening at left-back in the reserves and I think it was Bryan who told me the gaffer wanted to see me play there. At the time I didn’t think Joe Royle knew who I was!
“Looking back now there were probably discussions above my head that said ‘This lad’s not going to be strong enough to play centre midfield or fast enough to play wide on the left’ and they thought I’d got defensive instincts so decided to try me at left-back.
“There was probably a decision made without consulting me but I just went with it. If someone says you’re going to play in the reserves you just do it.
“I really enjoyed it. Some people say they don’t want to go to full-back but I’ve always enjoyed it because you see the whole game in front of you.”
That game was the start of Barron’s progression into the first-team squad and it started to become clear that the Town management team liked him.
“Joe Royle and his assistant Willie Donachie were clearly fans of mine, they were really big on fitness as a starting base and I was always one of the fittest in the squad, which was a great start.
“Willie having been a left-back himself really helped me out and they gave me my debut at 18, and if it wasn’t for injury I imagine I would have played a lot more under them, but I sensed they liked me.
“Joe Royle was probably the best man manager I had in my career because he just knew how to handle players, whether you were a 17-year-old boy or a 35-year-old, he just seemed to handle people the right way.
“I’ve played under a lot of managers since that I don’t think I would have enjoyed [working under] as much if I was a young lad trying to get through.
“Joe Royle wasn’t renowned for giving youth a chance but if he felt you were good enough he gave you a chance. There was no stigma against any young lads or the older players, if you were good enough you were going to play.”
His first-team debut came alongside one of his friends from the original Cambridge car journeys seven years previously.
Starting at left-back against Brentford, a club he would later join, in the 2-0 Carling Cup first round home victory in August 2004 is one of Barron’s Ipswich highlights, and rightly so.
“I was living with Scott Mitchell at the time and we had come through the system together and we happened to make our debuts on the same day, him at right-back and me at left-back.
“I just remember being excited, there were no nerves at all, just pure excitement.
“There weren’t many people there, it was a Carling Cup game against Brentford who were below Ipswich in the leagues at the time and the majority of the crowd was probably made up of mine and Scott’s families!
“It just seemed like a natural progression and I wasn’t overawed by it, I was just excited and thought that this is what was coming next.”
Unfortunately for Barron injury struck at the worst possible time and he was ruled out for a lengthy spell, the first major setback in his career.
Although the spell on the sidelines was difficult for him, Barron approached it with the same attitude which had taken him through the Academy and he says he learnt a lot from the experience.
“I actually played the Brentford game with a little bit of a niggle in my groin. I felt it but at the time thought nothing of it and didn’t want to say I was injured in that period because I was training with the first team every day and making every squad.
“But it just became too much and I was out for the rest of the season and that was it, I didn’t play all that year and it took me 18 months to get back to a level where I needed to be.
“At the time it hit me like a ton of bricks because everything had been a natural progression. I’d had the odd little injury, but it was just a standard progression if you had to write a script - starting at the U17s, going into the U19s, play reserves games and then getting into the first-team and then establishing yourself.
“But that injury hit me and it should have been a warning to me because it was the story of my career after that which is quite bittersweet.
“But it really strengthened my desire to make it and it really toughened me up mentally.
“It’s not good for your career to happen early on but it’s good for you in terms of dealing with it to come early on because if I had played 50 games and started to establish myself as a proper Football League player with potential to go further it might of hit me even harder.”
The extended spell on the sidelines reinforced Barron’s determination to make it as a professional footballer and - having made a brief appearance as a sub in the December 2005 home game against Wolves - he finally got the chance to re-establish himself in the team in an away game against Stoke the following month.
“The next time I played after the injury was 18 months later. Joe Royle pulled me aside the day before we went to Stoke and asked if I’d had a good night’s sleep and after I’d said I had he said ‘Good, you’re going to need it because you’re playing’.
“Again there was excitement but I was a little bit more nervous than before because I’d grown up a bit and realised the magnitude of how much I wanted it after being out for so long. So I was determined to take my chance after that.”
His return against Stoke, in which he remembers being awarded man-of-the-match in a paper, was another of his three Ipswich highlights, with the February 2006 2-1 East Anglian derby win at Carrow Road, in which Danny Haynes netted a late winner off his hand, completing the set.
“I remember the bus journey back because we were getting hammered by these Norwich fans, abused, and they were lining the streets and throwing stuff, not bricks or anything like they did at Millwall, though!
“But I remember the experienced pros on the bus saying to enjoy it, that these moments don’t come around that often. It definitely stands out as a highlight because there were other young lads in that team as well.”
The departure of Joe Royle saw Jim Magilton installed as manager and another setback in Barron’s career as he found himself frozen out of the squad by a man who had given him much encouragement when he was a player.
“I didn’t feature at all, under Jim,” he remembers. “He was terrific with me when he was an experienced player and I was coming through in that breakthrough year. He was really good to me and helped me out massively and I’ve got a lot to be thankful to him in that respect.
“But when he was the manager he didn’t play me, obviously didn’t rate me and I don’t think he treated me right. I didn’t get an opportunity even though I think I warranted one and I just never got it.
“I used to work hard every day, I don’t think anyone could question that, there were a few things that went on behind the scenes, but ultimately he never gave me a chance and that was it.
“It became quite clear early on that I needed to move on, probably around October time but it was quite hard. I had a two-year deal that Joe Royle had just given me and I would have had to move down the leagues to play.
“Looking back now, I know I should have moved on a lot earlier but at the time I still felt that maybe I could win him round, which was quite naïve on my part. I should have been stronger to make the decision earlier.
“He used to take me to one side and say to keep working hard and as a youngster you listen to a manager when they tell you that if you work hard you’ll get a chance. And then you do it and wonder why you still aren’t playing.
“But as you get older and more experienced in the game you know managers say that just to keep players happy in case they need them.
“It felt like a massive step back in my career. It just didn’t really go for me on a lot of levels in that year and it wasn’t like we were being overly successful and winning comfortably every week, so I always felt there was a chance I could play after a run of bad results but it never came.”
A loan spell at Wrexham gave Barron an opportunity to play football that mattered again as opposed to the reserve team games he had become accustomed to during that spell.
In order to progress his career he and Town parted ways - he had made 16 starts and two sub appearances - and in June 2007 he joined then-League One Millwall where former Blues assistant boss Willie Donachie was at the helm.
“Willie took me there when he was manager so it was a no-brainer to go. As it happens he got sacked seven games into that season and Kenny Jackett came in.
“Initially didn’t really like me because I wasn’t his type of player, which is fine because it happens, but it seemed to happening quite a lot!
“But I won him round and we had a really successful time together. When he came in we were near the bottom of League One and in the next five years we went on to win promotion and have two Wembley appearances and establish ourselves as a Championship team.”
Barron won promotion with Millwall at Wembley in May 2010 playing at right-back.
“My career highlight is that Wembley win,” he said. “I played right-back, I had been playing left-wing leading up to the final then Alan Dunne, our right-back, was injured and Kenny Jackett asked if I fancied it.
“I’d come on at right-back in a couple of games but had never started and I said I’d rather play left-wing but that I would if I have to and he said I did.
“It was what it was and I got on with it and it was a massive highlight and I got man of the match in the paper again, so it is without a doubt my career highlight.”
Barron’s time at Millwall involved a Carling Cup game against West Ham which typified the atmosphere of a lot of the Lions’ games.
“There was a notorious game against West Ham at Upton Park and it was a 7.30pm kick-off for some reason, I have no idea why they let it go on at that time in the evening,” he said.
“It was the first time they had played each other in years and there’s a deep-rooted hatred between them and the atmosphere was electric. It was a venomous atmosphere but also one of those that you wanted to play in.
“It was hostile and I loved it, it spilt over towards the end with fans running on to the pitch and squaring up to some of our players. At the time it was quite scary but it was such an adrenaline rush.
“When we were leaving the stadium we were getting things thrown at our bus, luckily I don’t think anyone got hurt, but I really enjoyed that kind of atmosphere and it was like that with a lot of Millwall games.”
Upon leaving Millwall in the summer of 2012 he joined the club he faced on his Town debut, having been very impressed by the Griffin Park club’s plans.
“Kenny and I were on great terms but I wasn’t playing regularly so I asked if I could go to Brentford and play regularly. Uwe Rosler sold me a mission and the chairman, as everyone can see now, was ready to have a go.
“I went down there and the amount they had invested in the staff and facilities made it easy to see that they were serious and ready to have a go, I got a feeling straight away.
“Uwe Rosler was a very determined manager as well but it turned out he left and Mark Warburton came in and took it to another level really.
“I enjoyed my time there but didn’t play many games because my injury came back six games in.
“I never got back to full fitness but I really enjoyed it because everyone bought into the project.”
Barron’s career came to a premature end at Brentford in August 2014 after two years struggling to come back from a hip injury sustained against Southend.
“It was a huge relief, that was the strangest thing,” he recalled. “When it actually happens you think it would be a massively sad occasion but at the time it was a case of relief.
“Yeah, football had gone but I’d come to terms with that in my mind and it was a relief that it had happened and now I had a new goal to aim towards.
“There was a pang of guilt there as well so that gets relieved because you’re no longer going to be a burden to the club, which is what you feel like when you’re injured.
“I had a couple of injuries when I first went there, even at Millwall I had quite a few injuries, I was always fighting against certain niggles in my body like a lot of players.
“But this one that came against Southend – which was an injury to my hip – I just couldn’t come back from. I tried many times and kept breaking down and even now it still pains me a little bit, and ultimately that ended it.
“A lot of my time at Brentford I was an injured player. When you keep breaking down when you’re trying to come back you get into a mindset where you know it’s coming.
“It wasn’t like someone had smashed through me and broke my leg in four places and the surgeon said it was over, I knew it was coming.
“I knew I couldn’t get back to where I needed to be, I knew without saying it out loud what the eventual outcome was going to be.
“My mind sort of began to deal with it, so when I sat down and made that decision with the surgeon it wasn’t a shock, I knew it was coming.”
With the knowledge that his injury had got the better of him Barron, who turns 30 this September, looked to life after football and came to Refuel Performance, the company he now runs.
He is now using the experiences of his career to help those who may need it, trying to improve and motivate players who have been dropped by bigger clubs at a young age, with clients in both the Premier League and the Championship.
“It’s looking after a player’s everyday needs, the outside needs of a footballer.
“Having played with different footballers throughout my career I know how a lot of them are. I deal with concierge stuff for them like booking tickets to places or sorting out bills for their house, supplying them with boots, things as simple as that to psychology work.
“We have professionals on board that we offer to our players which I think is huge part of football that isn’t fully tapped into or appreciated, and I’m really strong on the media work.
“I think a player needs to be ‘PR-ed’ correctly so if a player has five good games in a row then the world needs to know about it.
“You see a lot of people getting certain moves in football based on the media perception of them and I think players at every level need to present themselves correctly.
“Someone came to me with an idea for it towards the end [of my career] and wanted me to run it and essentially I run it myself now and I can mould it in my own way and I really enjoy it.
“I’m still interacting with players on a daily basis so I still feel involved in football.
“I feel like I can help the younger generation because although I didn’t have the best career by any means, I went through a lot with ups and downs so I can pass on that knowledge and advise where I went wrong.
“The product that we have set up is the best out there and that’s why I got on board.
“There are a lot of agents that would say they do what we do but in truth a lot of them don’t.
“I think this is the next step going into football because an agent can earn a lot money from a player and not necessarily treat them in the right way. There are a few high profile cases where you look at the player think he hasn’t been given the best advice.
“There are a lot of players that I played with that are really intelligent - and some not so - that want you to look after their whole life, pay their tax returns, pay their bills, whereas some need someone to run their life for them because they’ve come straight out of their parents’ house with a lot of money and no one has given them this advice.
“We look after a couple of Championship players, Liam Trotter, who I used to play with, is a client of ours.
“There are a number of Championship players and a number of young Premier League players who we look after and it’s going really well considering we’ve only been going for a year.”
You can read all the previous Ex-Files here.
Photo: Action Images
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