Late, late show helped Barker become a Rotherham legend

Richie Barker.
Richie Barker.
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IF you have an association with Sheffield Wednesday, the chances of being able to walk into a bar full of Rotherham United fans and never have to buy a drink are decidedly slight.

But there is an exception in Richie Barker, the lad from the Steel City and boyhood Wednesdayite who kick-started one hell of a Saturday night party for delirious Millers supporters.

The date was February 23, 2002 and one that former Owls and Millers forward Barker, 39, now assistant-manager at MK Dons, is never likely to forget.

In the visitors’ first trip over the border to S6 in almost 20 years since Joe McBride entered Millers folklore by netting the only goal of the game to provide Rotherham with the perfect Christmas gift in December 1982, Barker was centre stage in a moment of great drama.

Having failed to establish himself at his beloved Owls, Barker showed super substitute instincts David Fairclough would have been proud of in the 90th-minute to clinch a famous 2-1 win for the ecstatic Millers.

It might have gone down like a lead balloon with many friends and family, but it was worth it for the striker, whose father Mel, a lifelong Wednesdayite, had passed away the previous year.

Derbies conjure magic moments and six months after the dramatic intervention of Barker – who netted in front of the Kop – a Devonian called Darren Garner also wrote his name in Millers history.

Like Barker, Garner came on as a second-half substitute. He also scored the winner in a 2-1 triumph in the 90th-minute, again like Barker.

Barker said: “Funnily enough, I went to Sheffield Wednesday versus Bournemouth in midweek and I put on the radio on the way home and was listening to (former team-mate) Rob Scott commentating on the Rotherham game and one of the things that got talked about were the two wins at Hillsborough.

“I have to say Darren’s strike was far more memorable than mine. His was a 25-yarder into the top corner and mine was a 10-yard header. But even though his was a better goal, I will take the fact that I did it first.

“We recently played Doncaster Rovers and were in a hotel in Doncaster and there was a wedding on and it was full of Rotherham fans.

“So I spent a Friday evening with a lot of Rotherham fans reminiscing over that goal, as it happens.

“I was at Rotherham for four years and I think people only remember two things; the Southampton cup goal and the Wednesday goal. But I suppose it is not a bad thing to be remembered for.

“It made it special knowing how much it meant to everybody. But it was also obviously special for me, having been there from 14 to the age of 21 and having a lot of friends and family who were Sheffield Wednesday fans.

“I then got a lot of phonecalls and text messages off a lot of friends who I was not very popular with. A lot of my family are also Wednesdayites. I was also a lot less popular after that than I was before.

“It definitely has its own personal side for me, but a big part of it was knowing the pleasure it gave so many Millers fans with the club living in the shadows for so many years.

“We took 7,000 there that day. Rotherham fans love to beat Wednesday; I guess that comes from many years of Wednesday being fairly successful, particularly in the early Nineties.

“To do it once was great, but to do it twice in exactly the same way was fantastic. I am sure for a few years after, Rotherham fans were pinching themselves,” he added.

The Millers also reserved plenty of late drama for their last visit to S6 in a Carling Cup tie in August 2008 when Reuben Reid fired a 119th-minute leveller to send the tie to penalties, which the Millers won.

Rotherham are eyeing a further addition to their Hillsborough glories tomorrow and what price another late twist?

No doubt Owls fans will feel they deserve the wheel of derby fortune to spin for them for once although both sides could do with a lift after a tough week.

Barker said: “Wednesday started off reasonably well and were top six or eight for a while, but it has fallen away a little bit.

“Rotherham had a little recent spell, but have had successive 3-0 losses and aren’t in great form.

“But local derbies are not hard to lift and motivate players.

“All I will predict is that if you end up getting the last-minute winner for whatever team, you will be fairly popular.”