Bobby Barr: I want to retire at Brechin

Photograph owned by Brechin City Football Club

Written by Colin Byiers

Bobby Barr has now played well over 400 times in his career that has seen him play in 3 out of the 4 top divisions in Scotland, and, still in his early 30’s, the midfielder shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

I spoke with Bobby recently about his career and his thoughts on what he will do after he stops playing.

You started as a youth with St Johnstone, and although you didn’t play for the first team, what was your footballing education like?

St Johnstone took me on after getting released from Motherwell, before I was full time, and I had 2 years at St Johnstone. It was good. I stayed in digs up in Perth, so I travelled up on the Monday and travelled back on the Friday, or the Saturday if there was a game. There wasn’t a big group of young boys, maybe 8 or 9 of us, so training was slightly different, but we had opportunities to train with the first team. I learned a lot, especially staying away from home, you grow up a bit quicker. Tommy Campbell was head of youth and alsotook the team, and funny enough, he was on the phone to me the other day just to catch up with some of the guys.

I got on the bench once in the two years and I probably wasn’t ready because we had a good side. I found it frustrating in my second year because I felt I could have played, not every week, but I could have been more involved. Owen Coyle, in my opinion, didn’t really bother with the youth players but when Derek McInnes got the job, I trained everyday with the first team, which was great. Before Owen Coyle left to go to Burnley, I was asking him to go on loan constantly, but I was like h wasn’t bothered. Once Del, got the job, I said to him it would be ideal for me to go on loan and he sorted it out straight away for me.

That’s when you ended up at Albion Rovers.

Yeah, it was either Albion Rovers, Brechin or Stranraer. I didn’t care where I went, I wasn’t that bothered. (Albion) trained in Coatbridge, which is 20 minutes from my house. Cliftonhill is 20 minutes from my house too, so it was perfect. It was just about getting games and I just wanted to play on a Saturday. You can play youth football or reserve football, but I wanted to play competitive games on a Saturday, so I went out on loan for 9 games at the end of the season and loved it. I was still training every day, I trained once a week with Albion and the rest of the week was up in Perth with St Johnstone. After I was finished on a Friday I was buzzing for the Saturday because I knew I was going to play. It was my first involvement and I really enjoyed it. I had done well and I thought I would have had a wee chance at getting a new deal, but Del was honest with me and to be fair, it was the best thing to happen to me getting released because I would have just sat in the squad and not really played.

Was it an easy decision to join Albion on a permanent deal having played with them on loan?

Aye it was. John McCormack was the manager when I was on loan, but he left, and Paul Martin took over and he was the assistant manager when I was there. Paul had been on the phone, and there were a few clubs interested, but I knew what I was getting at Albion Rovers and it was all about getting games. I signed for £50 a week, but I knew I would play every week. It was an easy decision and I enjoyed it at Cliftonhill. I was 19 that season, and I loved playing every game. It was a real buzz, knowing every weekend you would be playing, and you are playing against men and playing for win bonuses and points to get up the table. I think we started the season really well, doing well until the February and we just fell off the cliff and didn’t win a game in 9 or 10. It was a good season for me personally, and enjoyed playing every week. I scored a hat trick up at Elgin at the start of the season, and at that time I was allowed the freedom to express myself. The manager was good with me and encouraged me to get at players, because I was quick and that gave me a confidence I hadn’t had before. I was shooting and things seemed to go in for me and I think I ended up with a decent goal return with 16 or 17 goals.

In the 2009/10 season, you ended up playing for 3 teams, which is very unique. How did that come about?

I had been flying at Albion, won third division player of the year, pfa player of the year, so was doing well and signed on again. I was young and daft, and started having arguments mostly with the assistant manager and had to go out on loan because they didn’t want me. Brechin were actually the division up. Jim Duffy was the manager, and I’m pals with Willie Dyer, and Willie had asked Jim if he wanted me to come in and he took me on loan, in the October, but bad weather meant I only played 4 times for Brechin in my first spell. Gary Bollanhad been on the phone to me, saying “we’ll try and get you in January, so don’t try and sign with Brechin.” It was an opportunity to go back to full time football again. As long as the clubs could agree a small fee, I was happy, and as soon as Albion said I had permission to speak with Livi, I was straight up there. It was a great move for me, even though they had been demoted to the 3rd division, it was still a great time to play for them and it ended up being a great 2-and-a-half years to be honest. I signed in the January, and I didn’t have a massive impact on them winning the league, they were going to win the league any way. I joined a good young dressing room with a couple of experienced heads, and they made me feel welcome. We won the league, and I felt part of it. The following season, I was one of the main stays of the team and played the majority ofgames. Winning that league was more satisfying because I had contributed more than the previous season. It was a good group of boys, and we all socialised together. It was a great place to go into and work, and when you are winning and enjoying playing, it helps with your confidence. I really enjoyed my time at Livi.

How good was Gary Bollan for your career at the time?

Amazing. Gary Bollan is one of the best managers I’ve worked under. He had loads of trusted in me, because at the time, I was decent, but my final ball probably wasn’t as good as it should have been. The only thing at Livi was I couldn’t score. I was there for about 10 months and hadn’t scored, and I don’t know if it was confidence or what. He kept telling me, “…it’ll come.” We went up to Peterhead and I wasn’t in the squad and got beat 3-0. We played East Fife away during the week, and again I wasn’t in the squad, then I’m starting to think “oh no”. We then played East Fife again on the Saturday and I was on the bench, came off the bench and got my first goal, and from there, off I went. I was good man management. He was brilliant the way he treated everyone at Livingston. It was so enjoyable; it was a brilliant atmosphere to work under. I don’t think he deserved to get dismissed when he did. He was expected to win the 3rd division. He was expected to win the 2nd division. He done it and done it by playing good football. We were sitting in a good position when he got sacked. He got sacked on the Sunday and we were all brought in on the Monday for a meeting and were told the club wanted to go in a different direction. The club said they wanted to bring more young boys through, but the young boys that were there were already playing, but the rest probably weren’t as good. I was gutted when he left.

After a near season long loan at East Fife, you left Livingston and joined Brechin City for the second time, under Ray McKinnon.

I had played against Brechin twice the previous season when I was out on loan and scored a couple goals against them. Ray’s assistant, Darren Taylor, phoned me to see if I was interested in come to Brechin, and obviously, I knew the club from before. I had an option to go to Hamilton under Alex Neil to do a pre-season with them so they could have a look at me. Brechin offered me a really good deal, part-time wise, and I was excited to go.

That season, you played against Rangers 4 times, which must have been a bit special for you?

It was amazing and we got to play them the opening day of the season. So, it was flag day, a full house and Sandy Jardine walked us out. We got beat 4-1, but they scored 2 in the last 10 minutes. I kid you not, they scored after about 30 seconds, and then they had about 15 corners in the next 5 minutes! After the first 15 minutes, it was still 1-0 and I couldn’t believe it. It could have easily been 6 or 7. Ended up getting it back to 2-1, but it was a great start to the season, and for me to play at Ibrox was a dream come true. I would have loved to have played with Rangers. We played them at home and should have beaten them. We were 3-1 up at halftime, and I came off the bench when it was 3-3. What a chance I have to score. Last minute, I should score, back post and I hit the side netting. Score that and we win 4-3. They take the goal kick, win a header and Nicky Clark runs in and scores. It was a sickener. I felt so bad because I felt we deserved to win. It was good to see so many in at Glebe park. To play Rangers, you would have had to have been lucky to draw them in the cup, so for us to play them 4 times was brilliant, and if you ask any lower league player, they will say the same thing. You played in front of big crowds, home and away. It was brilliant having them in the league.

Over your career, you have worked with guys like Jim Duffy, Ray McKinnon, and Derek McInnes. Do you couny yourself lucky to have worked with people like them?

I feel fortunate to have worked with some right good managers who are experienced and have played at the highest level and know the game inside out. Gary Bollan played with Rangers and Dundee United, McInnes also played with Rangers, Jim Duffy had a great career with Morton etc. So, I learned a lot. I tried to take it all in. I think I learned the most from Jim Duffy and Gary Bollan because their man management was very good. They would know if you needed a talking to, or even an arm round your shoulder. Even someone like John Hughes, who wasn’t my favourite manager, he had a great playing career, so you still learn from him.

You made the surprising decision to join Lowland League side East Stirlingshire 2019. What was the thinking behind that move?

It was a strange one! (laughs). (Jim) Duffy, (Dumbarton manager), said to me at the end of the season, that he wasn’t in a position to offer me a contract because he didn’t know his budget yet but said I was part of his plans for the following season. I was working at the railways at the time and the project we were working on was coming to an end and the shifts were starting to dry up. Instead of working 6 nights, it was down to 2, so your money was dropping. Out of the blue, Andy Rodgers phoned me, asking if I wanted to come to East Stirlingshire. I didn’t want to go to the Lowland League if I’m honest, but he asked, “what will it take to get you to go?” I said, “double what I’m on at Dumbarton.” He phoned back 5 minutes later and signed that they would do that. I phoned Jim and told him what the conversation was, and he said the take the deal. He said, “Bob, you’re 30 years old. Take the deal. Worst case scenario is you come back after a year.” So, I signed but it ended up only being 6 months. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good teams in the Lowland League, but there are some terrible teams as well. We beat teams 9-0, and one time we beat a team 7-2 at home and I came off the park annoyed. It was rubbish. It just wasn’t enjoyable. East Stirlingshire was a brilliant club, but I just didn’t enjoy the league. Stuart Malcolm, the Forfar manager, was asking if I was interested in going to Forfar, and when the two clubs agreed something, I asked my dad what he thought, and he basically asked if I would prefer to play against teams like Vale of Leithen or play Falkirk etc. That helped me make my mind up. I was really happy to go back up the leagues.

Your spell with Forfar was hampered by the Covid outbreak, but you are now back at Brechin City for a 3rd spell. What keeps you wanting to go back?

I just like the club. It’s a gamble for me, because we need to get off the bottom of the league or I won’t be there next year. I played with (Michael) Paton at Dumbarton and we kept in touch. When he got the job, he phoned me to ask about a couple of players, then asked if I fancied it. I didn’t think Forfar would let me go, but Michael had said that he was going to offer me a pre-contract anyway, so the two clubs worked something out and I am delighted to be back. I know the chairman. I know the board. I’m going back a different player, but I think they know how I am around the club. Hopefully we can win a few games between now and the end of the season and finish at least 9th and stay in the league. There is a pressure on the club to stay away from that play-off place, but as players, I don’t think we see as a big pressure. I see it as we need to win games of football, it’s as simple as that. We’ve got Albion to play, Cowdenbeath to play, Annan to play and potential all twice if the split happens. It’s in our hands, but we need to be a bit more ruthless and take out chances. I’veseen enough to be confident that we will be fine and avoid the play-off.

You are 33 in the summer, how long to you think you can continue to play, and what’s the plans for after you finish?

I want to play as long as my body tells me I’m enjoying it and I’m playing regularly. I don’t want to be the guy that’s just there every Saturday and not playing, because that would just frustrate me. All going well, I want to retire at Brechin. I like the club and I think the club like me, and I hope we have a successful period under the manager, and as long as I am fit and healthy and feel like I can contribute, then I will try and play. I’veplayed over 400 games now, so to get to 500 would be a nice wee milestone.

After that, I don’t have any plans to stay in football. Coaching doesn’t appeal to me. I might just enjoy my weekends and go and watch football. If my pals are still playing, I’ll go watch them. Broadwood is only 5 minutes away from me so, I might go to a Clyde game. I’ll definitely watch football on a Saturday but to be involved in a coaching capacity, unless someone asks me, isn’t my plans right now. Brechin is a good club, so I think if you are good with them, then they will look after you as well. I’ve still got a couple of years left anyway, 35 should be no problem, then we’ll see how long I can go for after that.

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