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Fuller: we must be strong

15 October 2013

Right-back says Dons must show fighting spirit

has battled back from adversity on several occasions during his career – and now he has called on Wimbledon's players to come through their sticky spell this season.Barry FullerVice-captain

Barry, who overcame a career-threatening knee injury during his time at Gillingham, has fully put that behind him and has played in every game for Wimbledon this season since joining the club in the summer. And the 29-year-old is determined to use all of his experience to help the Dons get back to winning ways.  

Of course, the Dons have testing trips to Morecambe and Hartlepool coming up, but Barry said: “We have to show character now. We do not want to get stuck in a rut. No matter how good a team you are, it is hard to get out of it when you are losing games. We have to find that consistency again. We have difficult away games coming up, but when the going gets tough you have to prove that you are up for the challenge. It may not be pretty, but we have to roll our sleeves up.

“I have only been at the club for a short space of time, but I feel that we can progress. I felt in pre-season that we could be pushing for a place in the top half and I still feel exactly the same. I have been captain at quite a few clubs, but I was over the moon to be appointed as vice-captain here. We need to have four or five leaders on the pitch in every match though.”

 For those supporters who missed Barry’s in-depth interview in Saturday’s matchday programme, this is published in full below.

Barry Fuller has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense defender prepared to put his body on the line for the team, but nothing prepared him for the day two years ago when he was told that his career could be over. Shown the door by Martin Allen at Gillingham, he bounced back with Barnet and is now a lynchpin of the Dons’ defence.

Today’s home match against Accrington Stanley is almost two years ago to the day that Barry Fuller was told he had no better than a fifty-fifty chance of continuing his dream career as a footballer. The experienced right-back had previously suffered a broken arm and a broken nose playing the sport he loved, but this was different.

But the initial diagnosis turned out to be much worse than was first thought, and a specialist concluded that he had torn ligaments in the corner of his knee. In a match for Gillingham against Macclesfield in April, 2011, he was stretchered off with a knee injury. It is typical of Barry’s never-say-die attitude that he carried on playing after the game.

“I was stretchered off in the second to last game against Macclesfield,” said Barry. The initial scans suggested it was severe bone bruising, so I took the summer off and came back for pre-season. I played six or seven league games at the start of the next season, but I could barely walk on Sundays after games. I thought this couldn’t be right, so I saw another specialist and he diagnosed the injury straight away. I asked him how long I would be out for, and he said 12 months. I thought at first he’d said 12 weeks!

“I was told I had just an evens chance of playing again. My face dropped, and my wife’s eyes filled up. But the surgeon said he was confident of getting me back playing again. It was a rare type of knee injury I needed an artificial ligament inserted. The first three or four weeks were tough, but after three or four months I knew I would be alright. When I came back I was told that I should aim for 20 games the next season, but I ended up playing 44 games in all competitions for Barnet during 2012/13.”

That was a season that for Barry ended with the pain of relegation, and a suspension meant that he missed crucial games during the run-in. However, one of those games was the fifth-to-last game of the season when he sat in the stands at The Cherry Red Records Stadium watching the Bees inflict what appeared to be a fatal blow to Wimbledon’s hopes of staying up. Though it was an unfavourable result for the Dons, the match was memorable as “We Are Wimbledon Day” with a great atmosphere inside the stadium and banners greeting the players as they emerged from the tunnel.

“It was the first time I’d been to the ground, and it was a great atmosphere. I was in the stands watching and I remember that it was a smash-and-grab for Barnet - Wimbledon dominated about 80 per cent of the game. We thought we’d be safe after that. And now I’m here - it’s funny the way things work out like that in football. I remembered that game when I got the call from the manager to look around the club. The manager showed me around the training ground and the club. Sometimes you just get a feeling for a place.

“When I sat down with the manager he told me about the players he was looking to bring in. He said he wasn’t even thinking that we might be in a relegation dogfight again. We’d be pushing for that top-half and looking at squad developing the squad during pre-season. When I heard the manager’s plans I didn’t think twice about signing for Wimbledon.”

Barry was good friends with Danny Kedwell during his time at Gillingham, and the man who fired the Dons into the Football League urged Barry to sign for Wimbledon when the opportunity came along.

“When I was out injured at Gillingham, my wife and kids spent quite a bit of time with Danny’s family. Danny and I are both from similar backgrounds and we got on well. When I was offered a chance to talk to Wimbledon I rang Danny up, and he said, ‘You must sign for them’. He told me Wimbledon was a great club with good fans and they would love the way I play. He said I would enjoy my time here - he hit the nail on the head!”

Barry, who was raised in Ashford, Kent, was spotted playing for local club Kennington FC by Charlton Athletic when he was 13, and the full-back stayed with the Addicks for seven years. Despite a promising spell that included helping Charlton’s Under-18s reach an FA Youth Cup sem-final clash against Manchester United and winning the Premier Reserve League Southern Division, Barry was released at age of 20.

Although still quite young, he was not scared of making brave decisions. He opted to join Stevenage, who were in non-league, and that helped to reignite his career.

“It was a tough decision to drop out of the league at that age, but I could tell when I first went down there that Stevenage was a club on the up. The training ground was great, and manager Mark Stimpson told me about the team he was trying to build. He wanted me to be a part of that – he’d watched me play for Charlton’s reserves. 

“The move worked out great for me. I had 18 months there, and we won the FA Trophy in what was the first competitive game at the new Wembley. When Mark took over at Gillingham, he was back in for me. Being a club just down the road from where I was brought up, Gillingham was a dream move for me. I was a West Ham fan as a kid, I had been to watch Gillingham play, and it was a move back up to League One again.”

  Though Barry joined halfway through that 2007/08 season and the Gills were relegated back to League Two, he was quick to make an impression at the club and was selected as captain in October, 2008. It was a superb first full season with the Gills for Barry; he captained them to League Two play-off final success at Wembley against Shrewsbury.

After nearly five years, his spell with Gillingham ended on a sour note with Martin Allen showing him the door just before the start of the 2012/13 season, yet he holds no grudges. And Barry hopes his experience in his role as Wimbledon vice-captain can help the Dons progress this season.

“I was captain at Gillingham for two-and-a-half years, and I really enjoyed my time there. When Martin Allen came in as manager I was out of contract. I’d just worked myself back from that knee injury, and I was hoping for another 12 months to prove I was fit and could still do a job. I played in pre-season at Gillingham, but then Martin told me that I would be released three weeks before the season started. Football is a business – I’d not played for 12 months, and I understood the decision. But I had a wife and three kids to look after. When an opportunity came up to join Barnet, where Mark Robson, who I had worked with at Gillingham and Charlton, was manager, I took it.

“Since I have been at Wimbledon I have enjoyed my football more than I have in a long time. Right now I’m the fittest I’ve ever been and I know how to look after my body. I’ve been lucky enough to be captain at quite a few clubs and it is honour to be vice-captain at Wimbledon. I still feel that we can be in that top half. During tough times you have to be prepared to dig in. It may not be pretty, but you have to be ready to scrap.”

With battle-hardened characters such as Barry in Wimbledon’s squad, the Dons are certainly better equipped to come through tough times this season.

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