By Chris Slavin
Captain Barry Fuller talked about coming through tough times as a footballer, extending his playing days, and his promising second career as a coach, in an extensive interview for the Charlton programme.
For those supporters who may have missed it, this is reproduced in full below.
Barry Fuller has recently stepped up his coaching duties by getting involved with the first team at Ashford United in Kent, but Wimbledon's captain believes he's still got a few playing years left in him yet. The former Charlton Athletic academy player, now aged 33, has this season passed 200 club appearances for AFC Wimbledon – and he would love still to be powering up and down the right flank by time the club moves to a new stadium in Plough Lane.
With plans to study for his UEFA B coaching qualification after gaining his Level 2 badges, Barry, who runs his own football academy, has really enjoyed passing on his knowledge of the game to up-and-coming prospects at his local club in Kent.
"I've been coaching Ashford United's U18s and U23s, and it's been a great experience for me," Barry told us this week. "I've been doing it for over a year now and I love it. For the last few months I've also been helping out with their first team. I coach the U16s and the first team on Tuesday nights when there's no game for Wimbledon, plus the U18s and U23s on a Monday or a Wednesday. I've also moved my academy over to Ashford's ground because I'm coaching there a lot. My playing career is my priority, though.
"Football is all I know – even my daughter Evie is with the Chelsea U10s! I'm living the game through her as well now. I have two other daughters, so I'm able to come away from football a little bit every now and then. They do girly stuff like cheerleading, which I take them along to. Having a wife and three daughters means it's easy to get away from football when you want to!"
Not that Barry is looking for a way out: he aims to lead his team up the League One table after what has been a testing start for AFC Wimbledon this season. The prospect of walking out at Plough Lane as Wimbledon captain appeals greatly to Barry, and he says it would be one of his best achievements in a career that includes three Wembley victories.
"I've been here for so long now, and I've enjoyed every minute of it. To have made over 200 appearances for this football club is a massive privilege. To walk out at Plough Lane, where the club belongs and the fans want it to be, would be a massive achievement for me, up there with the best moments in my career.
"This is my fifth season here now, and hopefully I can push on and make plenty more appearances. I love wearing the Wimbledon shirt. I was honoured to even be considered for the Wimbledon captaincy, and when the manager told me I was getting it I was so proud. I've been captain at other clubs and I haven't changed my game when I've been given it. I still conduct myself in the same way on the training pitch and on match days.
"We've shown at times this season that we can compete with any team in this league, but at this level it's about consistency, and we have to find that. Our away form has been decent, but we need to do better at home. If we can find that consistency, I'm pretty sure we can climb up the table. In the season we won the play-offs we were in the bottom half before Christmas, but we only lost about three games after that and we pushed on. We're disappointed with how results have gone this season and the position we're in, but we still have belief in the camp that we can push up the table."
Barry feels fit enough to keep producing his trademark all-action displays on a regular basis, and he doesn't have to look far for inspiration with former Wimbledon midfielder Dannie Bulman still playing for Crawley at the age of 38.
"To look after yourself away from the club is important. You have to keep yourself fit and healthy, and I've managed to do that since I came here. Coaching is something I want to do, but I still feel I've got a few years left in me yet. I've always said that as long as I'm doing my job and not letting my team-mates down, I'll continue playing for as long as possible. I'll keep putting my body on the line until that point. I want to keep playing, and I'd like to think I have a few seasons left in me yet, before I go into coaching full-time.
"You have to look after yourself more when you get older because you don't recover as quickly as younger team-mates do. It's about having that determination to keep going, and sports science is also helping to prolong careers these days. Dannie Bulman is one of those players who is naturally fit, but he also looked after himself when he was here. Staying injury-free was a massive plus for him."
Despite his impressive appearance record here, Barry had to overcome a career-threatening knee injury, suffered in 2011, to continue playing. His never-say-die attitude to make it back even featured in a book about football psychology.
"I was told there was a big chance of me never playing again, and mentally I was all over the place. It was the toughest time in my career, and my wife had to look after me for nine months because I couldn't do anything. I stayed positive and strong during my rehabilitation. I talked to a sports psychologist I knew, Dan Abrahams. He's written books, and I wrote a chapter in his book Soccer Tough for him. It was all about the mental toughness I displayed. When we were on the way to Monza for our pre-season tour a few seasons ago, the gaffer happened to be reading it, and he shouted down the plane about it as he didn't know I was in it! I'm always thankful to the specialist Sam Church for helping me, but when I was told I might never play again I was determined to prove him wrong. I've barely had an injury since."
As club captain and with a big interest in coaching, Barry has kept a keen eye on emerging footballing talents at AFC Wimbledon. He believes that fellow full-back Toby Sibbick could have a big future in the game if he continues his recent development. Above all, he believes that all aspiring footballers need to have discipline instilled in them from an early age.
"I think Toby has a great future in the game. I think he's a very good player and it won't be too long before he gets a first-team chance, whether it's here or out on loan. I have chats with him in training and try to help him with things he can improve on. Toby is an athlete, and because he's good at getting forward, maybe that takes over a bit too much. But he's a good lad, and the important thing is that he listens. He's learning quickly about the full-back position. I was a central midfielder at Charlton when I was coming through, but at 18 I was moved to full-back, and that made a big difference to my career.
"Things were a lot harder when I was an apprentice. We had to do all kinds of horrible jobs, including cleaning out toilets. You had to earn the right to play, but you didn't moan about it. It's changed a bit now – they concentrate on the football side of it more. Or Academy lads still do jobs here, but it's more football-oriented, which it should be. I think it's still important that the young lads do the jobs to earn that right. A club like ours wants to produce their own players, and our Academy has been very successful."
Barry remains grateful to Charlton for playing a big part in his development. Our opponents today were then in the Premier League, and they gave him a platform for a successful career that has included spells at Stevenage, Gillingham and Barnet.
"I was playing for my local club, Kennington FC, against a Charlton School of Excellence team, and after the game a Charlton scout asked me to go for a trial. I went along for four weeks and ended up signing for their Under-13s. I had great times there, including getting to the FA Youth Cup semi-final, when we lost at Old Trafford to Man United. I was also part of the reserve team there that won the league twice. I didn't make a first-team appearance, but I was on the bench three times when the club was in the Premier League. That was a great experience for me. I got to 20 years of age, and Alan Curbishley said he liked me, but my chances would be limited and I needed to go out and play games.
"I started playing full-back just on the off-chance really. I used to be a central midfielder, but for one reserves game they didn't have a full-back so I played there and did well. I played in that position for two or three games, and Glynn Snodin pulled me aside and said I might make a career out of being a full-back. I haven't looked back since, and I'm thankful for the coaching I received at Charlton."
Barry went onto enjoy an FA Trophy victory with Stevenage and two more wins at Wembley followed with Gillingham and Wimbledon. Maybe in his coaching career, Barry will be pointing the way to Wembley glory for one or two of today's young footballers.