November 1, 2012 by mapperleystag1
A look at the promising start in management for Richie Barker, both in his first job at Bury and now at Crawley Town.
When Bury manager Alan Knill left the club to join Championship strugglers Scunthorpe United in March 2011 with only eight games to go in the League Two season, fans were understandably apprehensive and sceptical at the appointment of youth team coach, Richie Barker, as caretaker manager until the end of the season. Supporters were naturally anxious that such a positive season up until that point would result in a return to League One, having spent nine years in the Football League’s basement division. Equally, their fears were not eased by the disappointing experience of the previous season. Under Knill, Bury were challenging for automatic promotion for long periods of the campaign, but poor form towards the end of the season meant that they missed out on the top three and indeed the playoffs as well, finishing in 9th place. The season before, Bury finished in the playoffs before losing on penalties to Shrewsbury Town in the semi-finals, having conceded a late equaliser in the second leg. Therefore, the pressure on Richie Barker to deliver was substantial. Bury fans need not have worried. With Barker in charge, Bury amazingly won their next six games, culminating in a dramatic 3-2 win at champions Chesterfield, with star striker Ryan Lowe scoring the winner with three minutes remaining, guaranteeing the Shakers automatic promotion to the third tier of English football. For his efforts in guiding Bury over the finish line, Barker was appointed as the club’s permanent manager in the summer.
Despite their scintillating form at the end of the previous season under Barker’s stewardship, some Bury fans were still unconvinced about their manager’s credentials. After all, Barker was a novice, with only eight games of managerial experience on his record. Moreover, as a player he had never seemed to fit into the stereotypical portrayal of a potential manager. Whilst he regularly displayed his leadership qualities on the pitch, combined with his determination and work-rate, Barker’s style of play as an old-fashioned number nine appeared to be the antithesis of a typical student of the game. Bury’s slow start in League One only served to add weight to these claims. However, Barker remained faithful to the core of the squad that he had inherited from his predecessor, and steered the club to 14th place by the end of the season, which was unanimously regarded as a success. This was all the more impressive due to Barker’s managerial inexperience, especially after such a slow start to the campaign and having to contend with losing key players in the summer, most notably the aforementioned Lowe who was sold to Sheffield Wednesday. Therefore, supporters were dismayed when Barker decided to take the vacant managerial post at newly promoted Crawley Town in August 2012, as he was highly regarded by Shakers fans for his efforts at the club, which had enhanced his reputation within the lower divisions of the Football League.
Although it is too early to properly evaluate Barker’s impact at the Broadfield Stadium, having been in the post for less than four months, the signs are positive. In taking the job, Barker had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of the controversial and outspoken former Crawley manager Steve Evans. Evans had enjoyed remarkable success at the club, securing promotion to League Two as champions of the Conference, with an impressive haul of 105 points. In their first season in the league, Evans led Crawley to back-to-back promotions, although he was not there to witness their moment of triumph, having resigned in April to join fellow League Two side Rotherham United. As with his job at Bury, therefore, there was significant pressure on Barker to succeed. So far, he has coped well, again exceeding expectations. As things stand, Crawley sit third in the league, comfortably in the playoffs and only two points off automatic promotion and the league leaders Tranmere Rovers.
Barker’s progression in his short time in management has been hugely impressive. If he continues to keep Crawley near the top of the table, it is highly probable that he soon will be managing a Championship side. Whether it is with his current employers or a club with greater resources and finances, only time will tell.