Needham Market stalwart Rhys Barber facing uncertain future
FOR SO long part of the fixtures and fittings at Needham Market, Rhys Barber admits he faces an uncertain future.
Barber joined Needham at the start of the 2006/07 season and apart from a brief spell at the start of this season, has been a regular in the starting line-up at Bloomfields ever since.
However, the 26-year-old does not know what the future holds as Mark Morsley will take over as manager from Danny Laws next season.
Barber is a product of the Bury Football School at West Suffolk College, where Laws was his coach in his first two years, and he impressed sufficiently to be called up into the Bury Town first team.
He said: “Towards the start of my first year I had a couple of games in the first team and in my second year I played quite a few first-team games.
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“In my third and final season I was a member of the team that reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase and won promotion from the Ridgeons League, before joining up with Danny Laws the following season at Needham Market.”
Barber took over as captain from Mark Bailey when he retired and skippered the side to the Ridgeons League Premier Division title and with it promotion to Ryman League Division One North.
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Needham lost in the play-off semi-finals in their first season and last season came within a whisker of promotion to the Premier Division, losing 1-0 in the play-off final to Enfield Town.
Barber was expected to lead Needham’s attempt to make it third time lucky, so it came as a shock when he declined to sign a new contract in the summer and instead dropped down a level and signed for Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division side Felixstowe & Walton United.
He said: “I got married in the summer and Danny Laws had less of a budget so was asking players to play for less. I have never been money driven, but with the commitment of playing at this level and getting married I could not justify spending that much time for the money I was being offered.
“I came back off my honeymoon and said I was not going to sign for Needham. I am good friends with (Bury Town captain) Tom Bullard and I know (Bury Town manager) Richard Wilkins and so I played a few friendly matches for them and I also played a game for Hadleigh United.
“It was coming up to the start of the new Thurlow Nunn League season and I had to make a decision on my future.
“Richard Wilkins said he could not offer me regular first-team football, so I decided to sign for Felixstowe & Walton and see if things changed.
“I did actually sign for Bury so I was on a dual registration and I had one game where I came on for the last 30 seconds and I ran across the pitch but never got to touch the ball!”
The Seasiders had a poor start to the season, which saw Steve Buckle lose his job as manager, and Barber decided to depart, leaving just after new boss Kev O’Donnell was appointed.
“I wasn’t enjoying it at Felixstowe – we were nowhere near as organised as what I had been used to under Danny Laws, so I spoke to Danny and decided to come back here,” he said.
In his absence the captain’s armband had passed on to fellow defender Pip Boyland, and Barber has no complaints.
“It doesn’t bother me – I made the decision to leave and I did not expect to come back and take over as captain from Pip. It has not affected me whatsoever.”
It has, however, been a difficult season for Needham, who until recently had failed to win a home league game in 14 attempts – something that left Barber baffled as much as anyone else.
“It was difficult to understand. The side this season has not had the same feel as past Needham Market teams, but I think it is one of those things,” said Barber.
“If you start to struggle you are under pressure and then it becomes a case of it being difficult to perform under pressure.
“Not enough players had been performing consistently enough. With the amount of new players that had come in it was difficult to get the team spirit as high as it had been in the past and Danny has had a tough challenge.”
Barber, who didn’t sign a contract on his return, is keen to stay at Bloomfields beyond the end of this season, but accepts the decision is out of his hands.
“I would like to stay at Needham Market if I can and see how it goes, but it is down to Mark Morsley. He might have other ideas of who he wants,” he said.
“I struggled at left back last season. When I first came here I was a left back, but then switched to central defence. When Gavin Johnson came in last season I moved to left back again and I didn’t feel as comfortable there.
“I can play left back or as a left wing back, but I prefer to play in the middle.”