For the second consecutive season the progress of a promising Berkshire footballer has been disrupted in unfortunate circumstances. Neil Maskell talks to Southend United’s Sam Barratt in part one of a big interview with the former Maidenhead United Woodley United and Bracknell Town star.
Having earned a move from non league football into the professional game in the summer of 2018, Reading-born Sam Barratt suffered an unfortunate injury when playing for new club Southend United in an under 23 fixture just short of his 23rd birthday: “I had a shot and someone came in and blocked my knee. It caused some serious damage but it was just a complete freak injury.” The setback came just a few days after Barratt had made his EFL debut as a second half substitute against Doncaster Rovers on the opening day of that 2018/19 season and it took 16 months of punishing rehabilitative work for the winger to work his way back from the damage to his cruciate ligament. Then, just as he was finding his straps in League One, at last, the season came to a premature end with the current situation regarding a restart to footballing activities looking somewhat uncertain.
This is part one of our interview with Sam, you can read part two here once you are done!
Barratt has worked hard to get the opportunity to be a pro and the current hiatus only looks likely to delay the inevitable and deserved success of this likeable and well-grounded footballer. A student at Waingels College in Woodley, Barratt played for local sides Woodley Zebras – which became Woodley Town Kestrels – between ages 5 and 14 before joining Woodley Wanderers in what proved to be his final season in youth football. “I started as a left back because I was tall at a young age, but my favourite position was left midfield. I loved just picking the ball up and driving with it to take defenders on” Barratt explains in terms which will sound very familiar to supporters of Bracknell Town and Maidenhead United. “I will always remember playing under Craig Sumner (pictured) at Woodley Kestrels for such a long time because our team was formidable. Playing Saturdays and Sundays, winning both leagues for 3 years running and virtually all cups we entered including the County Cup” Sam recalls.
It was to Larges Lane that Barratt graduated in the summer of 2011. “ I was at a loose end as to what to do after my Under 16 season with Woodley Wanderers. It was actually my brother Tom who had gone to play for Bracknell Town two years previously who told me to go to the open trial and play Allied Counties youth football with them. So I went on trial with five of my teammates and we all got a place in the squad. It was in playing for the youth side that I was spotted by the first team and was asked to step up, which I did in making my first sub appearance and then scoring my first goal at 16 years old.
Steve Nebbet really pushed me when he took over at Bracknell. Him and Danny Oliphant were brilliant with the lads and they built a squad that I felt really comfortable in, even at the age of 16/17. I feel that those seasons turned me from a boy to a man. It was real gritty men’s football, but I was given the confidence to go out and express myself and I remember feeling almost invincible at times, walking on to the pitch with the pure belief that I knew I was going to score goals.”
The Robins were at rather a low ebb when Barratt joined the club. After a quarter of a century plying their trade at Isthmian or Southern League level, the club had been relegated to Step 5 in 2010 after a number of seasons at the wrong end of the table. In Sam’s first full season at BTFC the club finished bottom of the table once again and suffered the trauma of a further demotion, this time to Step 6 and the Hellenic League Division 1 East for 2012/13. On a personal level however, Sam enjoyed an impressive rookie campaign. Making his Allied Counties debut as a sub at Larges Lane on 7th September 2011 against Knaphill, Barratt followed this up the following Monday 12th September with a brace on full ACYFL debut at Alton Town. Scoring on full debut was to become a habit for Barratt, something that he would also go on to achieve in first team football for Bracknell Town and Maidenhead United. Less than two months after that Allied Counties debut, Barratt was playing first team football in the Hellenic League and he hit the ground running.
A first goal in front of the Robins faithful came on Saturday 5th November in a 3-1 success against Highworth Town – “I lobbed the ‘keeper” – witnessed by 55 spectators, a matter of days after making a first team debut from the bench in a 6-0 home drubbing by Slimbridge. By the end of that season the precocious teenager had notched 7 goals in 19 BTFC first team starts with a further 2 substitute appearances, to go alongside 15 Allied Counties appearances and 3 goals for that season’s ACYFL Southern Division champions. Although there was disappointment at relegation to Division 1 East, there were to be cheers at Larges Lane at the start of the following season when a bumper crowd of some 375 spectators witnessed something of an FA Cup upset. The B3018 derbies against Binfield had gone emphatically the way of the Moles by a 9-1 aggregate across the Hellenic Premier League encounters of 2011/12. On Saturday 11th August 2012 revenge, however, was served up in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round courtesy of the Brothers Barratt; both Sam and his talented brother Tom netted as Bracknell saw off their local rivals by the odd goal in three.
Perhaps Barratt’s ‘coming of age season’ was 2013/14, his final campaign at BTFC. Top scorer with 20 goals in all competitions, Sam appeared in 34 of the Robins 38 league matches as the club stabilised with a respectable mid-table finish in its first season back in the Hellenic Premier League and were losing finalists in the Hellenic League Supplementary Cup. In all, Barratt scored 40 goals in all competitions in 95 first team appearances (7 coming as substitute) over the course of three productive seasons at Larges Lane. By now aged 18 it was time for the youngster to test his skills at a higher level. And there were to be no shortage of potential suitors.
Look out for part two of Neil Maskell’s interview with Sam Barratt very soon on Football in Berkshire.