Top scoring with twenty goals in Bracknell Town’s 2013/14 season, Woodley-based teenager Sam Barratt was suddenly in demand with not just Berkshire clubs higher up the pyramid having taken notice of his fine form. Barratt recalls having some big decisions to make: “I had a few professional clubs watching me but nothing materialised. So I went to Slough Town on trial and nearly signed with them. But I was then asked by (then Maidenhead United Youth Team coach) Sam Lock to come to a pre-season game with Maidenhead. I played 30 minutes in that and trained the following week and was then offered a contract. I recall struggling to make a decision who to sign for but decided Maidenhead after some discussions.”
Barratt had effectively stepped up three divisions to join a Conference South side who – under long-serving manager Johnson ‘Drax’ Hippolyte – had struggled at that level for a number of years. And it wasn’t plain sailing for the youngster, who had to wait until 13th September 2014 to even be named on the bench for the Magpies, in a 4-1 defeat at St Albans City. “Drax was a character, I liked him and he was very honest with me. He brought a good atmosphere to the changing room and gave me confidence when I hadn’t really broken into the first team, which I had found hard coming from being the ‘talisman’ if you like at Bracknell Town. He gave me a chance in some Cup games and went on to give me some league appearances too. I also got on well with Browny (assistant manager Dereck Brown), who gave me some good coaching in that first year.” It could only be a matter of time that the breakthrough would come though, and having been a regular bench warmer during the autumn Barratt’s chance came in a Berks & Bucks Cup tie played on a chilly Tuesday in November 2014.
This is part two of our interview with Sam, if you missed part one you can read it here.
Whilst most of the rest of the country were sat indoors on a cold night watching the Scotland vs England international match, 66 paying spectators were at Bulpit Lane, Hungerford for a County Cup tie which went all the way to penalties. Barratt, on full debut – as he did for Bracknell Town Youth and First Team – scored for the Magpies. In fact it was his brace which rescued a 2-2 draw against Bobby Wilkinson’s upwardly mobile Southern Premier League side. A dazzling performance from the youngster was rewarded as Maidenhead advanced 5-4 on penalty kicks and Barratt kept his place in the starting line-up for the next match against Metropolitan Police in the FA Trophy.
At the end of that season, Barratt had made 4 starts for United – each one in a winning cause – and been named as a substitute 23 times. The campaign came to an end at The Meadow, home of Chesham United as Barratt won the first of his two Berks & Bucks Senior Cup medals with Maidenhead. He clearly did enough when appearing as a substitute that day to impress the watching Alan Devonshire, who was about to take the reins at York Road for a second spell. Devonshire released all but four players from that cup-winning side as he looked to revive Maidenhead’s fortunes.
There was to be an improvement of eleven National League South league placings by the end of that 2015/16 campaign. The second era under Alan Devonshire started with successive wins, the second of which against Bishop’s Stortford at York Road saw Sam Barratt score a sizzling free-kick. The Magpies took just two points from their final four matches to finish five points shy of the play-offs. However, after years of struggle at the wrong end of the table it had been a season of relative success, which included a FA Cup replay earned with a 1-1 draw at EFL League 1 side Port Vale. Barratt was pencilled in on the team sheet for both ties and in the replayed match at York Road the exciting winger appeared in front of the television cameras for the first time as a late substitute for Ryan Upward.
Again though, much of Barratt’s football came from the substitutes bench that season, with three of his five starts coming towards the end of the campaign and he was named as substitute a further 43 times in all competitions, ending up with four goals to his name. It was an impressive goal tally give the lack of starts made, and included a brace from the bench as Barratt nearly turned around a losing cause at Margate. In the summer of 2016, Devonshire strengthened once again in a bid to challenge for promotion and the side went on to lose just four league games in a title-winning campaign. It was understandably tough to get game time in such a strong side, but when Barratt did start games things usually happened for him; goals in cup matches against Marlow and Wealdstone came before the end of November and the following month he joined Isthmian League outfit Staines Town – managed by his former gaffer Drax – in a bid to get game some time.
In by now familiar style, Barratt marked his return from loan by immediately getting on the scoresheet – a brace of bullet headers in a draw at high-flying St Albans. Thereafter, other than a handful of games missed through injury, Sam was involved in every game during the run-in as the title was clinched on the final day. Stepping up a division in 2017/18 against mainly full time outfits in the National League, Barratt thrived. He ensured his place in Maidenhead United folklore by scoring the club’s very first goal in the top tier of English non-league soccer, another majestic header rescuing a point on the opening day at Maidstone. Strong in the air, with pace to burn, tricks up his sleeve and a wicked delivery, Barratt also has a long throw in his armoury and the scouts came to York Road in their droves as Maidenhead finished in a remarkable top half position, ahead of the likes of Leyton Orient, Hartlepool United and Torquay United.
That 2017/18 season also saw one of the highlights of Barratt’s career to date: “Representing England C away to Slovakia U23s. Lining up and singing the national anthem with my family and close friends in the stand was something special.” England suffered an early red card on the way to a heavy defeat but Sam described the experience as: “An unforgettable few days. I just learned to take in every moment, enjoy and savour it because the chance to represent your country doesn’t come round too often. It was less physical but faster paced. A lot more technical, which you expect playing against skilled pros”. A further cap came against Wales and the name ‘Sam Barratt’ was surely being pencilled into the note books of scouts up and down the country.
After appearing 157 times in the Magpies match day squad and scoring 17 times across four seasons – and following trials with the likes of Crystal Palace and Bristol Rovers – Sam Barratt signed for EFL League One Southend United in the summer of 2018. “A notable highlight was playing a pre-season game against Spurs after just signing for Southend. It made me feel proud of how far I’d come, from playing local pre-season games against teams like Flackwell Heath to playing against players at the pinnacle of world football within a year.” There is a sense of cruel irony that, for whatever the benefits of Academy football, a talented footballer who instead graduated through the ranks from playing as a teenager against men in the Hellenic League suffered such a complicated injury in an Under 23 game, a matter of days after making his EFL debut. Not that this cheerful individual will let bad luck get on top of him. It will take more than injury and a global pandemic to curtail Sam Barratt’s continued progress!