THE BIG INTERVIEW
It is with a chuckle that Barry Richardson recalls his competitive debut in Preston North End’s goalkeeper jersey.
All of the carefully-planned preparations for the season’s opener against Darlington in August 1994 went out of the window thanks to a traffic jam.
When North End should have been arriving at Feethams, their team bus was instead sat bumper-to-bumper on the A66.
With manager of the time John Beck a real stickler for forward planning, it was not the best of starts to the 1994/95 campaign.
Richardson told the Evening Post: “There was an accident on the A66 across the moors and our bus got held up in the traffic jam.
“After standing still for quite a while we realised that we were going to struggle to get to Darlington in time for kick-off.
“Once we got moving again, it was a case of getting ready for the game while still on board the bus.
“We had to get our kit and boots on while the bus was travelling – it was quite surreal.
“It was the first time it had happened to me as a player and it hasn’t happened since.
“When we finally arrived in Darlington, we had to jump off the coach and sprint down the to ground.
“The referee allowed us a five-minute warm-up and then we had to kick-off.
“It was an experience which I certainly won’t forget in a hurry and I still have a smile about it all these years on.
“Darlington were ready for us once we did get started and they put us under some heavy pressure early on, hoping to catch us cold.
“They got right on top of us but we held out and went on to play quite well.
“We showed the strength of character which John Beck had brought to the club.
“Everyone likes to focus on the long-ball tactics and the off-field antics which John was supposedly well known for, such as turning up the heating in the opposition’s dressing room on a hot day and cutting off the electricity so they couldn’t play their music.
“But there was another side to John – he was meticulous about his preparation for matches.
“He was way ahead in terms of how footballers should prepare for matches and recover from them. He was doing in the early 1990s what many teams have only caught on to fairly recently.
“John brought in sports science, he had the ice baths and cold showers.
“At the time they were just seen as a gimmick but now all the players use them.”
Richardson was one of a number of players signed by Beck in the summer of 1994 as the squad was re-shaped in the aftermath of losing 4-2 against Wycombe at Wembley in the Third Division play-off final.
For quite a while the keeper had been on Beck’s radar but Deepdale’s artificial pitch had put him off coming.
The grass going back down was the signal for Richardson to leave Northampton Town and move to Lancashire.
“John had asked me to sign the previous year but what had put me off was the plastic pitch at Deepdale,” explained Richardson.
“I feared that playing on it regularly had the potential to shorten my career.
“A footballer’s career is not a long one and I did not want to get an injury by playing on the plastic.
“I wanted to join Preston but didn’t fancy the pitch on a daily basis.
“John kept in touch with me and once I got told the plastic was coming up and the grass was going down, that was it.
“I turned down a new contract at Northampton and signed for North End.
“One of my first games was in a pre-season cup competition against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road.
“I saved a penalty in that game and got me off to a good start with the Preston fans who were always top drawer.
“There was a big buzz about the club, the fans and players engaged well and it was building up to better things.
“I went on to have a year-and-a-half at Preston, with John Vaughan and myself vying for the keeper’s shirt.
“One of the games I played was the 1-0 win over Blackpool at home in the FA Cup.
“It was shown live on Sky on a very windy Monday night and Mick Conroy scored our goal.
“Not too long after that, John Beck got sacked and Gary Peters stepped up to replace him, with David Moyes as his assistant.
“I stayed into the following season when Gary told me I was surplus to requirements and wouldn’t necessarily play for him again.
“That was the time for me to move on, although I was still happy at Preston.
“Perhaps I could have stayed to fight for my place but I was always told as a kid that if a manager wanted you, go and play for them because they will look after you.
“That is what happened because John Beck got the Lincoln City job and he asked me to go there with him.
“Rather than just sit on the bench at Preston, I went to Lincoln in order to get a block of games.”
In the second half of the 1994/95 season, a young man by the name of David Beckham joined North End on loan from Manchester United.
Richardson is pleased to look back and count the former England skipper as a team-mate of his.
He said: “David signed on loan in my first season at Preston.
“I think he was only 18 and United loaned him out to get some first-team games.
“David turned up driving a battered old car and got a bit of stick from the lads.
“By the end of his month on loan he had upgraded to a Honda Prelude!
“After training he liked to stay behind to practice free-kicks and long-range shooting.
“David would ask me if I could stay for half-an-hour so that he had a goalkeeper to practice against.
“ I would like to say that I taught him everything but he was already very talented! I didn’t know at the time that he would reach the heights that he did but you could see in his month with us what potential he had.”
What Preston supporters of the day might well recall are the contrasting hairstyles which Richardson had.
He arrived with his locks tied back into a ponytail, a look he maintained for all of the 94/95 campaign.
Then at the beginning of the next season, the keeper went blonde.
Said Richardson: “I grew my hair for a while and used to have the ponytail.
“I met my wife when I still had the long hair so it can’t have been too bad.
“Before the start of my second season at Preston, I went for a change of look.
“The day before the team photo-shoot in pre-season, I had my hair cut and dyed it blonde. It took some people a little while to recognise me and it was just for a bit of banter.
“I had it done before Gazza made it fashionable.”
Richardson can look back on a well-travelled playing career.
“I started at Sunderland and had three years there,” he said.
“Realistically I wasn’t going to push to get a place in a top-flight team, so I turned down the offer of a new contract and dropped into the Fourth Division to join Scarborough.
“I made by debut at the age of 19 and had a good time there before signing for Stockport. But I didn’t get to play for them because Northampton bought me a month later.
“Northampton were in turmoil for much of the time I was there.
“In the first season there were a lot of big names at the club but then they hit financial problems and got into a mess, going into administration.
“It was after three-and-a-half years at Northampton that I got the call from Preston.
“From Preston I went to Lincoln and spent four years with them.
“After that I went to Sheffield Wednesday, had a short spell with them, then joined Doncaster, who were in the Conference at the time.
“They went from the Conference through to League One and it was during my time there that I started coaching.
“Back then, goalkeeper coaches were quite rare and a coach would go around to help the keepers at five or six clubs at once.
“I always thought that I would be a better coach than a player, although I didn’t think I was a bad keeper.
“I actually did my outfield ‘A’ Licence badge very young and then did the keeper’s equivalent.
“At Doncaster I was offered the youth-team job which worked out well. The youth team players went to college in the morning so I could train as a player with the first-team squad as normal.
“Then I would take the youth team in the afternoon, while we arranged their games for either a Friday or a Saturday morning, so I could play on a Saturday afternoon.
“From Doncaster I went to Nottingham Forest’s academy, and then I got asked to go back to Doncaster to work with the first team – I was sort of No.2 as well as taking the keepers.
“When Dave Watson, who is now the England goalkeeper coach, left Forest to join Birmingham, I went back to Forest as a goalkeeper and to coach.
“I was coaching and being the keeper cover on the bench for matches.”
A short spell at Cheltenham and a longer stay with Peterborough followed for Richardson.
He took a break from football after a family bereavement.
“Sadly we lost our youngest daughter in 2010 – she had been born the year before,” said Richardson.
“I took time out from football because we needed to mourn together as a family.
“What I wanted to do was something different and my wife set up a goalkeeping school in Lincoln for me.
“I was also applying for a lot of jobs to make ends meet and after quite a while of not getting anywhere, I was offered a job as a groundworker.
“For six months I did that – it was completely different and probably something I needed.”
Richardson is now back in football with one of his former Preston team-mates, Gareth Ainsworth.
He is on the coaching staff at League Two side Wycombe Wanderers where Ainsworth is manager.
In these days of £60m transfers and players netting £200,000 a week at the very top clubs, it is refreshing to get a reminder of life a couple of rungs down the football pyramid.
Richardson said: “I have been at Wycombe since January. I live in Lincoln and travel down there.
“During the week I sleep on the couch in the manager’s office at the training ground.
“Wycombe haven’t got a lot of money but it is a good family club and is starting to move in the right direction.
“I had kept in touch with Gareth over the years after playing at Preston and Lincoln with him.
“It just used to be the occasional text or call, maybe once a year.
“Earlier this year his keeper coach got offered a job at West Ham, and Gareth got in contact to say he needed someone to look after the keepers and do some coaching with the outfield players too. I took the job on a short-term basis and I’m still there.
“We had that incredible escape from relegation out of the Football League on the final day of the season.
“What an occasion that was – it was very emotional but we were confident of pulling it off.
“On that last day we needed a win at Torquay and a swing in goal difference.
“During the week leading up to the game we had a few meetings with the players about the elephant in the room, which in this case was the possibility of relegation.
“We talked about it, talked about their fears of what might happen, got everything out in the open.
“The lads put in a fantastic week of training and it paid off as we won the game.
“Just a day later, the regime in charge at the time cut the budget for this season. But there is a new chairman now and the club is one in transition. Gareth moved out 14 players in the summer and brought in nine.
“I’ve just turned 45 but I sit on the bench as cover for Matt Ingram, who is one of the best young keepers in the country.
“If I’m ever needed to come on, I would be the oldest player to ever play for Wycombe.
“But hopefully it won’t come to that and Matt can continue to flourish.”