A tribute to Nick Barmby: The player

This article charts the storied career of Sir Nicholas Barmby of England, be warned that it’s suitably long…

I hate Nick Barmby.

It’s 1986, and I’m stood on a rain-soaked playing field round the back of Hall Road school. Hull City Boys’ final trials are taking place, and I’m a hopeful right-winger, knowing that I’m faster than anyone else there if nothing else. I’m also quietly wishing that my ridiculously long hair won’t put off those choosing the final team. The manager for the North Hull third of this three-team mini-tournament, my team, hasn’t turned up. Coaches Les Mallory and Cosi Basile, two men who I was to grow to have enormous respect for, confer on what to do. Eventually they approach our 14-man squad. “Lads,” says Les, “we haven’t got anyone to manage you so we’re going to let Nick do it”. Every one of us knows who “Nick” is. We’d played against him often enough. Today he’s our team-mate and our manager. Not that we were bothered about winning this tournament. We just wanted to be picked for City Boys.

Barmby is handed a sheet and starts to read out the team. He’s reading it out so that the starting line-up is simply the first eleven names on the sheet. I’m eleventh, so at least I get to start. But no, after the tenth name is read out there’s a pause. Nick looks at me. “Where do you play?” I tell him I’m a right-winger. It turns out one of his friends further down the list, a schoolmate from Wyke Junior School, also plays there. He starts. I don’t. 

We play West Hull. It’s 0-0 after the first 30-minute half. Ten minutes into the second North Hull go a goal down and I’m brought on, on the left wing. Two minutes in, I’m defending a post at a corner. I end up acrobatically clearing a ball off the line. It falls to Barmby on the edge of our box who goes on a run the full length of the pitch. He gets to the right-hand byline and crosses the ball across the opposition six-yard box. There’s no one on the end of it. Barmby shouts “Where’s our left winger?”. I sheepishly raise my hand. A telling off ensues over me not supporting him quickly enough. A few minutes later another opposition attack breaks to Barmby. Another run, demonstrating a close control that was sublime even at that early age, begins. This time I get on the end of the resulting cross and tap in from five yards. For a brief moment I’m elated. Barmby trots over and snarls “Number 14, that’s what happens when you follow up”. That’s it. I’m deflated.

On returning to the changing rooms, what seems like the entire East Hull team run out laughing. We get inside to see Barmby’s clothes covered in oil from a vat in the corner (quite why a school changing room had a vat of oil in a corner I’ll never know). Barmby is furious. I’m glad. Even though there’s some of the oil on my brand-new Nike West Germany tracksuit, I’m glad. I’m glad because I hate Nick Barmby.

I’m an idiot, of course. Barmby is a bit arrogant, but when you consider that he’s the most talented footballer of his age group in the country, and already has the big clubs jostling for position to get his signature, he’s actually pretty well balanced. Any child so prodigiously talented – and he really, really was – is going to have a touch of arrogance about them. I’m jealous of him, too. Deep down we all are. The lads from East Hull chose to demonstrate this by vandalising his belongings. Some of them probably still boast about it to this day. I chose to blame him for ending my hopes of becoming a professional footballer. Until one day it hit me that I was never actually good enough in the first place. Seeing someone so much better than you at the sport that you love, the sport which by most standards you excel at, is hard when you’re 12. Those feelings of jealously and resentment were a cross Barmby had to bear throughout his childhood. I only got on the end of it the once.

Barmby was born in February 1974, son of Jeff, a former Hull City winger who never made it past the reserves and went on to become a legend at Scarborough. An electrician by trade, a request for Jeff’s services was often heard over the Boothferry Park tannoy when a fuse had blown in the gym round the back of the South Stand. Nick was, from an early age, a fixture on the touchline at City home games as a ballboy or steward. His love for Hull City and, even more so, Hull FC, was readily evident. But as his reputation grew, by the age of 12 it was obvious that he was never going to play for City. In footballing terms, the club and the prodigy existed in different stratospheres.

By his early teens, Barmby was spending most of his time at Lilleshall, a centre of excellence for young English football talent. His summer holidays were spent training at Manchester United alongside his England Schoolboys team-mate Ryan Wilson (soon to be Giggs), under the watchful eye of Alex Ferguson. There wasn’t a big club in the country that didn’t try to sign Barmby – indeed the battle for his signature seemed to get more coverage in the then rugby league-obsessed Hull Daily Mail than Hull City did. Barmby had seemed Old Trafford-bound, so it came as a shock when a late bid by Terry Venables saw him sign for Spurs. His friends in Hull claimed that Paul Gascoigne’s influence swayed Nick. A bunch of jealous former team-mates and opponents harrumphed that he’d be playing non-league football by the time he was 21.

He wasn’t. If he’d played until he was 41 he wouldn’t be. Instead he was appearing on national TV for England Schoolboys, and breaking into the Spurs first team by the age of 18, making his debut against Sheffield Wednesday. He was instantly warmed to by the White Hart Lane faithful as a symbol of the club’s future, in the wake of its near financial ruin at the hands of Irving Scholar and Terry Venables. A goal in his fourth game, a header against Wimbledon seen live on TV by millions of viewers, saw Nick take on the poisoned chalice of being ‘the future of English football’. Such responsibility didn’t seem to weigh him down, as the bright start to his career continued for the rest of the season. The following season, 1993/94, saw Barmby take on further responsibility. An injury to Teddy Sheringham saw him become the focal point of Tottenham’s attack. Though the team struggled, Barmby continued to prosper. Still a teenager, Barmby was a household name with a stellar reputation.

The next season at Tottingham went a little crazy, with Ossie Ardiles returning as manager. He signed a clutch of world-class stars. Chief among them was Jurgen Klinsmann, one of the best players in the world at that time. Ossie brought with him a new formation too, which saw Barmby become one-fifth of a five-man attack. Despite a thrilling 4-3 win against Sheffield Wednesday in the first game of the season, this attacking formation left a trembly defence that was shipping more goals that the forwards could score, and Ossie was sacked. Gerry Francis came in, and with a glut of world-class centre-forwards to shoe-horn into a more sensible 4-4-2 formation, he promptly turned Barmby into a left midfielder.

Class tells. And the move to a deeper position didn’t affect Barmby’s form at all; he carried on being an integral part of the Tottenham team. But it was being whispered in the press that Nick was homesick. He’d married his long-term girlfriend, a former Blind Date contestant, and subsequently fallen out with his father, the man who had carefully managed his career throughout his youth. Jeff was well-known on the touchlines of Hull’s Sunday League pitches for making his feelings known, and it seemed that he’d let Nick know what he thought of his new wife. In the summer of 1995, after making 89 league appearances for Spurs and scoring 21 goals, Barmby moved to newly promoted Middlesbrough, whose manager – one Bryan Robson – was happily splashing chairman Steve Gibson’s not-inconsiderable sums of cash, £5.25m of which went on young Nick. This was to prove a mistake. Barmby’s time at Middlesbrough was notable for two things. First was the Middlesbrough stadium announcer’s inability to tell the difference between Nick and team-mate Craig Hignett. The second was a bit more sinister…

Rumours were soon spreading – primarily on this new-fangled internet thing – that Barmby was seeking a move from the north-east and the reason for this was something to do with his wife and his then manager and assistant manager. I don’t know what happened, obviously, but I do know a friend of Chris Freestone, who played for Middlesbrough at the time. His take on this matter is somewhat different to what the rumour-mongers would tell you. According to Freestone, Barmby was a consummate professional and dedicated family man who would eschew the usual trappings that came with being a footballer. This made him the butt of a few (largely good-natured) jokes among the hard-drinking clique that had formed at the Riverside Stadium, made very much in their manager’s image. The story goes that a few players, Robson and Viv Anderson were sat having a drink in a hotel bar very late after an away game when Barmby walked past. When asked why he was up, Barmby answered that he was going to ring his wife. Bryan Robson is then reported to have made some sort of derogatory comment about Mrs Barmby that Nick understandably took great offence at. The next morning a transfer request was handed in and before long Barmby was heading for Everton for a fee of £5.75m. The fact that Nicky is still, by all accounts, happily married to the same woman would very strongly suggest that the rumours that were circulating at the time about his departure from Teesside were utter nonsense. What makes it so sad is that such a private, professional player as Barmby deserves a whole lot better. Anyway, Barmby had a career to rebuild at Goodison Park.

And rebuild it he did, eventually. Barmby’s early years at Everton were plagued with injury, as shin splints and some average form meant that he was somewhat on the periphery of things on the blue bit of Merseyside. Once the injuries cleared up, however, Nick began to finally justify the hype that had surrounded him as a teenager. His form started to return in his third season at Goodison Park – 1998-99 – but in his fourth and what was to be final season at Everton, Nick was outstanding. Free from injuries he was instrumental in a team that was more used to battling relegation than becoming involved in things at the other end of the division. He scored nine goals, and even though Everton’s season petered away towards the end, Nick was, yet again, hot property, a fact that hadn’t gone unnoticed across Stanley Park…

No player had moved from Everton to Liverpool since 1959, though plenty – including the likes of the late former City loanee Gary Ablett and England near-legend Peter Beardsley – had moved the other way. However, on July 19, 2000, Nick Barmby achieved infamy by switching blue for red for the sum of £6m. To say Everton fans were enraged would be something of an understatement. All manner of threats were made towards Barmby in the following weeks, leading then Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier to have to remind fans that it was only football, and that Barmby “has not changed his religion”.

The fuss didn’t seem to be affecting Barmby, whose early form for Liverpool, primarily on the left of midfield, was excellent. That extended to the national set-up too. Barmby’s England career had been a bit stop-start until this point, but with Sven Goran Eriksson taking over the England reins, Barmby seemed to find a manager who understood the subtleties of his game. Indeed, it was Barmby who scored the first goal of Eriksson’s reign in a 3-0 win at home to Spain, emulating a feat he had managed in Glenn Hoddle’s first game against Moldova in 1996. Barmby had been part of England’s Euro 96 and 2000 squads, but had had little pitch time, meaning that his greatest international legacy largely rests upon his role in the 5-1 win in Germany. Barmby is probably the least feted of that starting XI, the one that England fans are least likely to be able to recall. But while he may not have been spreading Hollywood balls around like Gerrard, jumping on the backs of the goalscorers to get in all the newspaper pictures the next day like Beckham, or diving recklessly into tackles like Scholes, his contribution to that night – one which we still embarrassingly treat like a World Cup win as a nation – was no less important. Injury and loss of form put paid to Barmby’s international career not long after this, but his place in England’s fairly shabby-looking Hall of Fame was assured simply by being part of that one performance.

Injury and loss of form for England meant injury and loss of form for Liverpool. After a richly promising first season in which he’d helped Liverpool to winning the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup, Barmby’s second season at Anfield was a disappointment. He barely got a game, and was generally being eased out of things. Terry Venables, the first manager Barmby had signed for, had taken over at Leeds, and in the summer of 2002 Barmby was heading back to Yorkshire for the knock-down fee of £2.75m. It was to be the last time money would exchange hands for Barmby’s services, but the combined total of the fees paid for Nick in his career would total a not-inconsiderable £19.75m. I’m assuming that by this point he could afford to replace those clothes ruined in the oil vat at Hall Road School all those years ago. Or at the very least pay to get the stains removed.

If ever there was a club not to join and a time not to join it, then it was Leeds in 2002. The club was just beginning to feel the dire effects of Peter Risdale’s prolificacy and was dogged by the various misdemeanours of its players off the pitch. Leeds were starting out on a path that was to lead to them being relegated from the second tier thanks to Dean Windass’s goal at Cardiff and starting their first season in the third tier with Ken Bates as chairman and a 25-point deduction. As seemed to happen at most of his clubs, Barmby made a bright start, scoring on debut and prospering under Venables’s tutelage once more. But then the same old story of injury and loss of form reared its ugly head again, and coupled with Leeds’ descent into freefall, Barmby’s move to Leeds was turning into a nightmare. Venables departed, and Peter Reid came in, which left Barmby all but sidelined. The fans turned against him, a matter not helped by Nick’s refusal to play in the reserves, and at 29 it seemed as if Barmby’s career had hit a dead end, unable to get into a team destined for relegation.

A loan spell at Nottingham Forest did little to improve matters, cut short as Barmby’s attitude was called in to question and allegations were made that he’d left a game early after being substituted to watch a Hull FC game. On arrival at the City Ground, then Forest manager Joe Kinnear had been talking of Barmby staying for as long as possible. Less than a month later, Kinnear was enthusiastically pointing him back in the direction of Junction 26 on the M1.

So, what next? Well Hull City, a club that had been dying on its arse for most of Barmby’s career, was undergoing something of a resurgence. Promoted for the first time in a generation to the third tier, ambitious and not exactly short of cash, the match seemed all but perfect. But would Barmby come down to League 1? In truth, Barmby needed Hull City almost as much as Hull City needed him. His career had quite spectacularly hit the skids, and what better to reignite it and his love for the game than joining the team he supported as a boy, playing in the city that he had steadfastly refused to relocate from. A one-year contract was signed and a huge reduction in wages was accepted. Barmby was a Tiger.

Barmby’s first season was just amazing. We could seemingly slice teams open at will, and the way we did it was simple: Barmby would come deep and intelligently probe while left-winger Stuart Elliott bombed forward and scored lots of goals. It didn’t really matter who we were playing up front that season – Danny Allsopp, Aaron Wilbraham, Delroy Facey, Craig Fagan, even Jason Price – we were great and we were great because we had Barmby.

Barmby’s magnificence was generally taken for granted by City fans from an early stage. We started the season well, and Barmby’s first goal came early on in a thrilling 3-2 defeat at Port Vale. Barmby’s volley at Vale Park would have been met with gasps of awe had it been scored by any one of our other outfield players that day, but because it was Barmby we just shrugged our shoulders and accepted that the man was a class above anything that most of us had seen in the black and amber.

Those gasps of awe were audible on the 8th of December, 2004, however. The venue: Hillsborough. The build up: a magnificent run that had propelled us into the automatic promotion places of League 1. The occasion: the first big game of our revival. Sure, beating the likes of Swansea, Donny and Oxford had been fun, but Sheffield Wednesday were a big team, with a big stadium, and had been playing in cup finals and Europe while we’d been looking up the routes to Conference grounds. We’d gone 2-1 up after an early splurge of goals, and were looking irresistible. A further goal’s cushion would surely seal the game. That’s where Barmby came in. On 43 minutes he hit a volley on the turn that – and I appreciate that I may have imagined this – saw the god-knows how many thousands of City fans present pause for a moment to take in the sheer beauty of what they’d just seen before the pandemonium ensued. Five years later I’d have seen some of the world’s best players come up against City, but I saw nothing from Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fabregas, Frank Lampard et al that matched the technique or skill of Barmby’s volley that night. From that victory onwards, one very much crafted by Barmby, it seemed like anything was possible for Hull City with Barmby pulling the strings. And how true that was to prove to be.

Promotion was achieved with relative ease that season. In the game that got us on to the finish line (if not quite over it) Barmby settled City’s nerves with a smart finish to seal a 2-0 victory at Bradford. He scored nine goals that season (including one after just seven seconds in a home game against Walsall) and was a key factor in dozens more. But these were League 1 defences. How would Nick cope in the Championship?

Not brilliantly, is the answer. At least at first. Better defences, a more cautious approach by Peter Taylor and injuries to both Barmby and Elliott meant that we didn’t really get our attacking mojo working in the 2005/06 season. Chances that Barmby was crafting were, sadly, falling to the likes of loanee Chris Brown or players such as Billy Paynter, who simply looked out of their depth. Despite scoring the obligatory goal at Hillsborough in the second game of the season, Barmby wasn’t looking quite like the player we’d seen in League 1. A run of three goals in three games in November saw Nick show glimpses that he was more than good enough for this level, but, alas, injury saw him miss the whole of the second half of the season as a John Parkin-inspired City avoided relegation with few alarms but little flair.

Barmby’s absence didn’t seem to affect the team too badly. We’d been just about good enough to stay in the division with him, and no different without. Peter Taylor, however, the man who had brought Barmby to the club and reignited City as a footballing force, upped sticks in the summer for Crystal Palace, and Barmby would have to show the he was fit enough – and good enough – to warrant a place in the new manager’s plans.

The new manager was to be Phil Parkinson, and, quite frankly, the way City played under him, Barmby had little to worry about. Barmby didn’t exactly prosper under Parkinson, but then very few City players did. Nick was a peripheral player during Parkinson’s tenure, but did play in the two games that ended his reign as Hull City manager: a painful 5-1 defeat at Colchester swiftly followed by a 4-2 home reverse at the hands of Southampton. Phil Brown was then given the task of saving Hull City’s Championship status, something which Barmby was to play a more prominent role in. A match at Hillsborough in December saw Nick score yet another brace in South Yorkshire, and he was generally more central to City’s gameplan under Brown. However, at roughly the same time as injury had ended his season in January 2006, the same was to happen in 2007. It seemed unlikely that we would see Barmby again as we became embroiled in a two-horse race to avoid relegation with Barmby’s former club, Leeds. However, despite another breakdown after a brief comeback in March, Barmby was to score a goal that was all but forgotten a week later, but one that was every bit as crucial in keeping us in the division as Deano’s winner at Cardiff.

Stoke were the opponents, and City were 1-0 down with a few minutes to go. John Parkin, recalled from a loan spell to Stoke, had come on as a sub to show City fans just what he thought of the club with one of the most pathetic 20 minutes imaginable from a professional footballer. Thankfully, one of our other substitutes was as about as professional as it gets, and when a clearance fell to Barmby on the edge of the box in injury time, the ball ended up in the back of the net via a slight deflection. With Leeds losing thanks to a late Southampton goal, the pieces for Deano’s glory-grabbing in Cardiff seven days later were put in place. Hmmnnn… Barmby doing the groundwork for Deano to go on and grab the glory… That’s got a nice ring to it. Very nice…

The year 2008 was the greatest in Hull City’s history. And Barmby didn’t feature that much in it. I know, I know, those goals against Watford, the pass to Campbell at Wembley that started the move for Deano’s goal, but come on, what else? That doesn’t lessen Barmby’s legendary status. As we will see, it was when the chips were down in the years after our annus mirabilis that Barmby’s worth to Hull City was at its most evident. But in the 2007/08 season, Barmby played 19 games and scored three goals. Two you already know, but the other? Well it was more important than it seems. We’d lost the opening game of the season to Plymouth in miserable fashion and looked set to do the same at Coventry until Barmby timed a run to perfection to head home our equaliser in a 1-1 draw. A defeat and a draw in your first two games of any given season are a world away from two defeats, a sentiment I’m sure Phil Parkinson would have agreed with. But from there we only saw Barmby in fits and starts until the back end of that most glorious of seasons.

Left-wing duties had been generally falling to Henrik Pedersen, Bryan Hughes, Dean Marney or Jay-Jay Okocha that season, with only the former ever really looking consistently comfortable in the role, so when Barmby returned to full fitness in April 2008, Phil Brown had no hesitation in throwing him straight into the action. Lively substitute appearances in the (sadly) largely forgotten 2-1 win at home to Palace and the damp squib at Portman Road at the end of the season saw Nick promoted to starting XI duties for the play-off games, in what was to prove to be one of many masterstrokes by Phil Brown. On that scorching Sunday morning at Vicarage Road, Barmby was an oasis of calm in a frantic opening spell. As City players started in something of an alarmingly erratic fashion – with Watford having a goal harshly ruled out – it was Barmby who settled the nerves and calmly stroked home the opening goal to give us a lead that Watford only briefly looked like overcoming. And when they threatened such a thing a few days later at the KC, with Darius Henderson putting the Hornets 1-0 up in the first half, it was Barmby who snuffed out their hopes by following up a Richard Garcia lob that the defender might have cleared but probably wouldn’t have. Greedy? No. Professional? Yes. Had Roger Hunt been as professional in the World Cup final in 1966 for England’s third goal, we might have been spared years of tedious debate. Anyway, we were, for the first time, Wembley-bound, and while he’d perhaps not played too prominent a part in the league campaign, Barmby’s contribution to our play-off semi-final success was unsurpassed by anyone else in the City ranks.

In what was a nervy game at Wembley, Barmby put in a good shift (accidentally, but perhaps crucially, breaking Bristol City captain Bradley Orr’s cheekbone in the process) before retiring to the bench to spend much of the rest of the game sat next to Dean Windass, whose goal in the 38th minute came about in a move started by an astute pass from Barmby to Fraizer Campbell. The two sat side by side – about as local and heroic as it gets in football – as the minutes ticked down and could barely watch as Bristol pressed and pressed but couldn’t beat Boaz Myhill. Their celebrations at the final whistle said it all; the club, the city, the fans, they meant everything to them in a way that isn’t meant to happen in modern football. And they’d been crucial cogs in the club’s greatest ever moment in a couple of stories that would have seemed far-fetched in Billy the Fish, never mind Roy of the Rovers.

From a career in freefall to being a Premiership player again in three years, Barmby was proving Jimmy Greaves right: it is a funny old game. It was fitting that Barmby should start in our first ever game in the top flight, the only Hullensian to do so, but in truth, as we became the story of British football in autumn 2008, Nick had to make do with watching much of it from the sidelines. Absent through injury from those games against Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle and Spurs, Barmby was out of sight but not, it would seem, out of mind. Before our first game against Manchester United, the Telegraph ran an article pondering whether Barmby would be looking ruefully at his one-time equal in schoolboy football, Ryan Giggs, and wondering what might have been had he resisted Terry Venables’ overtures and signed for Manchester United as a schoolboy, as had been expected. I appreciate that I’m looking at this from a somewhat biased point of view, but I like to think that playing such an important role in getting his home-town club into the top-flight of English football for the first time is something that Barmby wouldn’t swap for anything. Manchester United have hundreds of bona fida football legends, past and present. Don’t deny us one of our few.

In December, as things started to unravel for City, Barmby scored an equalising goal in a 4-1 home defeat to Sunderland, thus becoming the second player (behind Les Ferdinand) to score for six different top-flight teams since the advent of the Premiership. Barmby was to then play a bigger part in the second half of the season as Phil Brown’s plot went missing, along with various big-name, big-money players. Few players came out of the second half of that season with credit, but Nick was one of them. Indeed, he was the only attacking player who looked like he cared in the crucial final game of the season against Manchester United. As you know, City survived the drop, but we were to be in for more of the same the next season, and again Barmby was one of the few players regularly donning the black and amber that looked like he was bothered about the club retaining its Premiership status.

Picking out the players who looked anything like committed to Hull City in the 2009/10 season is not easy. The fact that Stephens Hunt and Mouyokolo finished first and second in our player of the season awards despite barely completing a season between them tells you all you need to know. But while some players seemed more concerned with who they’d move to after our inevitable relegation, and others were happy to spend the vast sums we were paying them in the bars and clubs of Hessle and Hull, there was a core of players still giving 100% week after week. Chief among these players was Nick Barmby, and just how much he cared for Hull City was demonstrated in a training session in March 2010, when Barmby came to blows with Jimmy Bullard, a player who’d long since stopped caring about the club that was paying him wages it couldn’t afford. Barmby hasn’t spoken publicly about the fight, but one can only assume that for such a dedicated professional, seeing such a gifted player as Bullard behaving in the manner to which several City fans had witnessed around Hull, not to mention is his lack of commitment on the pitch, must have been sickening. Regardless of the motive, confronting Bullard in such a way may well be one of the finest things Nicky Barmby has done in the name of Hull City.

Phil Brown departed and relegation was achieved with a whimper. Barmby committed to another season with City, but this time in the Championship, and with no-nonsense Nigel Pearson at the helm. It is impossible to overstate what a wreck of a club Pearson inherited. The dressing room was split into numerous cliques, we were skint yet paying various players who didn’t want to be here £20,000-plus a week. These factors were painfully evident in the first few months of Nigel Pearson’s tenure at the KC. Spirit-sapping away defeats at Burnley, Doncaster and Millwall, and reversals at home to the likes of Portsmouth, Sheffield United and even Scunthorpe won Pearson few friends among the City faithful, blind to the mess our Premiership adventure had left the club in. Nigel needed something to get the fans on side, and he got it one Friday evening in mid-November, as City clinically swatted aside Preston North End at Deepdale in front of the TV cameras. A few players were tremendous that night – notably Richard Garcia and Vito Mannone – but Barmby’s outstanding performance after coming on as a sub, capped by a goal to secure the three points, showed that his class was still there in abundance. Barmby was to remain a fixture in the 16 – albeit often as a substitute – until an injury in March ended his season, a time which just so happened to see City’s impressive run of form that had led them to the periphery of the play-off places go a bit awry. It was the longest run of games Barmby had played in the second tier for City, and it was also the best he’d played for us since that League 1 promotion.

As Nigel Pearson impressively turned the team from a bunch of journeymen sapping the club of money and spirit into one filled with youngsters hungry to learn and play their hearts out for the club, Barmby seemed to relish his role of elder statesman. He’d been involved with coaching City’s youngsters for a while (the most promising of which – one Jack Barmby – sadly left the club for Manchester United) and was moved up to reserve team dug-out duties in the summer of 2011.

These duties didn’t, however, end Nick’s playing commitments. Indeed, he was a fixture on the bench until injury struck again in September, after he’d scored the winner in a game at the KC against Cardiff in what will now prove to be his final game as a professional footballer. Within the next six weeks or so, he’d be managing the team, building on the solid but somewhat mechanical job done by the Leicester-bound Nigel Pearson and almost instantly turning City into one of the more attractive passing teams in the country, based largely around one of the few players who could match Nick in the technique stakes: Robert Koren. Barmby refused to take on the role full time until he was convinced he’d have the squad to take the club forward – three defeats over the Christmas period in which only one first team change was made (through necessity) showed just how painfully thin the squad was. Such caution showed Nick to be as shrewd off the pitch as he was on it.

And now he’s our full-time manager. You know the drill; for 99.9% of football managers it doesn’t end 25 years later with a handshake and a gold clock; more likely unrest among the fans and a P45 or an acrimonious move to another club. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable thought that one day an element of Hull City’s fans may turn against Nick. I like to think that even the most cretinous among those who profess to support Hull City – those who ring up Radio Humberside at 5pm on a Saturday and start their diatribe against the club with the words “I wasn’t at the game today, Burnsie, but…” – would think twice before venting their spleen on one who has given so much for the black and amber cause. No matter what happens in Nick’s time in the Hull City hot seat, his legendary status at the club will not be in any way compromised. He’s the finest footballer the city has ever produced, and he was an integral part in its football club’s greatest ever era. However, unlike some other heroes of that time, when the wheels started to come off, Barmby simply knuckled down and worked harder for the club’s cause, setting an example off the field and on it.

Those things will always be there, no matter what. Barmby has never hidden his love for Hull, and at the time of writing it seems that the city loves him back in equal measure. This should never be allowed to change. He’s a 100% cast-iron legend, a credit to the club and a credit to the city.

I love Nick Barmby.


Rich Gardham

37 replies
  1. Lord Summerisle
    Lord Summerisle says:

    Superb article, well written and very emotive. A tip of the hat in your direction Mr Gardham.

  2. Gerry1000
    Gerry1000 says:

    Excellent writing – excellent player. Nick’s a role model for sure and we all wish him great success in his new role.

  3. Bryne
    Bryne says:

    Great article and very well written. If anyone ever doubted Barmby’s love for Hull City, I think that it is made clear in the very first photo.

    Sir Nick looks like he has a huge erection.

  4. Chris
    Chris says:

    Excellent article about one of the true legends of Hull City FC. I really do hope that Nick is a long term success story at City and that he can develop the type of football we want to see at all levels in the club. Should this not happen, and it might not, I really would like to see Nick stay in some capacity, leading the academy and developing young players at the club perhaps.

  5. LewesTiger
    LewesTiger says:

    Thanks for a great article, Rich, and thank you Nick Barmby. For everything: for supporting the club, for coming home and playing a division or two below where you could be, for the promotion, for punching that tw@t Bullard, and for being brave enough to risk your status in your home town to manage the club you love. Not enough words…

  6. gjhdurham
    gjhdurham says:

    Good article; Brought back painful memories of the haphazard schoolboy selection process! NB comes across as motivated but sometimes stubborn. Hope the latter doesn’t affect his management career….

  7. Jodie
    Jodie says:

    Great article – Send it in to The Guardian… When I worked at Hull Uni. Sport Centre, NB was always coming in early to grab the keys to open the pitches so his boy could warm up half an hour before anyone else came. The bloke is statue material.

  8. Rob Jennings
    Rob Jennings says:

    Fantastic artical really somes up probably the most professional player ever to grace hull City.
    My fondess memory as Barmby as a player was the 6-1 home win against Tranmere in the back to back season. That game most people would of not notices Barmbys contribution but he tore the then promotion rivals to pieces and made the game look so simple.

    Absolute Legend for the club and i hope we get a Sir alex or a dario gradi spell in charge from him.

  9. Travis Bickle
    Travis Bickle says:

    What a piece of prose! Lovely way to begin a Sunday morning.

    Also, when pricing up a statue of Barmby, it must be considerably cheaper than most on account of his diminutive size.

    Can we start a fund to get this done?

  10. Gary Clark
    Gary Clark says:

    Brilliant article. The word “legend” is often bandied about loosley, very few actually deserve to be called “legends” But Nick Barmby does and is living proof. I would also put Ian Ashbee in that catergory, and Dean Windass.
    Sadly our great club has underachieved for longer than most of would care to remember, no-one could call us a “bridesmaids club” we didnt even get an invite to the night time piss up.
    But we did finally reach the pinnacle of English football, when every man and his dog and constantley said we would’nt.
    Nicky Barmby joining Hull City was the start of that incredible journey, I for one hope that journey has just begun.

  11. ralfvandersluis
    ralfvandersluis says:

    What a great article! A fine player, I was very pleased when he joined us (LFC) from across the park. Was disappiointed, not in the least for him, when it did not quite pan out. However, as the arcticle rightfully states, as a local boy it may well have turned out the best. And there is a touch of romance about this story, too often forgotten in the era of the game being awash in arab oil and russian gagster money, and the “marketing” of a “product.” Bravo!

  12. Silverback
    Silverback says:

    Great article about a fine footballer and bloke…even is he does come from Hull.
    Should be printed out and stapled to the foreheads of Tevez, Suarez, Bullard and all the other mercenary whores that infest the beautiful game.

  13. Peter Young
    Peter Young says:

    Thank you for an excellent piece that told me a lot I didn’t know about a player I always admired. Now I admire him even more. How refreshing to read of a player so devoted to his hometown club, the one he supported as a boy.

  14. thequillguy
    thequillguy says:

    Superb article: wrote an email you about this appearing on The Guardian, but your email inbox is not working Andy. Ah well.

  15. Matt James
    Matt James says:

    A superbly written and extremely interesting article. You not only provide a very complete picture of Nick Barmby’s career but also give a warm and evocative impression of Hull football club, as well as illustrating some key points in the club’s history along the way. This is professional-level writing and would grace any broadsheet. Well done.

  16. Robertiko
    Robertiko says:

    Really enjoyed your article mate, good to see a suitable encomium for a player and a gentleman like Barmby, he thoroughly deserves it!

  17. Chazza166
    Chazza166 says:

    I’m not quite sure why I started to read this article, nor why I continued to read it when I realised it was as long as it is – but I really enjoyed it as a well written, enjoyable account of an honest, hard-working and skilful pro.

    I’m a Spurs fan, and clearly remember Barmby in his youth… he was, as the article says, a part of the Famous 5 with Klinsmann, Sheringham et al, and I always really appreciated him as a player. I’d long forgotten the homesickness that saw him leave back up North, but on his subsequent visits to WHL as an opposing player, he was frequently barracked by the home support. I never joined in with this, as I remembered him as a great player in the Spurs tradition.

    Great to see him doing so well as Hull manager now, I wish him all the best…

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