Popular ex-Latics and Norwich City defender talks about his time at both clubs and where his career after playing has taken him.
- Latics Listen Podcast - Leon Barnett.
- 'Barney' talks Latics and Norwich City ahead of Sunday's clash at the DW Stadium.
- 2013-14 campaign labelled one of his best.
Speaking on the latest episode of our podcast, Latics Listen, former Latics and Norwich City defender Leon Barnett discussed a range of topics, including his time at both clubs, his forced retirement due to a heart condition and what he's progressed his career into since.
You spent three seasons with Latics... there always seemed to be something going on in every season didn't there?
“It was three years that I really enjoyed, obviously it did have it’s ups and downs with the first season we played in the Europa League, second year we got relegated but luckily we bounced back in the third year.”
You joined in the summer of 2013 after being relegated from the Premier League, but the squad showed a lot of character to reach the FA Cup semi-finals and play-off places?
“I think everybody knew it was going to be a tough year, everyone wanted us to do well in our first time in the Europa League, obviously the FA Cup is always special for Wigan Athletic and the Championship is never an easy League.
“In the end we played more than 60 times in one season, it was always going to be a tough ask, but we gave it a good go and it was definitely one of my proudest moments being a professional footballer.”
You joined from Norwich City, coming down to Wigan Athletic must have made you motivated to return to the Premier League and have that opportunity to play in Europe?
“It was a difficult choice to leave Norwich, a lot of personal moments happened for me in Norwich, my children were born there, and I got to play in the Premier League, which will always have a special place in my heart.
“I got a call at the time that Wigan Athletic were interested and I thought that this was an unbelievable opportunity to play in the Europa League and Community Shield, it was something I couldn’t afford to turn down so I’m thankful for that.”
You had some great memories at Wigan Athletic and especially that unforgettable celebration against Doncaster Rovers where you ripped your shirt off?
“I don’t really know why I did it, a lot of people asked me if the shirt was pre-ripped, but it wasn’t, I’m quite an emotional guy when it comes to football, and I’ve always wanted to win and give my all.
“It was a big situation for us to be in, we didn’t have the best of games and they got the first goal, but I managed to score a half-decent goal in the last minute, so it was nice to score against them.”
Your final year at Wigan Athletic where you came back up to the Championship seemed to be down to the collective spirit within the group?
“We had a good group, Gary Caldwell took over, so he knew the philosophy of the club. He tried to add his touch on it, and we had good players anyway.
“We had a strong enough group to bounce back straight away, but it was a tough task for us.”
After leaving Wigan Athletic you went onto Bury and then Northampton Town, but unfortunately in October you had to cut short your professional career?
“That came as a bit of a shock, it was in the second game of the season and we were away to Wycombe Wanderers in the Carabao Cup.
“Everyone around me was moving at a pace that I couldn’t really keep up with and I just thought that’s not normal, I’ve never really felt this before, so I pulled the physio over and told him. They said it was a bit too dangerous to carry on playing football down the line.
“I’ve had a few operations now and I’m back to normal everyday life, but I can’t compete or play football which is disappointing for me.
“It was difficult making that adjustment, telling the lads at Northampton and telling my kids was very tough, but I’ve always had good people around me which has been a massive support. I’ve been able to talk about it, but it has taken me a long time.”
What is it your doing now following your retirement from football?
“I’ve developed my own footballing academy to be able to give younger players the chance to play football during half-term and after school.
“I think it’s a good experience for anyone that age to play with an ex-footballer and have a bit of fun, I’m doing something that I love every day with younger players, I just want them to enjoy themselves really.”
Speaking on the issues about racism within football:
“I think it’s a big issue, everyone is trying to resolve it but it doesn't seem enough. We’re in 2019 and still trying to fight racism, which is disappointing.
“I think sometimes people have got to realise that we’re not taking enough action for them to stop performing these actions, I don’t know what else needs to be done but a lot more does.
“People are getting away with it regularly and there needs to be a line drawn somewhere and quickly.”