‘It’s the buzz, the adrenaline rush of the game day. You can’t really put into words that feeling you get when you’re about to go out and play a game, the butterflies you get. I do miss that side of things.’
Amanda Barr is reflecting on her football career. A career that saw her represent her country on 37 occasions, most notably leading the line at the 2005 Women’s Euro tournament in her native North West. A career in which she scored 17 goals in 17 league games for Charlton Athletic during the 2002-03 season, winning the National Division Golden Boot for her efforts. A career that saw her labelled as ‘the best goalscorer in England’ in 2005 by her then manager at Birmingham City, Marcus Bignot.
Barr, who played for 11 different teams over the course of her career, all of which she says ‘gave me different challenges and helped me to progress’ has an impressive list of achievements. She’s perhaps an often overlooked England legend. Strong, tireless and instinctive: when she was on form, Bignot’s statement was hard to argue with.
Barr says: ‘I’m quite lucky in that I had a good career of it. It’s been one hell of a journey but I really, thoroughly enjoyed it. Obviously one of the biggest highlights was progressing to the England seniors, that was massive. Playing on the world stage was phenomenal.’
Route to glory
Barr scored ten goals in 37 appearances for England
Her journey to the top started on a council estate in Cheadle Heath, a suburb of Stockport. Coming from a large family, with three brothers and two sisters, all of who were football mad, Barr says she ‘wasn’t left with much choice but to love it’.
The love led to her playing for her school team when she was 10 – the only girl on the team. She says: ‘That didn’t really bother me because I’d already fallen in love with the game. I wasn’t really bothered what anyone said, I just gave it a go.’
She gave it such a good go that she ended up being scouted by a Manchester United scout. Barr’s headteacher had to break the news that the player the scout called the ‘best one on the pitch’ was actually a girl, so unfortunately couldn’t be signed by the Reds.
A while later another scout spotted her – one looking for girls. They took her to Stockport County Ladies, and Barr says her ‘career began’. She was 11 when manager, Neil Mather – who had formed Stockport after setting up Manchester City Ladies – told her she’d play for England. Barr says: ‘You obviously don’t take that in as a kid, but when you look back, for him to actually predict that at that age is crazy really.’
She went on to be one of the first players to win a scholarship to the FA National Player Development Centre at Loughborough University – a scheme aimed at coaching, supporting and helping young female players, which also hosted the likes of Casey Stoney, Karen Carney and Siobhan Chamberlain. The scholarship allowed her to study sports science and coaching full time, while also training three times a day. Barr earned enough during her time at the top to allow football to be her only career: ‘England was playing catch up to other countries. We were probably about ten years behind some of the big countries, so the amount of training we had to do each day, we really wouldn’t have been able to balance a job with that.
‘We got enough money that we could just concentrate on our football career and we didn’t have to go out and work. What it didn’t do was give us anything once we stopped playing. It was never enough money that we’d never have to work again, but I was quite fortunate just to be able to concentrate on football.
‘A lot of people ask me if I’m jealous of the financial benefit players get these days. Not at any point have I ever thought I should have been paid that amount. Never.
‘I enjoyed it. The being paid for it is just a bonus I guess, but that never stopped any of us playing at that time putting in everything that we possibly had.’ She does admit, though, that a top-form Amanda Barr would relish in the level of interest in the women’s game now: ‘Me at the peak of my career, and when you’re playing you don’t really take it into account, but I was probably one of the best strikers in the country. If I was to be able to do it now I’d be up there with the best.’
A pause from football: retirement to start a family
Barr hung up her boots in 2012 at the age of 30 – early by football standards. She says: ‘In terms of what I wanted it was the right time to retire. In football terms it was a little bit premature but I had already done what I wanted to do really.
‘I knew what I wanted: I wanted a family, and I knew that was going to be a long process, and I wanted to progress girls’ and women's football. I knew I still had to be of a decent age to be able to do that.’
Barr went through an adjustment period following her retirement. She says: ‘The psychological effects of finishing playing were massive. You’re obviously used to getting up in the morning, straight out training, then you’d do something, then you’re back out training.
‘You don’t prepare for that stopping, you don’t realise your body is so used to and wanting to do that and not doing that has a massive effect.’
I knew what I wanted: I wanted a family, and I knew that was going to be a long process, and I wanted to progress girls’ and women's football. Amanda Barr
As a result, Barr threw herself into coaching: ‘I got involved in the coaching aspect really quickly and again that took over everything. I had to review and say: ‘look, I stopped playing to have a family’.
‘So I had to actually completely strip back and do nothing for a number of years and that was so difficult. It was so, so difficult not to have football in my life. But I knew that was what I had to do to be able to start my family.’
She’s now mother to two-year-old son Noah with wife, and former professional goalkeeper, Daniella Maslin. Apparently the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Barr says: ‘Noah is like me in that he’s really active, he just wants to be outside all the time. As long as he’s got a ball at his feet he’s happy.’
Once Barr had Noah, there was only ‘one place I was going, and that was back to what I know and what I love.’
Back involved: RTB Football Development
RTB works with girls across various age groups and abilities
It’s only been going for a few months, but RTB Football Development – RTB stands for Raise the Barr – has begun making a big impact on girls’ football in the North West. ‘First and foremost, it’s about getting as many girls involved in football as possible,’ Barr says, ‘I didn’t have many big role models to look up to growing up. I decided I don’t necessarily need to be a role model, but rather give these girls a focus on where they’re going and what they want to achieve.’
‘We’re working with everybody right across the board – from those only just getting involved to those who may have dreams to go far. Some might want to play for England and some might not, and that’s fine. It’s about helping these girls with whatever they want to achieve, and giving them the best possibility to achieve it.’
RTB does this in a number of ways. They get involved in girls’ football at the local schools, and Barr is passionate about ensuring these girls get a chance to shine.
‘There are always opportunities in schools for girls to take part with the boys, but girls’ only football isn’t really being pushed. I know when I was younger I was always more comfortable in a girls only environment.
‘Boys can overpower girls, girls then withdraw and either don’t enjoy it as much or don’t express themselves the same. So we predominantly go into schools to do girls’ only stuff which is going really well.’
Some might want to play for England and some might not, and that’s fine. It’s about helping these girls with whatever they want to achieve, and giving them the best possibility to achieve it. Amanda Barr
They also have two development centres, one at South Manchester Sports Center in Heald Green and another at Stockport Power League which host players between the ages of five and 16. Barr says: ‘We’re about getting players started, providing them with good foundations, getting them loving the game, improving them as footballers and then, when they’re ready, they’ll hopefully get scouted for the Regional Talent Centres (RTCs) and carry on their journey.
‘We really believe in getting these girls into the right pathway and letting them see that pathway through. So once they’re into the RTCs and the big clubs that’s our job done really, we’re happy for them just to go in and sail away.’
RTB does, though, still provide training for those involved with RTCs – which the FA says gives ‘players identified as having elite potential the opportunity to access appropriate levels of coaching and support’ – that want it.
Barr says: ‘We’ve got quite a number of players from RTC centres who say the quality of our training is far better than what they get at the centres. We’re happy to provide extra training for them, and help their individual progression, but we’ll always inform them that the best option is to get into the big RTCs and the big clubs and follow the pathway.’
As for the players that don’t have such links, they have the opportunity to experience match day through the development centre teams, something which Barr was initially reluctant to do: ‘I said I didn’t want to start teams to be honest, because I know it’s just a lot of headache, but I’m a soft touch and these girls pushed me into doing it. I’ve done it because they just want to play.’
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has halted normal practice for now, RTB remains active, providing a lot of online sessions with both players and parents and, she says: ‘keeping everyone going so we can get through this difficult time together and hopefully on the other side we can keep pushing the girls’ football'.
Coming full circle
RTB Development also provides specific goalkeeper coaching, led by Barr's wife former player Daniella Maslin
Barr is aware of how the girls respond to her achievements: ‘The fact that they can relate to me because of what I’ve done in my football journey means they seem to get a bit more of a connection and a buzz from training with me, so I do a lot of the hands on stuff, including one on one sessions for those that want extra training.’
‘I’ve got a lot of really good coaches on board, but what you find with the girls is that they prefer to be coached by women, especially at the earlier ages anyway. I’m trying to make sure a lot of females are involved on the coaching side of it.’
‘We’re definitely need more females in coaching. We’re getting there, particularly on the international side of things, but there’s still a way to go.’
One female on Barr’s coaching team is wife Daniella who provides goalkeeper coaching, something which she and Barr feel is key to the progression of the women’s game. Barr says: ‘Goalkeeping is a key area and good female goalkeeping coaches are really hard to find. Luckily for us Daniella was a goalkeeper at a decent level, representing England under-18s and various clubs at domestic level, and we’re seeing massive benefits from the goalkeeper training she’s doing.
‘Goalkeeping is a position that’s always been let down slightly. It’s such a specific position and it’s important to provide training for that.’
Another member of Barr’s team is Mather, the man that told her she’d play for England all those years ago. Barr says she and Mather share ‘the same views and the same passion for growing girls’ and women’s football.’
Neil Mather, Barr's first ever manager, told her she'd go on to play for England – they now work together at RTB
Her association with Mather isn’t the only thing that’s come full circle: the buzz is back too.
‘Believe it or not, I’ve got the buzz back, but through the girls. Match days are the same, a similar feeling, even though it’s not me playing.
‘I get the buzz for them. And I can actually enjoy it now. When you’re training and you’re playing you’re so focused, you’re so driven, but now I’m on the sidelines and I’m coaching I can enjoy it more.’
‘And I will be enjoying it for as long as I physically can because I love it.’ Find out more about RTB Football Development at rtbdevelopment.co.uk, on Facebook Raise The Barr Football Development, Twitter @AmandaB020582, or Instagram @rtb_dev.