Gareth Barry is known for his exploits on the pitch – but his philanthropic nature is something not so often discussed.
Words: Georgia Homer | @georlh
Amongst the seemingly endless transfer rumours, quarantine worries, and the lingering aftermath of national squad announcements, Thursday saw the headlines that our very own Gareth Barry is retiring from professional football. Most notably known for the highest number of Premier League appearances (653), but to Villa fans, he is so much more.
Barry spent 12 years with Aston Villa, totalling to 441 appearances across all competitions and captaining our club to consecutive top-six finishes in 2008 and 2009. Despite one questionable interview and his later success at other clubs, Barry remains a firm fan favourite to this day.
Following the news of his retirement, Aston Villa posted a collection of photographs from Barry’s lengthy career on their website, as well as inviting Twitter users to share their most loved memories of the player. Highlights included scoring the winner against Reading in his first game as captain, a moment of solo excellence scoring from the edge of the box against Spurs in 2006, and another winning strike against Ajax in the 2008 UEFA Cup group stages. These performances epitomise the era that birthed an entire generation of Villa fans and safely secured Barry his spot amongst club legends.
As the player who has accumulated the most appearances on the pitch, it would be easy to overlook the man he was off it, but it is absolutely worth remembering some of the fantastic community work Barry has carried out during his career. He has been involved with and supported many great causes, one of those of course being Aston Villa’s charity partner, Acorns Children’s Hospice.
Since the partnership formed in 2006, many of the clubs players have visited local hospices, and perhaps one of the most heartwarming photographs to come from it featured Barry visiting a passionate young Villain, Chad, on his 12th birthday. Barry then went on to become an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust, an organisation that targets barriers to young people realising their full potential; he admitted his own luck in being spotted as a young player and sought to use his platform to allow others to do the same.
In 2011, Barry made the news for being one of the first stars to work with the charity Sun and Happiness. The small charity offers free holidays to young people in poverty or suffering life-threatening illnesses, made possible only through donations. The player offered up his luxury villa in Malaga, with the hope that other footballers would follow suit.
Later, in 2016, Barry earned an impressive £20,000 bonus following his 600th Premier League appearance, which he decided to donate to two special charities. £10,000 was given to each the Stiliyan Petrov Foundation, helping those affected by leukemia, and the James Milner Foundation, promoting healthy recreation for young people.
So as we are all currently reminiscing, I thought it worth remembering not only the numbers and the goals but also the great person he is off the pitch too.