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Barker revels in Hillsborough return

Sometimes you just have to wonder who writes the script in football.

Richie Barker was a boyhood Sheffield Wednesday fan and on their books as a youngster.

However, the Sheffield-born striker’s only first-team appearance was restricted to the Intertoto Cup – ironically played at Millmoor – and Barker left the club he supported without playing a domestic game for them.

And when he returned to Hillsborough with Rotherham, who were making their first trip to S6 in two decades and enjoying life in the second tier, in 2002, the footballing gods were licking their lips.

Barker wrote himself into club folklore by climbing off the bench to score a last-minute winner in front of the Kop where members of his family were sitting and give the Millers a famous win against their local rivals.

It was pure Roy of the Rovers stuff for Barker - his first competitive appearance at the home of the club he joined as a teenager and he goes and scores the winner.

The victory was pretty sweet for everyone else with a Rotherham persuasion too.

The Millers had been in the doldrums and lived in Wednesday’s shadow for the last 20 years as they had flitted between the bottom two divisions while the Owls were an established Premier League side.

But the momentum was shifting and Rotherham arrived at Hillsborough above Wednesday in the table, although on goal difference alone.

It looked as if there would be nothing to separate them on the pitch either as Alan Lee’s header early in the second half was cancelled out by Shefki Kuqi’s leveller for the Owls.

So heading into injury time, the Millers earned a free-kick. Nick Daws clipped it in, super-sub Barker rose highest at the far post and time stood still as his header looped into the far corner, with Kevin Pressman frantically scrambling to make a save.

He couldn’t and the ball dropped into the net sending a packed Leppings Lane’s worth of Rotherham supporters into ecstasy and Barker wasn’t far behind.

I grew up as a Wednesday fan, which I think initially the Rotherham fans didn’t particularly take to,” Barker said in 2013 book Impossible Dream:The Ronnie Moore Years.

“I signed there at 14, did my apprenticeship and had three and a half years as a pro. I left in 1996 and I think it was one of the first times I’d been back there as a player and the first time I’d played at Hillsborough in a competitive game.

I think I got fouled and Dawsy put it in to the back post. Kuqi was marking me and I just got above him and all I tried to do was head it back across the goal, hoping someone might be able to get another touch.

“There were two or three players running in on Kevin Pressman and they might have put him off. He got a hand to it but it trickled in at the far post. It took so long to go in, it was probably only seconds, but seemed like minutes.

“I didn’t know what to do because I had a lot of friends on the Kop and I used to sit there myself. I didn’t want to offend anyone so I wanted to celebrate it but without alienating myself.

“It was great that it was in front of the Kop but it would have been even better if it was in front of the Rotherham fans.

“Just getting on the pitch was a boost for me to be honest. So to score and win the game in the manner I did is something I never envisaged happening to me.

“It meant a little bit more because three generations of my family are all Wednesday fans and it was somewhere I had been going since I was four so it meant a little bit more than going back to other clubs.
“For Rotherham to go there and take 7,000 people and to beat Sheffield Wednesday was magnificent and we enjoyed it properly.

“When we first got into that division we got together as a group and recognised some of the grounds we’d be playing at and said to enjoy it because we might not get another chance.

“But we were going to places like Sheffield Wednesday and winning.

“From the fans’ point of view they had lived in the shadow of the two Sheffield clubs for so long, it was their time to go to work on a Monday morning and have their moment of joy.

“They’d had their fair share of getting beaten by the likes of Chester so it was nice to play a part in them being able to have a gloat. It showed a massive shift in power, from one extreme to the other.”

There'd be plenty more of joy to come for the Millers at Hillsborough as well.

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