Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Gordon Barker

Gordon Barker, the former Essex cricketer, has died.

He was widely regarded as the finest opening batsman to have never played for England, and in later years, when far more Tests were played, he would almost certainly have done so.

Gordon was born in Yorkshire, but unfortunately was ignored by his home county. He was, however, given a trial match for Essex in 1954 against the Canadian touring team, and grabbed the opportunity to shine, becoming one of the few players to score a century on their debut.

He played for Essex for many years, forming a long lasting opening partnership with the late Dickie Dodds. It was an amazing sight to watch them coming out to bat at the start of an Essex innings. The tall, lean and ramrod straight Dodds would stride manfully out, accompanied by the scurrying figure of the short and somewhat porky Barker.

It was Dodds, a devout Christian, who believed that he was batting for God and Essex, in that order, and who would attempt to dispatch the first ball of every innings for six.

Gordon Barker was never so spectacular, but in the days before the Essex team achieved greatness gave many an innings the stability that it would otherwise have lacked.

He went on to be a brilliant coach, at Felsted School. Three pupils whose play he nurtured went on to appear, not only for Essex, but also for England. The three were Derek Pringle, John Stephenson and Nick Knight, who is now with Warwickshire.

It was Pringle, now a respected cricket writer, who contributed the loving obituary in “The Wisden Cricketer” magazine.

What Pring didn’t mention was Gordon’s career as a footballer.

He played for several years for Southend United, usually as a winger. Under normal circumstances, he was adequate – what Stephen Sondheim called, in “West Side Story”, “no better than all right”. But when it had been pouring with rain, and pitches became quagmires, Gordon came into his element. While other players were falling over, Gordon was brilliant, beating opponents with magical ease.

His finest hour as a footballer came in an away match with Exeter City. With three minutes to go, Exeter were leading 3 – 0, and the home crowd were, as crowds infuriatingly do under these circumstances, filing happily out to celebrate their team’s big win. Amazingly, the match was drawn 3 – 3, as Southend scored three times. Gordon Barker got two of them. Serves those Exeter supporters right.

Derek Pringle tells of Gordon’s ability to tell droll stories, usually involving himself, to illustrate any point that he wished to make. At the pub in Felsted one night, somebody observed that he had drunk too much. “I know when I’ve had enough”, he insisted, falling off his stool and spitting his false teeth neatly into a glass.

Gordon Barker died on 10th February at Broomfield Hospital, near Chelmsford, aged 74. In his twin careers, he gave me, as a supporter of both Essex and Southend United, a lot of pleasure.

He would no doubt be amused to learn that his Memorial Service is to be held at Felsted School on 1st April.