Lloyd Barker Continues to Keep Soccer A Part of His Life
Former Montreal Impact Star Reflects on His Past
Lloyd Barker had small dreams as a child. Growing up in Harbour View, a community in Kingston, Jamaica, Barker lived around 200 metres from the city’s main soccer pitch.
On game day, Barker would peer through his front gate to watch Harbour View Football Club players walk by, dressed in their blue and yellow gear with their cleats dangling over their shoulders.
“I dreamt of the day that someone would give me a jersey with my name on the back,” said Barker over the phone.
In 1994, Barker accomplished that dream. Around 12 years after moving to Canada, Barker stood on the pitch of the National Stadium in Kingston, about to play for Jamaica’s national team. Barker said there’s no way to replicate the moment when 30,000 people are singing the national anthem. “Goosebumps,” he said. “It’s a real thing.”
When Barker was 12 years old, he left Jamaica for Ontario to follow his father, Lionel, seeking work in a country full of opportunity. Jobs were scarce in Jamaica during the 1970s and ‘80s, which made more than 276,000 citizens leave the island.
“If you got an opportunity to leave, you run to the airport,” said Barker.
Barker’s late mother, Lorna, who stayed behind in Jamaica, urged him to leave.
“I remember my mom saying, ‘hurry up and get out of here because we’ve got nothing here for you,’” he said.
Throughout his childhood, Barker’s choices were limited. He never had three meals a day. For entertainment, there were sports, but only three to choose from: cricket, track and field, and soccer. Barker had a knack for soccer—or football as he prefers to call it—because he was small and quick.
Playing in an unorganized pick-up league, older players immediately recognized his talent and kept him involved.
“Football saved my life,” Barker said. “Otherwise, I’d probably end up like a bunch of my other friends, in deep trouble or not even alive for that matter.”
Today, 45-year-old Barker resides in Montreal, where he’s kept his love for the game alive. It was in this city that Barker made his mark on the soccer world. He played more than ten of his 15 professional soccer years with the Montreal Impact. The rest of his playing years were short stints with the Toronto Lynx, Harbour View F.C., and the Ottawa Intrepid, where Barker began his professional career at the age of 16, four years after receiving his first pair of soccer cleats.
Barker’s humble beginnings in Jamaica carried on throughout his career. His former Montreal Impact teammate and current Concordia Stingers men’s soccer head coach Greg Sutton, vouched for Barker’s modest attitude.
“He’s a genuine person, and a real humble person” Sutton said, “[Those are] qualities and traits you need to be successful in life.”
During his time with the Impact, Barker played 190 games, the third most in the club’s history. During those years, Barker helped Montreal win two league championships. As good as holding up hardware was, he said his proudest achievement was playing as a contributing player for as long as he did.
“It’s difficult to get there, as a professional player, but it’s even more difficult to stay there,” Barker said.
Barker’s playing career ended in 2004, but he still had plenty of employment options. In 1998, Barker suffered a severe neck injury that prevented him from playing his summer season and the FIFA World Cup, but he had a record for being comfortable and eloquent in front of the camera, so CTV offered him the chance to commentate the international tournament (neck brace and all.) This was a springboard for Barker’s future work in broadcast and he has recently been an analyst on CTV, Sportsnet and Fox Sports, to name a few.
Barker also writes a “pros and cons” column in the Montreal Gazette analyzing the Impact. “As a writer,” Barker said, “it’s important to be objective,” but he can’t hide the fact that he cheers for his former team.
“It’s moments when Toronto FC scores to equalize in the 86th minute that I realize I still have strong ties to the heart with the club,” said Barker. “I take no pleasure when I have to write something negative about the club that I played for more than ten years,” he said, but he still does it when necessary.
With more than a decade since his retirement, Barker has remained extremely involved in the game. He took on various coaching roles as of 2004, notably as assistant coach of the Impact immediately after retirement and later for the Concordia Stingers’ men’s soccer team.
During Barker’s coaching venture with Concordia, he brought on none other than his former teammate and goalkeeper of the Impact, Greg Sutton, to help assist him as coach.
“[Barker] had developed trust in me and appreciated my experience and evaluation of the game, so he felt that I would be a good addition to help him in his coaching venture,” Sutton said. “I learned a lot about coaching the game as well just through that experience.”
Sutton also mentioned how the young players they coached were able to profit from witnessing Barker’s passion for the game.
“It was an opportunity for kids to feel how much someone cares about a sport and if they have the kind of passion that Lloyd has for the game itself, you can really benefit from that as a player,” Sutton said.
In recent years, Barker has made the development of youth his top priority, particularly by offering one-on-one, private training by parents who have requested it.
Barker has honed his ability to teach younger players with the same small dreams he once had.
In the spring of 2017, he will be launching a full-time business venture, a private training company to develop young talent.
“I’m always looking around the corner to see what’s next,” Barker said.
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