Sydney Quinton Barker
26 November 1887
Place of birth
Collingwood, VIC (3066)
23 March 1930 (aged 42)
Place of death
Abbotsford, VIC (3067)
Age at first & last AFL game
First game: 20y 200d
Last game: 39y 239d
Height and weight
Height: 183 cm
Weight: 95 kg
State of origin
|Club||League||Career span||Games||Goals||Avg||Win %||AKI||AHB||AMK||BV|
|V/AFL||1908, 1921-1924, 1927||68||25||0.37||60%||—||—||—||0|
AFL: 1,407th player to appear, 3,444th most games played, 3,261st most goals kickedRichmond: 28th player to appear, 998th most games played, 731st most goals kickedEssendon: 338th player to appear, 327th most games played, 294th most goals kickedNorth Melbourne: 47th player to appear, 629th most games played, 657th most goals kicked
By many people he (Barker) was known as the “singing footballer.” He went through life singing and happy. It was a habit of his to put his teammates in great heart for a match by singing a rollicking ditty. On the field he was a relentless battler, giving no quarter and expecting none. Yet his actions were manly. Barker looked for trouble only when his opponent started it. He was never a brilliant player, but his remarkable determination and tenacity turned the scale in many a fierce battle.¹
Physically imposing and a born leader, Sydney Barker senior enjoyed a highly auspicious two decade career with four different clubs in both the VFA and VFL. He began with Essendon Association in 1906, and two years later was a member of Richmond's inaugural VFL pool of players, but managed just a couple of games before returning to the VFA with North Melbourne. It was while with North that Barker truly made his name.
Combining great skill with exceptional endurance, he was without doubt one of the finest ruckmen in the land for nigh on twenty years. His combination with fellow ruckman George Rawle and rover Charlie Hardy was arguably the chief reason behind North Melbourne's consistent success in the years leading up to, during, and just after World War One. All three would later go on to serve Essendon with similar distinction. Prior to that, however, Barker had the satisfaction of appearing in VFA premiership sides with North in 1910, 1914, 1915 and 1918, the last two as skipper.
His career was not devoid of controversy, however. In 1913 the club suspended him for the last few games of the season, including the finals, when he was accused of not trying in an important match against Brunswick. North ultimately lost that season's final to Footscray by a single point (match reviewed here), a result that one is hard pressed not to imagine being reversed had Barker played.
In 1921, North temporarily disbanded after an aborted bid to gain admission to the VFL, and that was when Barker and his teammates made the move to Essendon. In just under four seasons with the Same Old he played 57 VFL games and kicked 23 goals, but much more importantly, as captain-coach, he transformed them from also-rans into the best team in the league, with consecutive premierships in 1923 and 1924.
After a couple of seasons in retirement, Barker made a brief playing comeback in 1927 when, as coach of his former club North Melbourne, which had finally achieved its ambition of joining the VFL a couple of years earlier, he added a final nine VFL games to his career tally. Unfortunately, he could not emulate the success he had enjoyed at Essendon, and a meagre return of just three wins from 18 matches consigned the northerners to second to last position on the ladder.
Author - John Devaney
1. From Barker’s obituary in “News”, 25/3/30, page 3.