Sunday, 30 January 2011
271 Gareth Stoker
Position : Midfield
Played : 1998-99 (initially on loan from Cardiff) to 1999-2000 ( didn't appear in latter season )
Appearances : 12
Goals : 1
Gareth was signed initially on loan (though I suspect that was to test his fitness) from Cardiff and then given a two and a half year contract. He began as a junior with Leeds but even then had a reputation as a hothead and Howard Wilkinson decided to let him go. He signed for Hull and was promptly red carded on his debut in 1991. He went on to make 30 appearances for them but fell badly out of favour and was released in the summer of 1993 and dropped into non-league with Bishop Auckland his home town club. Eighteen months later he got another chance in the Football League with Hereford and did well enough to secure an £80,000 move to Cardiff in January 1997. Their fans seem to have been divided in much the same way we were about Shaun Reid. Some admired his 110% commitment and christened him "Mad Dog" ; others thought he was a dog of a player. There was apparently one incident when he was on the receiving end of a tackle so hard it broke his shin pad. Gareth just threw it off the pitch ,carried on and exacted retribution later in the game. In his 36th game in February 1998 he injured his cruciate ligaments and never played for them again.
Gareth actually had a decent debut away at Scunthorpe in February 1999 matching their muscle in midfield. I remember one guy, who was standing at the front when Gareth clattered one of their players into the hoardings early on , telling me he'd heard Gareth say "And that's just for starters !" He undoubtedly contributed to what was a rare away win with Dave Bayliss's late goal. That was memorable because one of my match mates was had brought an annoying young tagalong from his office who became surely the only Bury fan ever to be thrown out of a ground for celebrating a Rochdale goal. Gareth went on to be booked in each of his first four games, nearly starting a riot both during and after the game against Wigan in the AWS after an awful tackle.
It was his second game away at Halifax in the AWS that showed up his flaws. For 90 minutes he ran around like a headless chicken, demanding the ball seemingly for the purpose of seeing how quickly he could give it back to the opposition. A friend who hadn't been at Scunthorpe came up to us and asked "Who's that number 7 ? He's terrible ! " And then he got that contract - what were the Board thinking of sanctioning that ? Surely they weren't preparing to give Barrow another season ? Gareth just got worse each game he played - the ones I saw anyway; I missed his goal at Cambridge.
The incoming Steve Parkin wrote him off at once and sent him on loan to Scarborough at the beginning of September 1999 and a permanent move was negotiated in December which no doubt cost us a fair wad.
Gareth put in a long stint at Scarborough making 140 appearances over four seasons in the Conference. He then had a season with Forest Green before switching to Leigh RMI for their one , dismal Conference season in 2004-05, In 2006 he returned to Yorkshire as player-coach of Wakefield. In 2008 he became assistant-manager of Osssett Town though he retired as a player.
Gareth brings the Graham Barrow story to a close. He was dismissed with one game still to play in May 1999. There was a great story ( I don't know if it's true ) that one of his fiercest crirtics had an answering machine message that ran "Mark is out AND SO IS BARROW !!! " I didn't celebrate like that ; despite joining in with all the Barrow Out chants that season I felt a surprising sadness when it actually came to pass. My wife couldn't understand it - "But you've been slagging him off all season ! " and I couldn't really explain it to her. It wasn't really sympathy for him - God knows he's earning more now at Wigan than at any earlier point in his career - more a lament for the final , irrevocable end of the dreams of May 1996 and the realisation that, given the big changes in my life since then, that sort of buzz wouldn't happen again. And of course a troubling thought, if the apparently ideal candidate had flopped so badly what exactly did the future hold for us ?