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Gareth Barry, 368 Appearances and counting, Tommy Mort


bickster
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Another great article from Scott, this time in his Gareth Barry Appearances series

Here we are again with Gareth Barry passing another of Villa’s legends as he progresses through the list of those with most appearances in our glorious history.

With the 368th appearance of his Villa career (against Blackburn) now under his belt, he’s up to 15th having equalled the achievements of Tommy Mort.

Since last time we looked at it, things have changed for Gareth Barry, he’s no longer English football’s best kept secret, he’s become (albeit briefly) a national treasure.

Admired by football fans across the nation for his performances in two of his recent international appearances, he had the opportunity to be as important in an England shirt as he is in the famous Claret and Blue and he grabbed it with both hands, and despite the later failings of the team and Gareth’s ultimately fruitless struggle to prevent England slipping out of 2008’s European Championships there can’t have been a Villa fan that didn’t feel a real sense of pride watching our Captain show his class in the middle of the park for England.

In the past my worry with Gareth and his assault on the Villa record books has always been injury, but now there’s a new threat; the spotlight has drawn the attention of the poachers. Chelsea are rumoured to have had a look at Gareth and Tottenham are, as ever, reported to be interested following his international renaissance. I can only hope that this was the press waking up to years of neglect for our man and overcompensating with some quick links.

Consider it an apology.

I would hope that Gareth’s time here has left him with the Villa in his heart, for he is surely the heart of its current incarnation and our hopes for him are intertwined with his for us.

I would certainly hope he proves more of a Villa man than David Platt, who recently claimed that Gareth would need to leave Villa Park to further his international ambitions. The response from the very top of Villa’s off the field team hopefully gives us an indication of his value to us.

Asked about Platt's comments, Randy Lerner replied:

"I don't agree. I don't know that I can necessarily get into a well-worded debate on this subject, but I think Gareth has the sense that there is more to this than simply either chasing money or managing one's career so tightly that you move from club to club to do what's best for you.”

“I actually think that somebody like Gareth Barry takes very seriously the fact that he's captain at Villa. He's watched Villa do well over the last year and I think he's invested emotionally in Martin.”

“I think it's a bigger issue than he ought to leave and go somewhere else because he'll do better or his career will accelerate - I don't see it."

“I hadn't heard a thing on this until that quote (from Platt) came out, so it's not being driven by the player. Gareth is the last guy in the world to use those channels, it's just not who he is.”

Support from the top that was backed up by the manager and then supported by the club through the announcement of a testimonial for the player.

A testimonial at the age of 26 is some going, and in an age where footballers consider four years an eternity, it’s a fitting tribute to Gareth’s loyalty. Charlie Aitken was awarded his testimonial at the age of 27.

I very much hope Gareth takes up his testimonial and I very much hope to attend it in 2018 with all of the proceeds from a full house of 60,000 at Villa Park going to charity.

Enough of the future though, Gareth has started breaking records in the here and now, becoming the youngest ever player to play 300 Premiership games, and he’s also continuing to break the records of those in the distant past, including;

Tommy Mort

Tommy Mort played his 368 games in Claret & Blue between 1922 and 1935. He was a quick, strong player with a famed sliding tackle and formed a great full-back partnership with Tommy Smart.

The pair became known as “Death & Glory” although I’m not sure if one of the men was “death” and the other “glory”

Born near Bolton, he started his career with non-league Altrincham and amazingly, despite spending two full seasons there never made the first team. He joined Rochdale in 1921, played there for a season and finally graduated to the big time in 1922, joining Villa for the princely sum of £1,000.

Whilst of only average size (he was five foot eight) he became known for his competitiveness, his striking of the ball and the quality of his tackling and gave the Villa great service for a decade.

Major honours sadly escaped him, although he did play in the losing FA Cup Final team against Newcastle in 1924, and picked up three caps for England. Upon his retirement in May 1935 he returned to Lancashire and went into business in Wigan. He passed away in 1967 at the age of 70.

He was a fine player and one who fully merits his place on the list of Villa Parks legends.

Gareth himself seems to have begun to find his place, and recent comments from him have gone some way to proving that perhaps he’s also begun to note that he has a chance to leave a real legacy as an Aston Villa player.

When asked about Charlie Aitken’s record recently Gareth stated:

“I think about it but then you can’t look too far ahead. Having said that, I signed a four year contract and I want to play as many games as possible and be successful.”

“So if that means topping up appearances and climbing higher and higher towards the record holders then that would be a big bonus for me. I take it a game at a time and a year at a time, but hopefully records come with it.”

“Over the years you realise that you’re playing a lot of games but suddenly to reach 300 before the age of 27 is an achievement in itself.”

“I’ve got two and a half years left on my contract and hopefully in that time there might be 100 appearances there and then who knows?”

Well, I certainly wish him luck, he’s up to 15th now, and could be 11th by the end of the season; those 100 appearances he mentioned would see him amongst the top four appearance makers in the clubs history and still under the age of 30.

He’s come a long way from the player who signed a £47 a week contract on the day Brian Little left the club and he continues to grow. His reputation has been enhanced by his international performances and we are starting to see him gain the wider recognition within British football that he merits.

His journey to becoming potentially the greatest ever Villain still has a distance left to travel. Honours are a must, and I very much hope that the next few seasons allow us the opportunity to see Gareth Barry in Claret and Blue with a trophy above his head.

He’s now the most experienced player at the club by a distance (If Mellberg and Sorensen were to leave in January, Gareth would have played more games for Villa than every other player on our books combined.) and at 26 he should hopefully still be here for the best part of a decade.

He’s become a leader, and he’s a great example for young players whose attitude remains exemplary:

"You have to look at yourself: if you can't come to training and enjoy it, it's a fantastic job and we're doing something we enjoy.”

"Every player should try to be the best player in training and every game. That's the way I approach it and I'm sure that’s the way a lot of the other players do as well."

Maybe that’s the secret?

Next up for Gareth in a few weeks time on the list of legends he’ll overtake will be Harry Hampton.

I wish our current skipper luck in his continued rise through the ranks of Villa’s legends and hope he continues to recognise his place amongst them. A man of Gareth’s character sits comfortably amongst the great Villains of yesteryear in my opinion and his final position might yet bring him something very special indeed.

I’ll leave the final word to Randy Lerner:

"I think he's got an amazing demeanour. I think he's a relaxed, articulate, warm guy and I think he's the best you're going to get in sport."

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