By Matt Badcock
IT’S often said the best footballers can paint pictures on the pitch. In the case of Maidenhead United’s Sam Barratt, he brings an artist’s vision off it as well.
By day the 21-year-old works in his studio at home, producing commissioned pieces of art work or custom designs for trainers and clothing.
“I was working full-time, but when I started playing at Maidenhead – a year down the line – I thought, ‘Give it a go’, as I’m getting an income from football,” explains Barratt, pictured top left. “It’s kicked off well.
“I pretty much do everything. Commissioned art work, so lots of drawing, and in the last year or so I’ve gone into customising trainers and clothing. That’s really kicked off – I’m sending stuff all over the world.
“I just made my own business, built a website, do the website sales – I’m doing the two things I love in life so I can’t complain. I have a studio at my house so I get up and do a 9-5 before training in the evening. It gives me the flexibility to do the work outside of football too, because I do want to take my football further.”
Just before we speak, Barratt has handed back his England C tracksuit and training gear, which shows the trajectory he’s on keeps curving upwards.
A late call-up for the injured Ebbsfleet attacker Darren McQueen, Barratt spent three days at the Three Lions’ training camp held at Lilleshall with boss Paul Fairclough taking the chance to run the rule over some new faces ahead of their International Challenge Trophy final against Slovakia.
He’s one of the Magpies’ brightest talents. Part of their promotion from the National League South last season, he wrote himself into the club’s record books by scoring their first ever goal at Step 1 level on the opening day against Maidstone.
He came off the bench that afternoon and immediately made an impression by carrying the ball the length of the pitch as his side broke on the counter attack with pace. He got to the by-line, dummied to cross but took the ball back onto his right foot and whipped in a gorgeous cross.
Boss Fairclough recalls a time when he saw him playing last season and, from long range, he suddenly unleashed a cracking shot that left the keeper with no chance only to crash off the bar.
His undoubted potential has seen trials at Reading and Bristol Rovers, but he’s happy to play the patient game.
“I’ve come up through Non-League,” he says. “I’ve been on trials so I’ve experienced full-time football, but I’ve only played part-time. I played in the Allied Counties before I got called up to the first team at Bracknell Town, where I made just short of 100 appearances. That was in the Hellenic Premier before I jumped up to Maidenhead.”
He scored on his Bracknell debut aged just 16 and was soon being tipped for bigger things. Barratt says learning the dark arts of men’s football has helped his development.
“At the time I was just playing for enjoyment really,” he says. “Then I had a manager who came in, Steve Nebbett, who basically said, ‘You’ve got the ability to go further,’ and he instilled the confidence in me. The manager before him also told me the same, so that’s when I started to take it really seriously and think, ‘I want to go for this now’.
“Playing men’s first-team football from the day I turned 16, I learnt a lot about the game – the nasty side of the game I had to pick up quite early. When I’ve gone into Academy football a lot of lads have said the most they’ve learnt is from going out on loan. So I’m enjoying it the way I’m doing it by trying to jump up the leagues.”
Under the tutorship of former England international and West Ham legend Alan Devonshire, he’s gaining more and more valuable experience – including last season’s title win.
“We were never really backed to do it, but against all odds we did it – as a team,” Barratt says. “It was brilliant. We’ve started this season well, we take it game by game and just try to get those results.
“Our home form is important. It’s a place where we can really try to pick up points and make it a bit of a fortress, combined with good results away. We’re underdogs in each game, so there’s a bit less pressure, but we’ve got high expectations of ourselves to finish in that top half.
“We’ve got some experienced players in there too, which you need. The likes of Sean Marks, James Mulley, Alan Massey, and the gaffer’s been around this league for a while. We know how to play it and they pass on information.
“The travelling is massive, but it’s the tempo of the game that you notice more than anything. If you make mistakes you get punished. It’s about doing the basics right.”
If he keeps doing that then no doubt the scouts will keep coming to watch.
“Getting a taste of England C makes me want to go for it even more,” he says. “So, more practices and sessions outside of training!”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday.