HAMPSHIRE’S new all-rounder used to be a Football League striker who once shared a changing room with Rickie Lambert.

Keith Barker will be a familiar name on Hampshire scorecards this summer following his winter move from Warwickshire.

It is the latest chapter in a sporting career that included a brief loan spell with Lambert at League Two Rochdale in August 2006, after Barker began his professional sports career as a striker with Blackburn Rovers.

The 32 year-old said: “I overlapped with Rickie at Rochdale for a week, maybe two, just before he moved to Bristol Rovers and then Southampton. I trained with him and played alongside Glenn Murray, who’s also done very well.

“I didn’t think Glenn would do as well as he has. Fair play, he also worked his socks off to get where he is - he deserves it.”

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Rickie Lambert celebrates scoring for Rochdale in 2005 - four years before his move to Saints from Bristol Rovers

Barker, who made 16 appearances for Rochdale, scored his one professional goal - an equaliser against Crewe - in the Football League Trophy. Suffice to say he has been the star player in Hampshire’s five-a-side team.

“I didn’t realise the lads were so competitive but they absolutely love football, even in warm-ups,” he laughs.

“They take it very seriously. I’ve played four or five games with them in a local five-a-side league. I took the Yaya Toure role at the back and charged through every now and then!

“But most of the time I tried to assist the lads. The leading scorer was Tom Alsop, which I can’t get my head round as every time I saw him shoot it was towards the corner flag!”

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Keith Barker playing an U18s international for England against Sweden in 2004

The chance to play football before a day’s play is a welcome change for Barker.

“Warwickshire put a stop to it,” he said. “People see football as the worst thing you can do in a warm-up. But the season can get quite long and tiring so it’s good to give players that enjoyment they get from football, although a lot of physios across the country will tell you different!”

Three years ago, Fidel Edwards suffered a season-ending ankle injury during a pre-play kickabout at Headingley. And only last week, Worcestershire spinner Ben Twohig sustained an anterior cruciate ligament damage while playing football.

Warwickshire sport director Ashley Giles has made his views clear. “We’ve got to keep our best players on the park and I’m not sure playing football is the best way of going about that,” he told ESPNcricinfo in January. “If you look at what football does, the benefits from a physiological and fun point of view are outstripped by the dangers.”

Barker provides an alternative perspective: “Darren Maddy once snapped his ACL playing mitball at Warwickshire but we weren’t quick to stop mitball.

“I was told Fiddy (Edwards) was nowhere near the ball and got his foot caught in the turf, but that could have happened in a normal S & C (strength and conditioning) session. People think the worst of it.”

Disillusioned with his role in Lancashire CCC’s age-group side, Manchester-born Barker focused on becoming a professional footballer when he was 15.

“With England U15s I was a number three who would open the bowling but with Lancashire U15s I batted at nine and bowled second change.

“I heavily disagreed with that. I felt I was able to give a lot more and that I was being held back. I’d rather have specialised in one; not being able to open the bowling or bat in the top five grinded my gears.

“Cricket came more naturally to me but I really enjoyed football although I had to work hard at it.”

Barker grew up in Accrington and, as well as playing for Lancashire, was on the books of Blackburn Rovers from the age of eight until he was 21.

“It’s a lot tougher now, clubs don’t want you doing that, but I was fortunate to play football for Blackburn and cricket for Lancashire till I had to choose at 16.

“I’d overlap every year. Lancashire and Blackburn didn’t have an issue with it, which I don’t think is the case now.

“Even after choosing football I played a few cricket matches in the summer to catch up with friends.”

Barker’s nomadic football career included stints with Northwich Victoria and Irish side St Patrick’s Athletic.

“I went back to Northwich Victoria but they weren’t able to offer me a contract. It felt like too much effort, it was a very steep ladder to climb.

“My agent tried to get me to Fulham, who were very interested initially. And I had a trial at Bury only for the manager to get sacked. I was knocked down the ladder a few times before football stopped me.

“But the stars aligned for me to get back into cricket. I played for my old club Enfield in the Lancashire League knowing that Martin van Jaarsveld, who was married to a friend’s sister, had said he’d get me a trial at Kent if I did well.

“Lancashire weren’t interested but out of nowhere Warwickshire put me on trial and within a few weeks I signed.

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David 'Bumble' Lloyd played a key role in Keith Barker's cricket career

“Ashley Giles was looking for a left-arm seamer and had asked David Lloyd (Bumble) to let him know if he saw one.

“Luckily his son Graham was playing locally for a rival team and told him I was playing well and not playing football anymore.

“Bumble reported it back to Warwickshire and Keith Piper came to watch my first game for Warwickshire IIs against Hampshire IIs at Wormley CC in Birmingham.

“I was very fortunate to get a hundred at number eight. Hampshire had three trialist bowlers so it wasn’t as difficult as it could have been. Warwickshire said ‘don’t go anywhere, we’ll sign you’.”

Barker thought he would finish his career at Warwickshire before Hampshire made their interest known.

“You have to be adaptable and take every opportunity you get, whether it’s with the club you’ve been at all your life or not,” he said.

“Hampshire made an offer for me and it was the right time to move on, look at the options and take on a different challenge.

“I had the option to stay on the same contract as I’m on now but I was getting a bit stale.

“There are some good youngsters at Warwickshire who are raring to go and I’ve probably been blocking them a bit.

“So it’s their time to give it a crack and I didn’t want to be in the way. I’d been there long enough and as a player you need challenges.”

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Batting for Hampshire against Essex

Barker has an outstanding first-class record (363 wickets at 25.61 and 3702 runs at 29.14) and has impressed at the Ageas Bowl in recent years.

“This is just a brilliant place to play cricket,” he continued, before following the unbeaten 31 he made on debut against Essex with 64 in Hampshire's innings defeat against Yorkshire at the weekend.

“As an away player you see the facilities and how it’s set up and know it’s one of the grounds that would be up there if I had the option to play there regularly.

“When the opportunity came up I thought I’d be silly not to take it.”

Left-armer swing bowler Barker took 3-71 on his Hampshire against Essex. It surely won’t be too long before he is on the honours board for another Ageas Bowl five-fer, having taken 5-53 against Hampshire in 2016. “I’ve not done too bad here and that was a decent session,” he laughs. “One or two of the lads have mentioned it but didn’t realise I had the perfect breeze going across the pitch!”