Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football Fairytale of English Export

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football Fairytale of English Export

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Gilder

The only Briton to have ever played in the Estonian Premier League is a little-known Cumbrian who remains in the employment of Levadia Tallinn. Chief Sports Writer Paul Gilder met him.

It is the sort of sunny morning that showcases Tallinn's medieval architecture at its breathtaking best and, in the offices of one of the city's busiest travel agents, Richard Barnwell has taken a break from his work to talk football.

With the Estonian capital in the grip of Uefa Cup fever, the 27-year-old is not alone. Yet a Cumbrian far from home speaks with a knowledge that outweighs that of even the most enthusiastic of Baltic State supporters. A player of modest talent, his is a sporting career that has followed the unlikeliest of paths. From Kendal Town to the United States, from Estonia to Iceland, Barnwell's is the most colourful of stories.

"It all started when I left home (Kendal) and went over to New Jersey to do some coaching work for a company in the States," he recalled. "I thought it was a great opportunity, but I never imagined that it would lead me here. While I was in America I met an Estonian girl and when the time came for us to leave we had a big decision to make.

"At that time, Estonia wasn't in the EU, and we thought it would be easier for me to get a visa and a job here than it would be for her to move to the UK. That's how I first came to be in Tallinn, and I have been here ever since."

The girl in question was the Estonian tennis player Kriss Poldma; the pair have since split but Barnwell has decided to remain in his Baltic base. The reasons are sporting, the tale remarkable.

"I started playing for a local team," explained a man who filled his time at JK Tallinna Kalev, a tiny club playing in the third tier of the Estonian league structure. "It was really so I could meet people but, while I was there, we won promotion. That's when Levadia invited me to go for a trial. I jumped at the chance because this was a club playing in the Premier League. Levadia said they thought I was good enough to play at the level they were at and I signed for them. It was completely out of the blue."

It was 2003 and, although he had played semi-professional football for a time in the United States, a man with no sporting pedigree of which to boast found himself in the employ of one of the biggest clubs in his adopted homeland.

"It was difficult to get used to the fact that I was playing at that level because I had only played for youth sides and my local club (Kendal) when I was in England," he said. "It was an interesting time for me ( obviously ( and I look back upon it with great memories."

That, at the age of 27, Barnwell is looking back upon his career suggests he was not the most successful and it is plain that his name will not go down in European football folklore. …

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