CHAMPION BARKER BACKS BLUES TO FOLLOW SUIT
The newly-crowned IBF world champion, and die-hard Chelsea supporter, Darren Barker was a half-time guest on the pitch during our midweek win over Aston Villa, and he spoke with the official Chelsea website to reflect on his wonderful boxing achievement, as well as outline his hopes for the Blues this season…
It was just before 6am (UK time) last Sunday when Barker, having taken a body shot from his opponent Daniel Geale in the sixth round of their world-title fight, fell to the canvas in Atlantic City.
His body language appeared to suggest his hopes of securing the belt were in tatters, as he writhed around in agony, but midway through the referee's count, Barnet-born Barker somehow managed to stagger to his feet, refusing to throw in the towel.
The next time he hit the canvas it was in a state of euphoria, having completed another six rounds and been awarded the fight - and the belt - on a split decision. It was a truly remarkable comeback by the 31-year-old, and an achievement he is still coming to terms with, as he explains.
'It's still sinking in and I don't think I'll get completely used to it for a while,' he says. 'It's an absolute dream come true, I've been fighting for 19 years and as a young boxer you set out to win a world title. There were times in my career when I never thought it would happen, so it's an unbelievable feeling.
'I can believe it because I wanted it so much. They would have had to nail me to the canvas for me not to get up, there was no chance I wasn't going to carry on fighting. I was in bits, I was very badly winded, but there was no chance I was staying on the mat.
'It feels weird at the moment. When I was in Atlantic City a dad came up to me with his little boy to have a photo. He said to the boy that he was standing next to the world champion, and I had to look around because I didn't realise he was talking about me. It just doesn't feel totally real at the moment but I'm sure it will in time.'
British boxing has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, with promoters putting on exciting, entertaining events for a public which had, for a few years, become slightly disillusioned with where the sport was heading.
Over the course of the next few months the big fights continue to come, with David Haye taking on Tyson Fury and Carl Froch fighting George Groves, another Chelsea fan.
Barker, who takes to the ring with the Chelsea badge sewn into his shorts, predicts good times ahead, and paid tribute to the work being carried out by his own promoter, Eddie Hearn, son of Leyton Orient chairman Barry.
'It looks like I'll have a fight around December time but nothing's been made official as yet, I just hope it doesn't clash with the Chelsea fixtures,' he laughs.
'It's exciting times for British boxing fans. Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Sport, who promote me, have done a fantastic job. In the past there were a lot of mismatches and people were getting fed up, but they are putting on fights that boxing fans and the general public want to see, and long may it continue.'
As talk turned to his other sporting passion - Chelsea Football Club - Barker cited his frustration at missing our opening-day win over Hull City, but the Stamford Bridge season ticket holder was delighted to be in attendance for Wednesday's win over Paul Lambert's side, where he was given a wonderful ovation by both sets of supporters as he paraded the belt around the pitch at the break.
'I was in the lobby leaving the hotel on Sunday just as the Hull game was kicking off, I caught about two minutes but missed it, although I was buzzing when I heard we got the result,' he recalls. 'Hull have only just come up and they were hungry, it was a good three points because those games can be tricky.
'The win against Villa was great because they were coming off the back of a good win against Arsenal and their confidence was high. It was a good, professional performance and the most important thing was getting another victory.'
Having recorded two straight home wins, it's been a solid start to the new campaign, and Barker was delighted to see Jose Mourinho return to west London over the summer.
'He's a great manager and gets the best out of the players individually, but most importantly I'm hoping Stamford Bridge will become a fortress once again, a place where other teams are scared of coming to.
'For a while, teams have come to the Bridge and left with points, which is frustrating to watch as a supporter, so hopefully he'll turn that around.
'The new signings look lively and I think they can all have a big impact this season. They've all impressed me so far, and [Romelu] Lukaku did well when he came off the bench against Villa. [Eden] Hazard looked good once again; just prior to the first goal he produced a lovely piece of skill to get into the box, there's no denying his talent but I'm just looking forward to watching the squad as a whole, it should be an exciting season.'
Inevitably, the beginning of any new season sees supporters identify realistic targets for their clubs. Barker is certainly no exception, and he has high expectations for the Blues this term, believing we can go for glory on all fronts.
'The Premier League title should be a big target, but obviously a club like Chelsea, with the squad we have, should be looking to challenge in all competitions,' he says.
'I don't think we should favour one over the other. We have so many talented players that we should be looking to make an impact in every tournament.'
Barker, as likeable a high-profile sportsman as you are ever likely to find, has been following the Blues long enough to have witnessed memorable triumphs such as the three Premier League titles and countless domestic cups.
When pressed for his favourite memory as a Chelsea supporter, however, there is one night which, in his eyes, which will prove difficult to top.
'The Champions League final trip is my favourite memory without a doubt,' he chooses. 'We did a road trip to Munich and it was such a laugh. It was my 30th birthday, the game itself was unbelievable, the atmosphere was amazing and then to go to the post-match celebrations was the icing on the cake.
'That is easily my favourite moment as a Chelsea fan, we had such a laugh at the service station in Calais, from start to finish we didn't stop laughing and obviously in terms of the football it doesn't get any better.
'I managed to speak to all of the players, including the likes of Frank and Didier, and I've got some brilliant photos. They're memories I'll treasure forever and it was the best birthday I've ever had.'