Monday, 6 February 2012
Of slight build, he was reputed to have fast legs and fast feet. Playing as a right winger he was as tricky and creative as they came in that era, and had huge bravery, as he would later prove, away from the football field. He joined City for the 1909-10 campaign. The Canaries were embarking on their second season at their new ground, and Arthur Turner had returned to the role of manager. Barnfather moved to Norwich from Croydon Common FC, where he had helped the Robins secure a place in Division One of the Southern League the previous term - meaning they were in the same competition as City. He made his Norwich début on Wednesday the 1st of September 1909 in a 1-1 draw away to Luton Town. Amongst the others also playing for Norwich for the first time that day were Sam Wolstenholme (who also joined from Croydon Common) and Billy Hampson (from Bury). Those two went on to make significant contributions to our history, and the injection of such talented footballers such as these and Percy Barnfather gave an indication of just how serious the club were to progress.
Just three days later, the winger netted his first of four goals for City, in a home match against West Ham United. Disappointingly though, the match was lost 3-1, and was a sign of the sort of season the club would endure. Despite Barnfather's wizardry out wide, the team largely struggled, managing only a 17th place finish. He played in every match until the end of March 1910, hitting goals home and away against Watford and another in the 5-1 victory over Brentford at The Nest. But he played only four times in the last fourteen Southern League matches of the season, with his final Norwich appearance coming on the 30th of April 1910, another defeat, this time to Northampton Town. However his final tally of 34 games in the campaign was topped only by Wolstenholme and Tommy Allsopp.
Disappointingly for Canary followers he went back to Croydon Common, who had suffered swift relegation down to the Southern League Second Division. Barnfather had played against them in the away league fixture, which City lost 2-0 on the 27th of November 1909. The game was played at The Nest - their Nest not ours - for both clubs had grounds with exactly the same name !
It is impossible to write anything about Percy Barnfather without constant reference to Croydon Common FC, a club he clearly had huge allegiance to. In all, he had three spells with them with the one immediately before his brief break in Norfolk producing 43 goals in 108 matches - some record for a winger ! His first known club had been Wallsend Park Villa of the Northern Alliance, but he was 24 years old before he made it to the Football League. He joined Second Division Barnsley in 1903-04, a decent team in their day, and scored on his debut. Between 1904 and 1906 he appeared 40 times for New Brompton (the club we now know as Gillingham) in the Southern League. He also found time for a couple of spells back in the north east with West Stanley, and, it is believed, an association with Southampton.
His final hook up with Croydon Common came between 1912 and 1916. The Robins by this time were managed by a certain John Bowman, who half a dozen years earlier had held the reigns at Norwich City. Barnfather made over one hundred further appearances for the Surrey club, including time back in the top division of the Southern League in 1914-15, where the Canaries were still plying their trade.
World War One started in 1915, and competitive football closed down. Croydon Common, alas, did not survive the conflict, and were dissolved in 1917. Thankfully however, Percy Barnfather did survive, and emerged from those dark days as a war hero. Rising through the ranks from Private to Captain in the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, he won the Military Cross.
When football resumed in 1919-20, Percy played four times for Merthyr Town, again in the Southern League. By this time he was forty years old, and it proved to be his swan song.
He goes down in history as a player we borrowed, for a short time. But his reputation as a player of skill has been recorded and lovingly preserved by many writers throughout the intervening years. There is no doubt, his talents would have been well enjoyed in the Rosary Road area of the city of Norwich, by all those blessed to have seen him.
Percy Barnfather sadly passed away on the 18th of December 1951 at the London Westminster Hospital, the day after his 72nd birthday.