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Thursday 29 June 2017

Dub Eric flew the Irish flag in Vienna

Eric Barber (r) of Kansas City Spurs with Santos’ Pele during his time in the US. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Eric Barber (r) of Kansas City Spurs with Santos’ Pele during his time in the US. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Scattered around Dublin today are a number of middle-aged men called Eric who were given that name by their Shelbourne-supporting father who worshipped the legendary Reds player Eric Barber.

But 1,700km away in Vienna, there are still some who also recall the name of Eric Barber, the first - and last - Irishman to play club football in Austria.

The much-travelled Ireland international had already plied his trade in England and the USA before he landed up in Austria's capital in 1970 and while he stayed for only half of his two-year contract with Weiner Sport Klub, he still make a mark on the Austrian game.

Barber learned his trade with Shels and enjoyed great success there, winning the league (1962) and FAI Cup (1960, 1963) and also made his Ireland debut while a Shels player, in a 4-1 defeat in Spain in the World Cup qualifiers (October '65).

By the time of his second (and last) senior cap, in May 1966, Barber was on the books of Birmingham City but his spell in England was not a happy one and the forward enjoyed more joy when he moved to the USA, where he lined out for Chicago Spurs and Kansas City.

Eric Barber scoring for Wiener Sport-Club in October 1970. Eric scored 8 goals for the Wiener Sport-Club in 19 national championship games.
Eric Barber scoring for Wiener Sport-Club in October 1970. Eric scored 8 goals for the Wiener Sport-Club in 19 national championship games.

After a stint at Shamrock Rovers he was off again, this time to Austria and his move from Kansas to Wiener Sport Klub was flagged up in the Evening Herald in July 1970.

Barber signed a two-year deal with the Austrian club who had qualified to play in the Fairs Cup (the old UEFA Cup) as league runners-up the previous season: not a good experience for Barber or the Austrians as they lost to Belgian outfit Beveren 5-0 on aggregate: Barber is believed to be the second Irishman to play in European competition for a continental club (Waterford's Peter Fitzgerald had played in the European Cup for Sparta Rotterdam in 1959).

But he did the groundwork for compatriots bound for Europe, as within a year, Ireland internationals Noel Campbell and Ben Hannigan would sign for a club in Germany.

Austria was a mixed bag for Barber. He managed eight goals in 19 league games, but four of those came in one match, and a note on that 8-1 win in March 1971 was the only mention which Barber got in the Irish newspapers in his whole time in Austria. Out of sight and out of mind.

He was dropped by a struggling side and by the end of his first season, he was keen to come home and handed in a transfer request.

"Although I enjoyed my football and cracked in a few goals over there, including four in one game, my family never really settled, I have moved around enough now and I want to get back into League of Ireland football," he told the Sunday Independent in July 1971.

"When I informed Vienna that I wouldn't be returning after the summer they stuck £5,000 on my head. But when I pointed out that no Irish club could pay that kind of money they finally cut it down it to £1,200."

It was reported that Shels stumped up the £1,000 needed to re-sign Barber and he spent most of his career with Shels with two spells as a player (1971-75 and 1978-80) and also managed the club for a spell.

After an short stint as coach in Saudi Arabia in 1980, Barber moved to the USA and it was there, near Boston, that he passed away after an illness in August 2014, just 72 years old. His widow, Maureen, sadly died earlier this week. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a nanamnacha.

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