Tributes paid to Forest Green coach Chris Barker after death aged 39

Barker joined Forest Green in July 2017

Barker joined Forest Green in July 2017

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TRIBUTES have been paid to Forest Green Rovers Under-18s coach Chris Barker, who has died at the age of 39.

During an 18-year professional career, the Sheffield-born defender played for clubs including Barnsley, Cardiff, QPR and Southend. In the twilight of his playing career, he moved to National League South side Weston-super-Mare as player/ assistant manager to Scott Bartlett, who then took him to Forest Green in July 2017 when he became Academy Manager.

Barker was Assistant Academy Manager and Under-18s boss and played a key role in helping the club achieve Category 3 status in May 2018 - less than a year after they had entered the EPPP system.

Last season, Barker guided the U18s to the Merit League Two title, which was celebrated on The New Lawn pitch at Forest Green’s final game of the season.

Forest Green Academy Manager Hannah Dingley said: "We're all heartbroken to hear this news, which came as a shock to everybody. Our immediate thoughts are with his family and friends.

"Barks was a strong, inspirational leader to our Under-18s and a much-loved colleague.

"We'll be offering help and support to those at the club affected by the tragic news - particularly our young players, and ask that Chris’ family get some privacy at this challenging time.”

Bartlett tweeted: “Words can't describe how utterly devastated I am. Had prayed this news wouldn't break until the family were ready. RIP to my best mate and an amazing man. Thoughts are with Richie, Tracey, Demi and family. Hardest day ever. Heartbroken."

Barker was player of the season for Cardiff in 2004/5 and his former Bluebirds team-mate Joe Ledley tweeted: “Devastating news to hear the loss of Chris Barker my thoughts are with his family and friends, One of the most down to earth guys I’ve met. Will be truly missed. Rest In Peace barks.”

There will be a minute's applause before Forest Green’s League Two game at Crawley on Saturday, while the players will wear black armbands in memory of Barker.

South Wales Police confirmed the sudden death of a 39-year-old man who was discovered at his home address in the Cyncoed area of Cardiff at about 14:00 GMT on January 1st. They added that the death was not being treated as suspicious and that the coroner has been informed.

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