Eric Barker has been involved with rugby for 30 years but after being honoured at the All Party Parliamentary Rugby Union Group Premiership Rugby Community awards he claims his passion for spreading the sport to the next generation is stronger than ever.
After being nominated for the Community Champion Award – in partnership with Land Rover – Barker received a highly commended gong in recognition of his volunteer work with Leicester Tigers.
He received his award in Westminster last Wednesday evening as players, coaches, role models and volunteers all came together to recognise the unsung heroes of the game.
Barker started out coaching his son’s team 30 years ago before moving into the administrative side of the sport with Leicestershire Rugby Union.
In 1995, at the dawn of the professional era, he was approached by Leicester Tigers and has been organising tournaments and events for youngsters through the club ever since.
But despite his tireless efforts, Barker claims he never expected to get any recognition.
“A couple of weeks ago I found out I was on the shortlist for the Community Award and you could have knocked me over with a feather,” said Barker.
“I’ve been doing something that I love for 30 years but the one person who suffered was my wife, who had to become a member of the Tigers just to see me sometimes!
“When I set out 30 years ago, the ambition was to bring as many kids as possible into rugby at whatever level and that’s what we’ve stuck to.
“When I first volunteered with Leicester Tigers, I started an event called the Tiger Cup for local clubs and that got me involved with the community side of things.
“I was the lead on making sure everything went right for around 60,000 kids and 1,000 teachers as a volunteer.
“I now look after the Prima Cup, which had 72 teams in it last year, and I also look after the Tigers Challenge where we take kids on tour. And of course I organise the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup for them each year.”
Jeremy Bristoe, who runs a tag rugby team for disabled youngsters at Witney Wolves, won the Community Champion Award while Saracens’ GET ONSIDE! Programme and Bristol Rugby’s Eagle Project were also recognised at the awards evening.
Those are just three examples of the incredible work done by people and clubs up and down the country, supported by Premiership Rugby – with more than 500 volunteers and 150 community development staff work reaching 310,000 community programme participants.
And Barker insists he was blown away by the scale of the community work using rugby in the UK.
“It’s not until you come to an event like this that you realise the magnitude of everything that’s going on,” he added.
“You can almost be in your own little bubble but then you realise what is going on with all the other programmes all over the country.
“If we can work to change just one person’s life, that makes it worth it.”