David Barber hits a century of appearances as captain

David Barber is a name synonymous with the CommBank Pararoos, and CP Football globally.

His accolades speak for themselves. He has been there from the beginning, appearing in the team’s first ever training camp in 1998. 25 years, 106 appearances and 70 goals later, today he achieved another remarkable milestone – a century of games as Pararoos captain.

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Ahead of the opening match of the IFCPF Asia Oceania Championships, he reflected on his journey from cricket-obsessed kid to Australian football legend.

“My earliest contact with football was playing with my next-door neighbour’s grandson – he introduced me to soccer,” he recalled. “We used to play backyard soccer every school holidays together in the winter, and backyard cricket in the summer months, obviously.

“Then they took me along to a training session one day with a local club, and that was it for me – I was hooked.”

It’s difficult to believe, but at the time, football – or soccer, as he called it back then – was the sport that he struggled with the most. It was that struggle that drove his fascination with the game.

“There’s something special about the game that makes sure you never master it, ever,” he explained. “You can do something perfect – and the next day, it’s a completely different game.”

There was only one thing for it. A young David Barber set himself to practicing as much as possible, every single day.

Pararoos captain David Barber vies for the ball with Russia's Eduard Ramonov.
David Barber in his outfield days - he has since moved into goals.

“My parents used to have these welded metal black gates in the back yard,” he remembered. “I used to copy the Ned Zelic goal [for the Olyroos - Barcelona 1992 qualifier against Netherlands] over and over again to the point where I broke all the welds in the gate in the bottom left corner.”

“That goal was my earliest moment where I thought – I want to do that. I want that moment for me.”

It was at university where he discovered the existence of para sports for the first time. As he tells it, he “googled it before google existed” on the university computers, and learned about the Atlanta 1996 Paralympics.

A chance email sent to his coach was how he learned about the Pararoos.

“I’d been playing in a rep side, u19s,” he recalled. “They had an email sent across to all the federations across the country, asking if they had players with a disability or cerebral palsy, and the director of coaching had noticed that I’d been limping.”

“He asked if I was injured and I said no, actually, I have a disability. I have cerebral palsy, so when I’m really tired I limp. He said – so hey, I got this email the other day…”

“So I got in contact with the people who were organising the first ever camp. I think six of us from Queensland stayed on the floor of the manager’s house in Brisbane, flew into Sydney the next day, and the rest is history.”

He competed in the Sydney 2000 Paralympics but said that the feeling around the squad now, in the leadup to the IFCPF Asia Oceania Championships, was much like it felt back then.

The difference now, of course, is that he is not a young up and coming player. He is an elder stateman, someone that many of those in the squad today grew up idolising.

His role as captain and as a leader is one that he said is extremely special.

“It’s incredibly proud for me to be able to share that moment with so mayn of them over the years, and you know, also share their retirements as well – as sad as it is when players move on!” he said with a smile. “It’s like you’ve seen them live their dreams.”

“To share that with one person is special, but to share that with as many as I have, that’s even moreso.”

The squad at coach Kai Lammert’s disposal is an incredibly young one, with an average age in the teens. Barber attributes this to the attractive style of football that the CommBank Pararoos play, which he said is better than anything that he’s ever seen.

“This team has the capability to go a very long way, not just in this tournament, but in future tournaments, well beyond my time as well,” he said.

“I’m so happy to watch the sport, to get to a point now where everybody talks about it. Everybody wants to be a part of it, generating the kind of interest that it is and inspiring young kids – like Kaylan [who debuted for the CommBank Pararoos earlier this year after watching them play in the stands], and even younger than him.”

“You know, they start seeing athletes that look like them and move like them, and all of a sudden they know that they can do it too. To be a part of that is the greatest thing.”

Barber has been very aware of the looming milestones ahead of him at this tournament. He is only three caps away from passing Mark Schwartzer’s male appearance record – a remarkable feat given that fewer games have been available for him to play in that time period.

It is something that he is trying not to think about until it happens. In the meantime, the milestone of 100 games captained is something that he is incredibly proud of.

“That for me is kind of a personal special goal that I always dreamed of but never thought was actually possible,” he explained. “You know, you dream of making 100 caps, let alone 100 appearances as captain – that’s ridiculous!”

“I’m incredibly proud, but the chance to then potentially take the highest of all time caps for a male football player in Australia – that’s incredibly honouring. That means you’ve been doing something very right for a very long time.

“I’ve been fortunate I’ve had a lot of great coaches, a lot of great teammates and the most amount of support imaginable from behind the scenes with my family. Parents, my wife, my kids, everybody – it doesn’t happen by accident. It comes at incredible work, and in a lot of sacrifice as well.”

David Barber

The man from Rockhampton has done the unimaginable already in his career. He hopes that his career will continue to empower youngsters to follow in his footsteps, and to see what is possible.

“No one thought it was possible to come from where I come from and play for Australia,” he said. “To be from a little time like Rockhampton and captain Australia is almost impossible – and I did it. To make 100 caps is very difficult – and I did it. To break the cap record… hopefully I can do that too.”

“As it stands, I’m probably the longest standing sports captain for any sport in history, like 24 years and counting. That’s amazing too. And I’m incredibly proud of that because it means that a lot of people have believed in you for a very long time, which means you’re doing something right.”

You can watch David Barber in action this week in Melbourne, at the Home of the Matildas at La Trobe University.

Make sure to get your tickets here to not miss the great man reach the record number of caps for an Australian male, or you can catch all the action on SBS on Demand.

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2023 IFCPF Asia-Oceania Championships

Match Day 1 
Australia v Thailand
Date: Saturday, 4 November 2023 
Venue: Home of the Matildas (Field 1) 
Kick-Off: 5.15pm AEDT 
Broadcast: SBS On Demand, YouTube (international viewers only)
Buy Tickets

Match Day 2 
Australia v Iran 
Date: Sunday, 5 November 2023 
Venue: Home of the Matildas (Field 1) 
Kick-Off: 3.30pm AEDT 
Broadcast: SBS On Demand, YouTube (international viewers only)
Buy Tickets

Match Day 3 
Australia v Japan 
Date: Wednesday, 8 November 2023 
Venue: Home of the Matildas (Field 1) 
Kick-Off: 6.45pm AEDT 
Broadcast: SBS On Demand, YouTube (international viewers only)
Buy Tickets

Match Day 4 
India v Australia
Date: Thursday, 9 November 2023 
Venue: Home of the Matildas (Field 1) 
Kick-Off: 5pm AEDT 
Broadcast: SBS On Demand, YouTube (international viewers only)
Buy Tickets