It’s a balmy summer day in Countesthorpe in the summer of 2019. Eighty miles east, at the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge, a temperature of 38.7 degrees is thought to be the highest ever recorded in the UK. It feels even hotter, under the full glare of the blazing sun, as LCFCQ sits down in Harvey’s garden to speak to a young man who is deeply entrenched in Leicester life.
After sharing a lemonade in the kitchen, a brief respite from the conditions outside, we head out to take our seats at a modest table and chairs in the garden. It may surprise some to learn that Harvey was not in fact born in Leicestershire, but that’s where the conversation begins.
“I was probably only there for maybe four or five years,” says the Leicester City Academy graduate, who joined the Club as a nine-year-old on 8 June, 2007. “My dad is a former footballer who played for Notts County and Stoke City in his early years and he was at Burnley at the time. To be honest, I don’t remember too much about that time of my life, but it occasionally catches people out because everyone still thinks I was born in Leicester!”
Paul Barnes, who is naturally still an important figure in Harvey’s life today, was a Leicester-born striker who played in all four tiers of English football, scoring 206 goals in 488 appearances. Some of Harvey’s earliest memories involve the two of them laughingly kicking a ball around the family garden with his mother Wendy watching on from the patio.
“My mum and dad have friends in Burnley still, so over the years, we’ve been back up there to see them, and they still stay in contact now as well,” he continues. “It’s been great having a dad who has been through what I’m going through now. Obviously, the game has changed a lot since he was playing, but the basics are still there.
“Towards the end of his career, when he was at Hinckley or Tamworth, I did go and watch a few games, but before that I was either not born yet or way too young to get anything out of it. From a young age, it was never really pushed on me. As most young lads do, I’d tended to just have a kick-around with my friends in the garden or the park and I developed a love of it myself. I’d say once he realised that I had the love for it, he did get involved. Not so much coaching me, just playing in the garden and we would enjoy our football together.”
During a happy childhood, Harvey attended Greenfield Primary School before moving on to Leysland High School and then finally Countesthorpe College, all while chasing a dream so many harbour – to emerge from thousands of hopefuls and become a professional footballer. Like so many, Harvey initially played for fun locally in Leicester, representing Countesthorpe Athletic, Oadby Town and Whetstone Juniors. Some of you reading this maybe even have played against him as a child on the mud-soaked pitches of Blaby and central Leicestershire.
Harvey has spent much of his life living in the Leicestershire region.
“When I used to play at Countesthorpe, it was all about fun,” he says. “The pitches are only down the road from us now and then I moved to Whetstone Juniors and played a lot of my football there. I made a lot of friends there who I still meet up with now and, for the majority of that time, I was always playing with the upper age groups. So, when it actually came to the time to go to Leicester, I either had to drop down an age group with lads I didn’t know very well or have a fresh start with Leicester.
“At such a young age, you get so excited about hearing that Leicester want you to go there so for me it was an easy decision. When you first go in, you’re really nervous, but the coaches always wanted you to enjoy yourself and to express yourself. At nine-years-old, you’re not going to be taught a lot, it’s just about scoring goals, having fun and making friends.”
Spending over a decade at the Club has helped Harvey to forge unbreakable friendships with players whose names now populate Leicester’s first team and Development Squad teamsheets. People like Hamza Choudhury are perhaps most recognisable, but Barnes has a tight-knit group of friends at Leicester City, all of whom have chartered a similar journey in football.
“It’s really important to me,” he adds. “I’m obviously with Hamza from my age group in the first team and there’s a few of the other lads I’ve known since I was a kid who will come in and train with the first team. There are some lads that are still in with the Development Squad too, but at the training ground, you see everyone every day and it’s no different regardless of whether you’re training with them or not.
“They’re always there. That friendship from when you’re young, progressing through the age levels together, having all the memories together, I think it’s massive. When I first stepped in to the first team, it can be daunting for any young player. As good as the older lads are with the younger ones who come into the team, to have someone there who’s in a similar position, it always helps. You can always turn to them if you want to speak about something so for me personally, it’s been massive.”
Harvey’s association with Leicester City is perhaps best told inside. We leave the sun-drenched garden and head into to the stylishly decorated lounge where, as requested, he has gathered some of his most treasured mementos collected from over his career so far. Among them is the red 2016/17 away shirt he wore on a mild December evening in Ribeira. It was the night Claudio Ranieri turned to his substitute’s bench and looked in Harvey’s direction during a UEFA Champions League group stage encounter at FC Porto’s Estádio do Dragão.
The shirt is framed and usually hangs upstairs. It has two tickets below it, either side of an engraving, which belonged to Paul and Wendy that night. Harvey remembers vividly the moment when Danny Drinkwater picked up a knock and Ranieri turned back to his bench. It was two days before his 19th birthday and he'd had never represented City’s first team.
Barnes with the items of memorabilia which mean to most to him.
He smiles: “I probably just looked around at the other lads to make sure he was wasn’t looking at anybody else first! This shirt brings back a time in my life when, yes I was quite young, but it was very special. There were a few nerves, but a lot of excitement as well. It meant a lot to be able to play at probably the biggest level in club football for Leicester City.”
Another item Harvey has collected is a Premier League ball in glass casing, engraved with the date which marks his top-flight debut for the Football Club. It was a 0-0 draw with Southampton at King Power Stadium in April 2017. It was only a one-minute cameo from the bench, following a successful loan spell at MK Dons. Nonetheless, it was an important milestone along the way to Harvey becoming an established member of City’s first team.
“From a young age, that’s a boy’s dream, just to be able to play in the Premier League,” he explains. “To be able to have that sort of memorabilia is obviously great. Leicester City has been a big part of my life. From being there from such a young age and having all the people around me at the Club… it’s a privilege. It’s so great to be where I am now. When you’ve been at a club for so long, to be able to see how everything has developed… dreaming of playing for the first team to being in the position I am now, the dreams you had have become a reality.
“You don’t think about it in those terms anymore. You don’t take it for granted, but you just get on with it because it’s part of your life, it’s your job. Being in the city and seeing how big the Football Club is in the city, it’s been great to be a part of it.”
Next up, there’s a weighty, rectangular trophy naming Harvey as the Premier League 2 Player of the Month for April in 2018. While undoubtedly a source of pride, the award evokes bittersweet memories. It was just a few weeks before that outing against Southampton on Filbert Way and Harvey had found himself back in the Club’s Development Squad after sampling the life of a day-to-day footballer with MK Dons in the Football League.
“It was obviously great to win that, but it was a difficult time as well,” he recalls. “I’d been on loan and was playing every week and then I went to being recalled and it didn’t really go to plan. I was back with the Under-23s for a period. I loved playing with the Leicester lads again. I’d grown up with them. I felt for myself, and even though it was difficult, I kept myself together and I got my head down and I tried to perform to the best of my ability. That was important for me to keep my head up and bounce back in a positive way. It’s good to have that memory.”
The final treasured possession is his maiden England Under-21s cap. Players who represent their country at any level still receive caps, emblazoned with the three noble lions which are now synonymous with English identity. Legend has it they date back to the reign of Henry I – a 12th century king known as the lion of England. Initially, there was just one lion, but Henry I married Adeliza of Louvain, whose father also had a lion on his shield, and so another was added. When Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine, who also had a lion on her family crest, two became three and England has forever since bore that symbol as a source of courage.
The Academy graduate hopes one day to add an England cap to his collection.
Harvey’s cap sits on the floor near his television in a room reserved for relaxation upstairs. Its presence there is designed to be a regular reminder of what he’s achieved so far in his fledgling career – and a reason to be hopeful that one day, it’ll be joined by a senior cap.
“It’s always a nice reminder to have that sort of stuff around the house,” Harvey says. “Just talking now between taking the pictures, I’ve been able to go through what’s happened and all the steps I’ve taken already. It only makes you more ambitious to go on and achieve more.”
There’s so much to be proud of already for the lad from Countesthorpe who battled against players a year older than him to earn a place at Leicester City’s Academy, but there’s a hunger to do more, which sits effortlessly alongside a humble, unassuming and endearing personality.
“After training, I usually stop off at my mum and dad’s place for a quick coffee and have a catch up with them,” he adds. “It’s nice to talk things through with them, just like I did when I was a kid playing for my local team. If I’m not too tired and the weather’s alright, I’ll try and get on the golf course. There’s a little group of us that play together, so I play as much as I can. I’m not great but I have a go! A few of the players join us sometimes, but apart from that I live the quiet life really. Like most people do, if I’m tired, I’ll get myself on the sofa, get Netflix on, stick a series on and relax. I’ve just finished Money Heist and I’ve watched all of Stranger Things as well. As soon as I start something, that’s me gone, I’ll finish it in no time!”
It's quite clear, as we end our conversation and say our goodbyes, that Harvey Barnes isn’t finished yet. For the lad who fans call one of their own, the story has only just begun.
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