In January 2014, Jake Barker-Daish was given the tap on the shoulder by former Adelaide United boss Josep Gombau.

He was told he would be starting his first game of the 2013-14 A-League Men season against Sydney FC in-front of a boisterous crowd at Hindmarsh Stadium.

The then 20-year-old midfielder was given a simple instruction.

“I finally got my start and Josep (Gombau) told me I had to mark Del Piero,” Barker-Daish told the PFA.

“It was like: ‘awesome’. I had a really good game, I scored and that day I was walking off the field going ‘how good is this’.”


It was Barker-Daish’s breakout game. The moment which was supposed to catapult his promising career into the next stratosphere.

However, it was the complete opposite. 

“The next day my foot was sore as I got on the plane with the Olyroos,” he reflected.

“But as I was walking off the pitch, I was just on cloud nine and if anyone had told me that day it would be your last professional game ever… it was impossible, but it was.”

Barker-Daish never played another game of professional football again; a fledgling career – which promised so much when he was named Australian Institute of Sport Player of the Year in 2011 and was signed as a junior by Gold Coast United – cut short by a myriad of injuries.

“My body just started breaking down a bit. I had osteitis pubis and I found out I had a form of arthritis, where parts of my body would inflame and I had a really bad issue in my foot,” he said.

“It was quite a complex situation because I started getting some really good minutes with Josep and he was really proud of how I was shifting my gear to his style and I started getting utilised more but I couldn’t walk off the field. I would pretty much go home, wake up in the morning and ice my foot.

“I remember Jonny McKain walked into the change room and I had my foot on ice and he goes ‘icing foot before training Jakey boy, that’s never good’. I just thought, ‘ah, that’s not good’, but i kept playing because it was the last six months of my contract and I just felt like I needed more runs on the board to be signed.

“I’d get by on painkillers, all sorts of things. It was like a rock in my foot, and as the day went on, it would ease off,” he continued.

“But the more that I’d play on it, I’d have more of that sort of rock feeling in your feet, and limp… I had to wear these really thick shoes to walk around. It was crazy.

“This is probably the naive nature of being a kid and not having the support system around me, to understand just own up to it, you will get another contract, you’re young, all that sort of stuff… I was very desperate and it just came back to bite me because once I got back from the Olyroos I actually couldn’t move.

“Then probably a few weeks later, Josep said we were contemplating re-signing you but we are going to go a different way and I want to tell you now. In his defence, he told me in March or April so I could get another club, and that was that with Adelaide.”

Barker-Daish didn’t give up on his dream after he was released by Adelaide in the middle of 2014.

Trials in Australia and abroad arose, but unfortunately, nothing eventuated of those opportunities, namely at the Western Sydney Wanderers during the halcyon days of their early existence.

“I hadn’t played in six months because when I got back it was in January and then I had to basically wait until pre-season of A-League until I could start trialling or training again,” he said.

“I trained at Western Sydney with Tony Popovic… before they won the Asian Champions League. I remember training really well and impressing him, and then we played a game. I hadn’t played in so long that the soccer ball felt like a golf ball to me. It just felt like what is this, it’s a new sport, I was so out of it.

“I remember being so cut at the time, because when that trial finished, I recall no one at that club even said ‘nah you’re not in’, they just said nothing. That silence as a kid was so heartbreaking. I would rather someone tell me I was s*** or [tell me] things to go away work on type of thing just to help me. I didn’t get anything, and I thought s*** I’m going to struggle here.

“The A-League at the time… there was a statistic around that time about players under the age of 21 was only a small component of the league. I went overseas, had a trial over there with five or six different clubs and I probably wasn’t good enough. In the end, I thought I got close to one club, Oldham in League One, they almost signed me but they got a player on loan from Villa at the last minute, so there were all these things happening.

“At that point, that was when I started to fall out of love with football. I was thinking ‘what am I doing’, this two-three year journey has been hell. I can’t walk. I had a really bad knee injury when I was on trial there. I was living there with another family, no social life, no job, no nothing. I just started going to a really dark place so at that point I just decided to come home and play NPL and I was just trying to reconnect with the sport.”

Barker-Daish attempted to resurrect his career in 2016 with Victorian juggernauts South Melbourne in NPL Victoria, where he was part of the side that won the Premiership, before joining Richmond, where he won the club’s best and fairest.

Moves to Melbourne Knights and Moreland Zebras (now, known as Brunswick Juventus) followed, but his body continued to let him down.

“I knew I had the ability, but the connection to the game was really gone by then,” he said.

“I just didn’t enjoy it. Playing in the NPL, the style of play, it felt like a chore. The team I was at South Melbourne, we actually won the league that year and I just remember feeling nothing when we won it and it was at that point where I started to think ‘I don’t know if I want to play this anymore’.

“The next year I played at Richmond, I probably had the best year and that reconnection [with football] to my life. 

“I remember the last game, the stuff that was happening in my foot, started happening in my hip… At the time no one could tell me what was wrong with me. I went for checks for cancer, for bloods, for everything.

“I ended up seeing someone for rheumatoid arthritis, it’s a crippling arthritis to have for a young person. They found a mild form, but it wasn’t rheumatoid. At that point, it was like, if you keep going it’s only going to get worse, but it was quite such a serious hip injury which is why I never took football seriously after that.

“I look back now and I just wish I was more patient. I wish I had that wise head on me, because I thought it was make or break. I was so used to, and it was like a curse, ticking all these boxes as a young kid making every state and rep team, and national team, and then having disappointment when you make it to the top because it’s more of an even playing field.

“I think it was the injuries… there was so much down time, so much alone time and you see the people around you progressing, which is what I wanted to do. I needed to be more patient but I wasn’t.”

But Barker-Daish’s football journey didn’t end there. In fact, he rediscovered his love for the game via a different medium. Podcasting.

Barker-Daish launched The Unlaced Podcast in 2021, where he interviews figures within sport, business and entertainment on a weekly basis.

Some of his guests have included former youth team teammate and all-time leading A-Leagues goalscorer Jamie Maclaren, Melbourne City star Tolgay Arslan, former Socceroo Ljubo Milicevic, Collingwood premiership players such as Steele Sidebottom, Isaac Quaynor and Tom Mitchell, along with Melbourne Storm gun Ryan Papenhuyzen.

Through his work interviewing footballers – past and present – in particular it’s helped Barker-Daish find the closure he was craving.

“It’s strange, when I came out of the game, I never thought I would have done that. I genuinely despised football,” he said.

“I didn’t watch a game for three or four years, I couldn’t face it, I couldn’t see people I played with doing really well and doing things I wish I could have been doing.

“I was really happy for them but it was just really tough to take. To be full 360, doing podcasts with them and more content around the game, and stuff now is kind of wholesome in a sense, getting some closure on the outcome and also reconnecting the game, where I can see the good in it from a new light and be happy for everyone that’s doing really well.

“The podcast was just a platform at the time. I think it was a bit of a release for me, to just speak about some of my experiences but understanding that even though I didn’t achieve everything, players that did achieve everything go through a lot of the same stuff that I went through.

“I remember speaking to Jon McKain and he finished his career on his own terms. A Socceroo, captained A-League sides, played in Europe, the Middle East and he still suffered with all the things that I suffered with when I came out of the game.

“That’s when I thought there’s something to talk about and utilise, so it was really built on athlete transition at the start, but it’s not a wide variety show with many different sports, and having a laugh, and just learning more about the athlete as a performer in their field.”