I feel a strange sort of guilt writing about Barrow AFC, a guilt perhaps shared by some Wimbledon supporters, relating to the manner in which they lost their league place. Its like being asked to write about a person your partner had a relationship before they met you, in your role as a usurper you have no business writing about the usurped. As far as Barrow were concerned it wasn’t Wimbledon who did the usurping, it was Hereford, but there’s still a little hint of recognition there, the manner we stole another clubs league place from under their noses (of course the use of the word ‘stole’ has been brought into context as far as we are concerned over the past few years…).
Although a lot of water has passed under the bridge, I always wonder whether Workington still bear us ill will (after all, it wasn’t our fault, it was the systems…), especially the manner in which the ‘Dons 4 Div 4’ campaign operated, cashing in on our location as a London suburb as well as our playing record. As Alan Batsford himself commented in Niall Coupers excellent collection of memories ‘The Spirit Of Wimbledon’, ‘…my abiding memory of that afternoon was the Workington people. They were devastated. Their whole world had been taken away from them and it was our fault.’
Perhaps it was less of an issue to Workington, who were themselves elected at New Brighton expense in 1951. Barrow spent over fifty years in the Football League, almost half of their history, and fewer and fewer of their supporters will remember them as such as the years go by. For a relatively isolated town of sixty thousand its easy to see where their future supporters will come from, perhaps the next step of returning to the League may become easier if the planned Morecambe Bay bridge is constructed, and better quality players are tempted over from footballs traditional breeding grounds of Liverpool and Manchester.
Of course a clubs Football League status, while an important part of their history, isn’t the be all and end all of their history. Barrow were formed back in 1908, and moved to their current ground Holker Street a year later. League football came in 1920, the club placed in the Third Division North, where they survived as perennial strugglers. The main highlight of their 50-year stay occurred in the late 60’s, when a third place finish in the now reorganised Division Four, and in 1969 they achieved their highest league finish of eighth in the Third Division. Remarkably it was only three years later that they lost their Football League place to Hereford.
Being elected out of the League was a very rare experience, and as a young child, despite my team having come from a Non-League background, I didn’t believe there was a route the other way, and simply assumed sides like Workington and Southport had gone out of existence altogether. Fortunately Barrow managed to regroup in the Northern Premier League, and became members of the Alliance Premier League in 1979, winning the FA Trophy at Wembley in 1981, beating Chorley 2-1. Since then they have yo-yoed between non-leagues top flight and the NPL.
Barrows future looked in doubt after Chairman Steven Vaughan (now desperately trying to offload Chester City…) stepped aside in 1999 after being investigated for money laundering. The Bluebirds found themselves forcibly relegated from the Conference, and it wasn’t until a month into the season they were admitted back into the NPL (this fortunately before the days of automatic two division relegations). That Barrow not only survived and consolidated, but eventually repurchased their Holker Street ground and found their way back into the Conference is a credit to the Members Company that took over the club, the fans in general and the town itself.
Sadly, before promotion the only headlines Barrow had made were following the jailing of defender James Cotterill after punching a Bristol Rovers player in an incident only caught by television cameras. But promotion was assured in the summer of 2008, beating Telford 4-0 on aggregate in the play-off semi final before winning promotion beating Stalybridge 1-0 in the final.
A more comprehensive club history can be found on the clubs website here – http://www.barrowafc.com/history_brief.php
Back in national football again, the club achieved its aim of consolidation last season with a strong average attendance of plus-1600. Although like a couple of clubs around them they found themselves pulled into relegation danger towards the end of the season, despite a run of only one defeat in ten games (unfortunately the defeat came at the hands of Woking, and all but three of the other results were drawn…).
But the season would be remembered more for their FA Cup run that saw them see for eventual League 2 champions Brentford at Holker Street in the Second Round, before taking 7,000 supporters over to Middlesborough in the third round, pushing the Premier League strugglers all the way before bowing out 2-1.
Barrow find themselves in a situation the management team at Wimbledon seem to be pondering at the moment – how and when to turn professional. While a pro contract should in theory attract a better quality of player to travel around Morecambe Bay, they seem to be looking towards a ‘ramp up’ to professialism. There’s no doubting the town can potentially support a fully professional team, but attendances, whilst impressive last term, cannot be allowed to drop this time around.
The clubs official website, featuring a weekly update, can be found here – http://www.barrowafc.com/index.php
A few months back on a visit to Gainsborough we drove passed the football ground and it immediately leapt onto my list of ‘grounds I must visit as a Wimbledon fan’ It may be sometime until cup draws are kind enough to allow me to visit Trinity, but checking the photos of Holker Street it strikes me as a typical old-style Northern lower league ground. So naturally Ill be creaming myself in anticipation of our away game (so perhaps best not to sit next to me on the coach/train…), which will undoubtedly take place on a Tuesday night in February, requiring a day off work…
A large home end, smaller away section and big old covered popular side (the kind of terrace I want to see the John Smith Stand converted to at some stage, perhaps it’ll end up more like the one at Stevenage but never mind, so long as its a terrace fit for people who don’t just fall into the ‘stinking of piss’ category).
Plus those huge floodlights! I’m going to look like one of those freaky ground hoppers when I get there, taking photos of turnstiles and sampling all available pie varieties… Naturally I’m jealous, despite the ground having a lower capacity than KM, that’s probably down to us exploiting every inch of space due to well signposted exits and strategically placed yellow markings on the floor. I think this one is going on the ‘must visit’ list!
Not yet available, but strongly rumoured to be rising from 08/09 prices. (10/5/09)
AFC era – None
All time Wimbledon – None
Another side we will be meeting for the first time this season!