A BEGINNER's GUIDE to BARROW AFC

Or, in the language of the medium,
Frequently Asked Questions

• Who or what is Barrow AFC?

Barrow AFC is the best non-League football club in the whole of the North of England. It has some of the best players, one of the best grounds, and the best supporters in all of non-League football and, despite the setbacks suffered in the first eight months of 1999, is one day destined to reclaim its rightful place in the Football League. The club's home gate is the always the largest by far in the UniBond League (often three or four times greater than the second best crowd, and accounting for 30-35% of the total audience in the League on any particular Saturday) and travelling support at away games is second to none. In fact, Barrow are among the top dozen non-League clubs in the country in terms of average home attendances every season.

• What are the setbacks of 1999 that you refer to above?

There's far too much information for this one page to do justice to this particular topic, so a chronology of a year in which the club suffered more ups and downs that the proverbial bride's nightie is as far away as the previous link. Well, you did ask. I hope you're browsing this at a cheap rate time, because if you take this route, you'll be here for a while yet (but you'll probably find its worth it!).

• Yes, but isn't it a bit sad following a little non-League team such as Barrow?

Not at all. If you're a true football fan you follow the club from the town of your birth. In our case it happens to be Barrow. It's nothing to do with choice; you're born there so you follow your local team through thick and thin. When you follow a club like Barrow you see a lot of lean times, but you always hope that good times are just around the corner.

In any case, most 'supporters' of all the big clubs - the Manchester Uniteds and Arsenals of this world - must only ever see these teams on television anyway. So, if anything, I often think that, despite their undoubted and frequent successes, it must be ultimately far more pathetic and unfulfilling following a really big club, who in the end, you really have no connection with. Though Nick Hornby's 'Fever Pitch' remains the definitive insight into the psychology of the obsessive supporter, I'm still at a loss as to how he can become so passionate about the lumbering monolith that is Arsenal Football Club. Basically, they've just got too many fans! With a club like Barrow, however, you're much closer to everything; you feel more a part of it, I'm sure. Though none of Beans! main writers know any of the players personally, we all know people who do, and you always see the players in the bar after a game. How many Manchester United fans have seen David Beckham in the pub, or down the local cake shop (or even serving in it? Ed.) getting in a few meat pies on a Friday lunchtime?

• 'A lot of lean times' you say. So have Barrow ever won anything?

Yes, a few things, most notably the FA Trophy in 1990, the first ex-League club to win the premier honour in the semi-professional game. Aside from that, the club have been Northern Premier League Champions on three occasions - in 1984, 1989 and 1998. Back in our Football League days, the club's only real success was gaining promotion to the old Third Division in 1967. And, er... that's it, as they say, although the club do hold a surprising number of other, more esoteric, football records, which we explore in more detail on another page titled, curiously enough, 'The Barrow Book of Records'.

• I see the button for your home page features a little roadsign of Holker St. So, where is Holker St. and what is it?

Turn right at the end of the Barrow railway station access road, and you are on Holker St. Walk about half a mile to the top of the road, crossing over at some point, and you reach Holker St. stadium, home of Barrow AFC, in the shadow of the largest slagbank in Western Europe. Well, it was the biggest until they carted it away to build motorways with it. You can only just see the top of it behind the roof of the Sports and Leisure Club now. Currently Holker St. stadium is the subject of legal wranglings to establish just exactly who the true owners of the ground are.

• What is the Sports and Leisure Club and what is its significance?

The Sports and Leisure Club is located in a concrete blockhouse at what is still known by true supporters of the club as the Steelworks End, despite there not having been a steelworks behind that end of the ground since its closure in the 1970s, and there not being any spectator accommodation there since the stand and terracing had to be demolished for safety reasons during the club's darkest days early in the same decade. As the changing rooms in the old wooden grandstand were not up to standard, new facilities were needed. So the directors built the Sports and Leisure Club on the ruins of the old Steelworks End terracing, right behind the goal, thereby reducing the ground capacity and ruining the atmosphere forever in one short-sighted move.

Former chairman Stephen Vaughan restored four steps of terracing in front of the Sports and Leisure Club, and a roof was bought from Bradford City with plans to cover the new steps during the close season, though where this roof is now is anybody's guess. If some cover were to be erected at this end of the ground it would go some way to restoring Holker St. to something approaching its former glory.

Unfortunately many of those who should know better - namely various journalists and Soccerline presenters - now insist on referring to this side of the ground as the Sports and Leisure End. As the aforementioned steelworks were at one time the largest in the world, you do wonder what sense of history these people have. Attempting to change the name of the Steelworks End by stealth is bad enough. Replacing it with a reference to an ill-built and aesthetically displeasing carbuncle defies belief.

• Who have been Barrow's greatest managers?

This is another question that would swell the page, so we have prepared another to answer this one separately, just as far away as this link.

• Who are your main local rivals?

Good question, for we have a bit of a problem when it comes to local rivals. As Barrow is famously 'at the end of a 35 mile cul de sac', then strictly we don't have any, although there is another non-League club in the town. In recent years Holker Old Boys have progressed from local football to the NorthWest Trains League, but it would be disingenuous to claim there was any significant rivalry between the two clubs. Barrow have played them once in a competitive match, a few seasons ago in the ATS Lancashire Trophy. But there was no real edge or sense of a local derby match; it was more a family get together than Rangers v Celtic.

Back in our Football League days we regarded Workington as our hated rivals, although more often than not the Reds were in Division Three and we were in Division Four. Strange too, that such intense rivalry could be generated by supporters living sixty miles away from each other, more than an hour's journey. The sad demise of Workington has removed that source of competition, and no other Cumbrian side has replaced them. Like Workington now, Netherfield Kendal and Penrith, the county's other non-League clubs, remain rooted to the base of the pyramid, so aside from the occasional cup draw we never get to play them either.

Thus, we have to travel down the Southbound carriageway of the M6 into our spiritual home of Lancashire for our derby matches: Lancaster City and Bamber Bridge. But, yet again there has been no real history of regular meetings against these clubs to build up a tradition of local rivalry. In fact, many fans would probably regard Morecambe as our main rivals, but we have only met twice in league competition in recent years - in the Conference in 1998-99. Even the animosity of many diehard anti-Shrimps may have been diluted somewhat as Morecambe were one of only two clubs who voted against the Conference's decision to kick Barrow out in 1999.

I suppose that in the end the answer to this question may well be 'Barrow RLFC.'

• Barrow Rugby League Club? What, you hate them?

Well, one of Barrow supporters' favourite terrace anthems is 'We only hate Barrow rugby', to the tune of Guantanamera. But I suppose the, er... honest answer is that we don't detest them all that much really, either. Especially in recent years, when rugby league in the town has been so uninspiring. This is not to say there isn't a long tradition of rivalry between the two codes in Barrow, which was for so long considered a 'rugby town'. This probably goes back to the rugby's halcyon days in the 1950's. Those of you who have parents who grew up in Barrow in that decade will know all about those, through interminable retellings of the exploits of the 'great Frank Lewthwaite' and the 'legendary Willie Horne', etc., etc.

• Okay, but every club has its heroes and villains. Who are yours?

Again, there are too many to mention here, so we've linked this question to a further page. And as you would expect, a club with nearly a century's worth of history has gathered quite a few heroes and villains in its time, and although a couple of these have been mentioned previously in the 'greatest managers' section above, our choice is listed below...

You want heroes, we got 'em...

• There are one or two other names I've heard of in connection with Barrow AFC who aren't so easy to categorise as heroes or villains. For example, who is Hezza and what happened to him?

Tony Hesketh took over as manager of the club in 1993 but despite maintaining a position in the top four for the first half of this season and getting the team to the Second Round of the 1995-96 FA Cup, he seemed to be out of his depth and unable to get the players to come together as a team. Following a run of disastrous results he resigned at the end of March 1996 and joined Morecambe as assistant manager. At the time of writing, he is manager of Lancaster City.

• Who is Owen Brown and what happened to him?

Owen Brown took over as manager of the club in 1996, following the brief tenure of Hesketh's successor, Mick Walsh. Despite achieving both the UniBond championship and getting the team to the quarter final of the 1998 FA Trophy, he seemed out of his depth in the Conference and unable to get the players to come together as a team. Following the departure of Stephen Vaughan (see below), his days were always going to be numbered, and so it proved. Despite a run in which it looked as if he might turn things round, he was relieved of his position in January 1999. He later joined Altrincham in a coaching capacity, which is where he remains to this day.

• Who is Stephen Vaughan and what is going to happen to him?

We've refrained from listing Stephen Vaughan among our heroes and villains above, as we present both the prosecution and the defence cases elsewhere on this site, but there is little doubt about which side of the argument the majority of Barrow supporters favour on that one.

Vaughan is a Liverpool businessman and boxing promoter who was Barrow AFC chairman from 1995 to 1999, when he was, in effect, lord and master of anything that moved in Holker St. Vaughan's involvement was initially as main club sponsor, but it wasn't long before he bought the club lock, stock and barrel from former chairman and majority shareholder, the late Bill McCullough. Vaughan finally resigned in December 1999 pending investigation by Cumbria Constabulary into the workings of a share issue in the club that he had instigated. His resignation immediately sent Barrow AFC into the worst of the many financial crises in its history, as a local company served a winding up order on the club for an unpaid bill of £44,000 for ground improvement works incurred under his stewardship. Though the worst of those days are over, it is still not inconceivable that he may yet go down in history as the man who killed off Barrow AFC.

Persistent rumours allege that the investigative net is closing around Vaughan and that it is only a matter of a time before one or other of our law enforcement agencies have enough evidence to haul him in and at least charge him with something, but so far we have been denied the satisfaction of seeing this happen.

Updated from issue 026 - May 1996

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