Who or what is Cowps?

Cowps is the legendary Colin Cowperthwaite who played more than 500 games and scored over 200 goals in the no.9 shirt for Barrow between 1979 and 1992. Such mythical powers have led to his being referred to as God, or at the very least, as an alternative to the Almighty in phrases such as "Cowps! What a great goal."

• Who is Ray Wilkie and why is he so revered by Barrow supporters?

Ray Wilkie was Barrow manager from March 1986 to November 1991. Though he was appointed too late in the 1985-86 season to prevent Barrow's relegation from the Conference (then the Gola League), he slowly built up a squad of players that would give Barrow its most successful ever spell in non-League, culminating in winning the Northern Premier League Championship in 1989 and the FA Trophy in 1990.

The following year, Barrow reached the Third Round of the FA Cup, only losing 1-0 in a close match with Bolton Wanderers at Burnden Park, and achieved a very respectable tenth place in the Conference. The club looked set to consolidate on this position to become a fixture in that League, but the 1991-92 season saw Wilkie's core squad aging, and a poor start was confounded when Wilkie was taken ill in November 1991. Hopes that he would make a swift recovery were soon dashed when the nature of the illness was discovered and he passed away in November 1992.

Ray's achievement was all the more remarkable considering he had hardly any material resources to draw on at Barrow. Ironically, it was his perception of Barrow as a big club that led him to leave Gateshead in the first place. 'Doing his homework' was obviously not one of Ray's strong points. Not that it mattered, of course. For example, he never bothered too much about researching his opponents, preferring instead to play to the strengths of the team he was managing. Famously too, the Barrow team rarely, if ever, trained together, but as players we have interviewed have testified, Ray's managerial skills were sufficient to motivate the team into a cohesive and effective unit when it mattered - on matchdays. It was these relaxed, yet awesome, methods, which the Guardian once described as 'Corinthian' that led his good friend Jack Charlton, then Northern Ireland manager of course, to describe him as 'the best manager in the country.'

When Ray died, further tributes poured in. No less than three obituaries/ appreciations were published in the following issue (015) of Give 'Em Beans!, including one by the present writer who felt it was not hyperbolic to suggest that, much in the manner of the Kennedy or Lennon assassinations, or even Barrow's expulsion from the Football League, most Barrow supporters would be able to remember the circumstances in which they learnt of his passing.

In 1994 the stretch of Devonshire Road between the Holker St. traffic lights and Walney Road was renamed Wilkie Road in his honour, and the new covering of the popular side bears the name the 'Wilkie Stand'.

• Who is Kenny Lowe?

Kenny Lowe was undoubtedly Ray Wilkie's best signing for the club. He first joined Barrow in October 1987 having played for Hartlepool, Billingham Town, Gateshead, Morecambe, and Spearwood Dalmatic in Australia. His form quickly attracted renewed interest from League sides, but after two months with Scarborough, he returned to Holker Street in January 1988.

Lowe was a commanding figure in midfield, one of his most effective games being the 1990 FA Trophy final against Leek Town. He also scored one of the very best goals ever seen at Holker Street in the semi-final against Colne Dynamos, arcing the ball over the defence and goalkeeper into the net from about thirty yards.

One of Lowe's biggest fans in those days was Barry Fry, then manager of Barnet. Fry signed him for the Bees in January 1991 for £40,000, which remains the record sum paid for a Barrow player. Lowe went on to win England semi-pro international honours while helping Barnet achieve Football League status. When Fry left Underhill to become manager of Birmingham City, Lowe was again one of his first signings. Following Fry's departure here, Lowe moved to Hartlepool, and then gained his first taste of football management as Gateshead coach in 1998-99.

In August 1999 he returned to Barrow as team manager, where he has succeeded in creating an entertaining side, given the constraints the club are under. A further honour came when he was named in the best non-League side of the last decade in Team Talk in late 1999.

Who is Eddie Johnston?

Eddie Johnston joined Barrow from Knowsley United in August 1997 and soon established himself as a Holker St favourite with his toothy grin and lolloping gait, and although he eventually left the club to join Stalybridge Celtic during the uncertainties of the 1999 close season, there are a number of reasons why he will always be guaranteed a special place in the fans' affections...

  • The last minute header that knocked Northwich out of the FA Trophy to put Barrow through to two epic quarter-final games against Dover.
  • His great performance in goal against Runcorn on 4 April 1998. After just fifteen minutes of perhaps the most important league match of the season, with the Linnets breathing down Barrow's necks in the league, goalkeeper Steve Farrelly received a bad cut to his neck and had to go off. With no substitute goalkeeper on the bench, Eddie immediately volunteered to take his place and went on to become the hero of the day by turning in a great display. He collected crosses like he'd played in goals all his life and made at least two quality saves that ensured Runcorn could not reply to Lee Cooper's match winning 46th minute goal. It was Barrow's 22nd clean sheet of the season.
  • Just the fact that he's still playing at all has something to do with it, I'm sure, for he was already 37 when he joined the club in 1997.
  • When Barrow went into liquidation in January 1999, Johnston was one of only four first team regulars who didn't head for the exit.

The other three players who stayed with the club through to the end of the season all deserve a mention at this point. They were defenders Dave Higgins and Paul Jones, and striker Ian Foster. Foster scored many crucial goals in the final third of the season, including one of those against Kidderminster on the last day that enabled the club to stay out of the Conference relegation places. Ironically, he later joined the Harriers, becoming their leading scorer the following season.

Who is Brian Keen and what has been his achievement?

Brian Keen is the managing director of Scurrah Nassau, a local engineering company, whose life took a surprising turn in January 1999 because of his refusal to let Barrow AFC bite the dust. When the club was placed in receivership with debts of up to £500,000, the death of semi-professional football in the town was imminent. But, although the first to admit he wasn't a fanatical supporter, Brian Keen wasn't about to let that happen. "When that day came I thought that's Barrow finished," he has said, "I don't think people realise how close it was to being all over.' So he picked up the phone and made two calls, one to chartered accountant Geoff Smith at JL Winder and another to solicitor Alan Dunn of Poole Townsend. Those two calls are among the most significant ever made in the entire history of Barrow AFC, leading to the immediate formation of a consortium that was able to underwrite to the satisfaction of the official liquidator the cost of Barrow's remaining Conference matches that season. Meanwhile the consortium set about to guarantee the club's long term future by creating a non-profit making trust, Barrow AFC (1999) Ltd, to take over the affairs of the club once the receiver had wound up the old company.

Keen and his partner Alan Dunn's achievement in keeping the soccer alive through what must have been protracted and draining negotiations with the liquidator, Football Association, Conference and UniBond Leagues throughout the year was rewarded with a special honour at the Cumbria Sports Awards in December 1999.

• Who is Colin Appleton and what was his achievement?

Ah, now we're going back a bit. Colin Appleton became Barrow manager in the 1967 close season as successor to Don McEvoy. McEvoy had just guided the club to its first ever promotion from Division Four, but this had obviously got him noticed elsewhere and he found an offer from Grimsby Town too good to turn down. Although Appleton was only 30 and taking on his first managerial position when he joined Barrow, he had both top coaching qualifications and a distinguished playing career spanning fourteen years. He had captained Leicester City in their 1963 FA Cup Final defeat against Manchester United, and immediately prior to joining Barrow was captain at Second Division Charlton Athletic. Appleton was an immediate success, in his first season the club finished eighth in the League only five points shy of a promotion place, having briefly topped the table at one point, and never falling below halfway. There was cup success too as Barrow reached the Third Round of both the FA and League Cups, and the final of the Lancashire Cup. At Christmas the following season, the club were in seventh place, with promotion still a possibility, but shortly after Appleton was forced to resign due to ill health in January 1969.


• Okay, so who is Norman Bodell and what did he do to earn all this opprobrium?

Norman Bodell came from a coaching position with Altrincham to replace Colin Appleton as Barrow manager in the second half of the 1968-69 season. Almost immediately, Barrow started to tumble down Division Three, only just escaping relegation at the end of the season. After making a number of new signings during the close season, he must have hoped for some improvement in 1969-70, but it was not to be. After 22 League games with only one victory, and supporters drifting away due to lack of success, Bodell was relieved of his position. Too late, for at the end of that season, Barrow were relegated and found themselves back in Division Four. Thus, he is widely held responsible for heralding the decline that ultimately led to Barrow's failure to gain re-election in 1972.

• Why do you hate Hereford United with such intensity?

Hereford United replaced Barrow in Division Four in 1972 on the strength of an FA Cup run during which they famously defeated Newcastle United in the third round. But the whole re-election thing was mishandled at best, and fixed at worst. On the first count at the League's AGM, the votes were equally split between Barrow and Hereford. League rules say that in that event, the league club is re-elected. But on this occasion, the big clubs were so keen to get Hereford in and us out that a second ballot was held. We lost.

However, we've had the last laugh because in the intervening years, they've won exactly ßµ¿¿*® all and have since made the return to non-League. Meanwhile, we have won the FA Trophy once and the Northern Premier League three times. And in due course, we will turn the tables by regaining our rightful place in the Football League, though it's too late now, of course, to kick them out at the same time.

• Why do you describe yourselves as Lancastrians when the postal address shows that Barrow-in-Furness is in Cumbria?

Okay, here beginneth the history lesson. Barrow-in-Furness and the surrounding districts of Furness and Cartmel have been part of Lancashire since the Middle Ages and the Wars of the Roses. Separated from the rest of Lancashire by a wedge of Westmorland (the countryside between Arnside and Levens Village at the head of Morecambe Bay), the area was effectively isolated from the rest of England by the mountains of the Lake District to the north, the Irish Sea to the west and south and Morecambe Bay in the east. Few people ventured the forty miles west from the main route to Scotland to explore the undulating, difficult terrain of Furness and Cartmel. There were no roads and all journeys to and from the area had to be made across the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay at low tide. Many a stagecoach got caught in the sinking sands of the Bay as the patterns of the channels and crossings altered with every tide. In the nineteenth century with the coming of the railway, the exploitation of the rich iron ore deposits and the growth of the shipyards, ironworks and steelworks the sleepy fishing hamlet of Barrow was transformed into a thriving, bustling industrial town in the space of just thirty years.

All that happened while we were part of Lancashire. Journeys northward were slow and difficult due to the lakes and mountains. For this reason, Carlisle has never been the obvious regional centre for the folk of Furness. We have always looked south to the rest of Lancashire, despite being physically separated from it by the Bay.

In 1974, two years after Barrow AFC lost their rightful place in the Football League, we lost our historic links with Lancashire. The hated Tory government of Ted Heath imposed a re-organisation of local government on the whole country. In a move that wouldn't have been out of place in the centrally planned economies of Eastern Europe, the small counties were consigned to the dustbin of history in the name of efficiency and an attempt to equalise the population of each administrative region.

North Lancashire, the area occupied by Furness and Cartmel, was lumped together with Westmorland, Cumberland and parts of Yorkshire and Durham to form an unwieldy lump occupying half the width of the country. They called it Cumbria with its administrative headquarters at Carlisle.

All true Barrovians have never, ever recognised this unnecessary change. We were never consulted about it, nor asked our opinion. So we just ignore it. Give 'Em Beans! continues to use Lancashire in its address and we also put Lancashire on all letters and issues we post back to Barrow. We hope you follow suit too, on any letters you send to our editorial address in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire.

• Why do you hate speedway?

The introduction of a speedway track at Holker St. in 1970 completely ruined the ground and resulted in about six steps of terracing being removed from the Popular Side to fit the track around the football pitch. This ruined the drainage of the field and was a factor in us losing our League status in 1972. Finally, the speedway track was taken up and the pitch restored to its former glory. The six steps of terracing have been lost forever.

• We all know who Brian Kidd is, but what reason do Barrow fans have to list him among their villains?

For the same reason I would reasonably assume that Blackburn Rovers fans list him among theirs; managerial ineptitude. It is not widely known that Kidd's first post as a manager was at Barrow in the mid 1980s. After taking over in November 1984, it took him until February to record his first victory, a total of eight games without a win. Then in April he suddenly quit to become Tommy Booth's assistant manager at Preston, by which time the club had tumbled from a healthy mid-table position to be battling against relegation from the Alliance Premier League. In the end this was narrowly avoided, but during his four months in charge, he had completely changed the squad, finishing with a record of eight wins, six draws and nine defeats in 23 games.

A definitive account of Brian Kidd's time at Barrow AFC, written by club historian Phil Yelland, was published in Ralph Sheppard's Holker Street Newsletter no.287 dated 13 February 1999.

• Welling United, eh? What have they ever done to hurt you?

When Nuneaton Borough dropped out of the Conference in 1987 for financial reasons and St Albans City were denied promotion in 1993 because their ground was controversially denied the requisite grading, in both instances the club that was saved from relegation was Welling United. Welling again occupied the third Conference relegation place at the end of the 1998-99 season and again avoided the drop when the league voted to expel Barrow because the club had gone into liquidation in January of that year. We could probably just about live with that, but the fact that the same club have been saved from the same fate through the misfortune of others not once, but twice before is a little hard to take. Once is fortuitous, twice is coincidental, but the odds on this happening three times must be close to those required to win the lottery jackpot (one in 13,983,816).

Updated from issue 026 - May 1996