‘Meeting the opposition’ – Barrow A.F.C
On Saturday afternoon, Keith Hill’s Tranmere Rovers played host to Barrow A.F.C in a League Two encounter. The last time the two clubs met the game finished in a dull 1-1 draw, to give Rovers any chance of an automatic promotion place come the end of the season they will need to win this time round. The visitors will have plans of their own, as they look to get a win that pushes them further away from the relegation zone. To get an in-depth insight into the Bluebirds’ on and off field position, as well as much more, I spoke to my creative media teacher Stephen Fallows who starts by telling me what his time as a fan has been like.
How long have you been a Barrow supporter and when/how did you first come across the club?
The first games I remember going to would be back in 1987 / 88. Possibly Enfield at home with friends from school. Can’t remember too much about it, but it was towards the end of the season and just remember loving the atmosphere and seeing Cowps (see question 3) score at the goal we were standing behind and it got me hooked.
Highest and lowest points across that time?
There have been plenty of highs. The two wins at Wembley were obviously special, more so 2010 when we were up against Stevenage, who had already won the league and were huge favourites for the game. To see Jason Walker (a Barrow born player) scoring a cup final winner at Wembley in extra time from outside the area was amazing (quality goal too). The FA Cup 3rd Rd trips were good as well. 7 / 8 thousand fans going over to Middlesbrough (2009) and Sunderland (2010) were great days out too.
One of the lows lead to a lot of those highs. In 2007/8 were in the bottom three of the National League North and looking dead certs for relegation. We were really struggling and there was no sign of anything changing. One particular game, I think it was Hyde United at home and we were 3-0 down at half time and it was raining, absolutely awful day and terrible game. Hyde wasn’t even that good, they just took the many chances we gave them. One of those days when you almost reconsider your life choices. Then, when the board decided a change was needed, they appointed Dave Bayliss and Darren Sheridan to be joint player managers. They took us on a 24-game unbeaten run and took us into the playoffs where we beat Stalybridge Celtic and got back into the National League. From there we had three or four amazing years in league and cups.
Random fact about the Bluebirds?
Legendary striker Colin Cowperthwaite (or ‘God’ to give him his rightful title) holds the record for the fastest goal in English football. He scored in 3.5 seconds against Kettering Town in 1979.
What were your expectations going into the season and what are they now the campaign’s coming to an end?
Obviously moving into League Two was going to be a big step up for a team that weren’t expected to challenge for the National League title last year. I said right from the start that I would be happy with 22nd (which is where we are now) and I would still be happy with that. Stay up and prepare for next season, which will hopefully be less chaotic.
Rob Kelly is currently the caretaker manager of Barrow and has been since the sacking of Michael Jolley in late February. However, David Dunn was the one that started the season. What are your thoughts on the departures of Jolley and Dunn and what has Kelly brought to the club so far?
I thought that it was maybe too early to get rid of David Dunn. We were losing games, but only by the odd goal, and despite being down the wrong end of the table, we still haven’t been heavily beaten yet. We had a new manager and a lot of new players and starting in a new division. It was going to take time to adjust to all of them, so I was sorry to see Dunn leave so early. He was very magnanimous about it all too and has remained on good terms with fans on social media, being very supportive when Michael Jolley was sacked. The whole Jolley situation seems like it was a desperate grab to move out of trouble. We signed a lot of players and again had to take time adapting to new players and management style again, and there wasn’t a chance for that to happen as he was gone really quickly, So Rob Kelly has done an excellent job in getting us to where we are. Whether he stays on is up to him, but I think most fans and the board would love him to stay longer.
Who owns the club and what are your thoughts on them?
We have a board that for the first time in a long time, looks like they can take the club places without being too reckless. We recovered from an awful financial position back in the early 2000’s and at the time Brian Keen did a great job over the next ten years, but the finances weren’t there to take us to the next level after the cup runs. Then we had a Barrow born millionaire living in Texas for a while who promised a lot, but nothing really came of that. Then current boss Paul Hornby came on board and everything you hear from the club since then is positive. Even bad news is delivered in an open and optimistic way, so the fans know what the club is going through and where we are. When they have needed a cash input, such as during the pandemic, they have said what they need and why they need and have told us what they have estimated to lose during this last year and how they are trying to limit those losses, so the fans have been very supportive and raised a fair amount of money when needed. They obviously care about the club and the fans, and as we have seen with all the Super League talk, owners like that are hard to find.
Your danger men?
It’s hard to look past Scott Quigley as the main threat. He has found it hard at times this year, especially after losing players around like John Rooney him that made us such a potent attacking threat last season, but he is a handful and one of those forwards you wouldn’t enjoy playing against. Lewis Hardcastle would have been a definite name to mention, but he recently had to retire after taking ill during a game and discovering he had a heart problem. At the moment, it is a team effort and we have a few players capable of getting goals, so it’s not all dependent on Quigley.
The last time the two clubs came head-to-head was the final game of 2020 and it finished in a 1-1 draw. What were your thoughts on that game?
It was a difficult game. We were on a poor run and a new manager (It was Michael Jolley’s first game I think) had come in, so was happy to get the point and we could have got a late winner if I remember rightly. One of those games we have had a lot of this year, could so easily have won, and also have lost as well.
How do you see the upcoming game panning out? (Score prediction etc) and why, if you do, do you think this game will pose more questions than the previous meeting?
I think it will be close. Just by going through Barrow’s season so far. To be that low in the table and have a goal difference of –6 is pretty good going. If we keep up our recent form we have a chance, but we must be careful not to leave too many opportunities for Tranmere. It’s going to be a tough game with Tranmere going for promotion, but I reckon we can get something from the game. Every point counts for us now so I would be happy with a draw but can see Barrow grabbing a win too if we play to our strengths.
What eleven do you think will be selected for Barrow and what game plan do you think your interim gaffer will choose to play with?
Since Rob Kelly took over, we have been pretty decent at the back, soaked up a lot of pressure and never given up looking for a goal. We had a lot of games where we lost late goals and dropped a lot of points, but Kelly has turned that around with a fair amount of late goals picking points up for us. As for the team, Dixon, Eardley, Brough, Thomas, Taylor and Quigley should be there, but we seem to be building a decent squad so whoever plays seems to fit into the system well.
Thoughts on Tranmere? The club in general.
I like them. They seem to be very well run and building on what they have without risking the club, which a lot of lower and non-league teams seem to do. Great ground (it did seem very strange going there for the FA Trophy and National League games) and seems like a very community lead club, and the fans seem cool too. Have shared a few pints with some over the games I’ve seen at Prenton Park, and hopefully will enjoy a few more trips there as it’s my local ground now.
What are your thoughts on Barrow’s January transfer business? More often than not this plays a vital role in determining whether the club can achieve their late found ambitions.
I think it was all a bit rushed with a new manager coming in and adding to a squad that was already adapting to the previous influx of players from the summer. We brought in eight in the summer, then another seven I think in January, so when Rob Kelly took over, he had a group of players that weren’t settled and were having to adapt to their third managers tactics and training in just a matter of months.
One player that may face his former club this weekend is former Rovers midfielder and promotion winner, Ollie Banks. What are your thoughts on his time at the club thus far and what does he bring to the team?
It’s early days, but he does look useful. He has had a couple of rough games early on, but this has been part of a side that has been struggling but seems to be coming good just at the right time. I heard good things about him from Tranmere fans when he signed, and if he turns out to be as good as they said, we could have ourselves a great player.
Creative midfielder, Ollie Banks during his time at Tranmere Rovers. In this picture, Rovers are playing against Leicester City U21s in the Papa John’s Trophy. The 28-year-old became a Bluebird in January, after playing a vital part in the Whites’ promotion to League One in 2019.