The TT Groundhopping series continues as Luke Hunter talks us through his away day at Barrow:
Luke Hunter – @lukehunter8
You could have been forgiven for looking at the National League table back in August and perhaps feeling a little underwhelmed by our itinerary of away fixtures, not to mention the geographical spread of the opposition, which has been at best unfavourable. The TT Groundhopping series has echoed as such, with reflections returning from Halifax, Stockport, Fylde, Chorley and (the solitary southern anomaly) Eastleigh – places that I don’t believe Lonely Planet will be featuring in their top 100. Cumbria’s second largest urbanised area, Barrow-in-Furness is next, and I don’t believe they’ll be featuring that either.
Away days are funny; done properly; you might never have a bad one. Let us look at the equation, subtract a good match, location or venue and you still have an adventure, a reason to socialise and live football – that is always a good day. If you add a last minute winner, an enviable drinking town and a local rival, well, then it becomes a great day, but there is always the potential for an achievable ‘good’ standard.
If every other National League team wrote their first short review of the Barrow experience, there would be 22 reports screaming shit town, shit weather, shit match – especially this season, where it really is fortress Holker Street. This was my hat-trick visit (0-0, 1-1 prior) so I knew exactly what to expect. The town indisputably suffers from a wide range of social issues and as far as depravation rankings go, it is never too far from the bottom, but as I endeavour to remain as positive as possible, I’ll report back on what, as I reflect post-match, was actually a certified ‘good’ day.
I had travelled up to Wigan on the Friday, so my journey was at least partially split – as anyone who has travelled to the Furness peninsula will confess, it is a long way from just about anywhere. Joining me for this expedition were two good friends, Wigan supporting, and FC United supporting. FC United had recently headed Barrow-wards themselves, taking home a trophy exit, a 7-0 tanking but a friendly atmosphere and well-spirited occasion.
Train times dictated that we wouldn’t have an enormous amount of time in the town, Northern Rail’s pretty exceptional FLASH sale had provided a return fare for just 20p (*insert good value for Northern Rail joke*) including a direct link from Wigan and a brand new, on-time, (partially) electric train. As a long-term proponent of renationalisation, especially the Northern franchise which has caused so much suffering, things were already going better than expected.
The journey northwards was wonderful. The stretch between Lancaster and Barrow etches its way around Morecambe bay and along the coast. A number of ‘there-is-literally-not-a-single-thing-here’ train stations pass, whilst stunning landscapes accompany you all the way to the end of the line. ‘Seven Brothers’ was the IPA of choice, and it went down nicely. A pleasant Barrow supporting father and daughter duo joined at Preston and shared their high expectations for the match, Ian Evatt’s success story and Football League aspirations. We also spoke crowds, 2856 would be confirmed post-match, and with a core similar to our own, it won’t look out of place in the Football League – if they do make it.
We had time for two bars, ‘The Furness Railway’ (A Spoons, of course) and ‘MK’s’ (next to Spoons, of course). Both nice, both cheap. By Spoons standards, ‘The Furness Railway’ actually scored especially high, it was definitely log-fire weather so having one to park ourselves alongside was welcome. We then made the short walk up Holker Street to the enticing floodlights, sadly kicking through as much street litter as I’ve ever seen.
Holker Street (the ground) is like the middle finger of traditional stadiums antagonising their identikit counterparts. There is absolutely nothing consistent there, but it’s charm (if I can call it that) extends from this quest for irregularity. An unequal concrete block of mass (painted a pretty blue and white) stands behind one goal, with a tunnel squeezed between, whilst at the other, a wonky away terrace wraps around the corner into a stone-cold toilet block and a disconcertingly nearby catering facility. Straddling the far (from the away end) touchline, a long and very, very old (again, painted a pretty blue and white) terrace hosts the majority of supporters. Opposite, dug-outs dig under a small, raised stand that doesn’t even nearly stretch the length of the pitch. Even the new floodlight pylons stand out as different. They’re measly compared to their old adversaries and I’m able to make that comparison not by memory, but because AFC Barrow have opted to leave just one of the old colossus steel units erect in a corner, apparently to maintain phone antenna income.
A Holker Street thread I absolutely love
The match passes. It’s not a good game but the availability of a pint in the away end is a welcome warmer and we rejoice as the second half at least provides some entertainment and the sniff of a Torquay shock. Alas, we lose, again. I haven’t seen a win this season and I’m cold and wet, again. Departing the ground, we return to the same two bars, approached by a few friendly Barrow fans that appreciate our attendance and wish us well. With a change in Preston, we’re in Chorley just a few hours later on the brink of home – Northern Rail delivered, again.
Barrow may not be the crème de la crème of English towns or blessed with tropical weather systems, but the omnipotent ability of football to drag you to places you would for no other reason visit is a good enough excuse to make a day of it.
Away Day Rating – 3/5
COYY – Luke