Barrow aim to dump Boro in cart

02 January 2009 10:00
A woman on Dalton Street stares in at the spartan Woolworths store, in the final throes of its clearance sale, and laments to her friend: "It breaks your heart."

While this forlorn Cumbrian town already lies at the broken heart of Britain's submarine-building industry, it is also where the high-street recession has bitten deep, the demise of Woolworths claiming the jobs of three generations of the same family.

Stephen Neale, 35, his stepson Matthew, 20, and mother-in-law Margaret Bewley, 66, all worked at the local branch – Margaret for 45 years. Once again Barrow's vulnerability to financial vicissitudes is in stark evidence.

Where Government cutbacks on defence spending after the end of the Cold War had a savage effect upon the town's shipyard, contributing to a two-thirds shrinking of the local workforce, so the recent economic downturn threatens to thwart noble attempts at regeneration.

But a community that loses the mainstay of its industry and survives is doughty enough, you sense, to survive another chill blast of austerity. Certainly, their football supporters reflect a startling resilience.

Besides Trident submarines, the name of Barrow has been popularised also through its sheer isolation. Out on the ironbound Cumbrian coast, it permits only two obvious modes of access: by road, on the endlessly winding A590 from Kendal; or by rail, through a three-hour, single-carriage journey from Lancaster to Carlisle on which several stops are available only by request.

Of late this remoteness has assumed great relevance for the club's fans: the euphoria of their FA Cup run, which has propelled them to Middlesbrough, was rather tempered for their first-round victory at Eastbourne by the 780-mile round trip.

This afternoon's third-round engagement represents just a short trans-Pennine hop by comparison – at least by the standards of this remarkable travelling band, who spend almost 13,000 miles a season on the road, enough for a journey to New Zealand.

Altrincham, Barrow's closest opponents in the Blue Square Premier, are 109 miles away, while seven of the teams they face are more than 300 miles distant. The logistics are little easier for the players, given that the twice-weekly training sessions are held in Blackburn, an hour's drive away.

Darren Sheridan, the co-owner and occasional player, wisely acknowledged such sacrifice when he said: "It is a big day for the town, and a big day for the players. Our fans are fantastic, they travel everywhere with us and never shut up during the game. There will be 500 without tickets turning up."

That is in addition to the 7,000 who do have tickets and who are poised to fill the Riverside, not the most atmospheric of Premier League grounds at the best of times, with boisterous Barrow noise.

Sheridan, the brother of Oldham manager John and a veteran of the top flight a decade ago with Barnsley, has an intense interest in the game as he has still not given up playing and could, at 41, be tempted to return.

Already he has relished the scouting work ahead of the match, watching Middlesbrough's visit to Old Trafford last Monday, when he did not exactly draw many clues from Gareth Southgate's defensive five-man midfield. Sheridan has an enviable Cup record, too, having helped Barnsley to beat United 3-2 in a fifth-round replay in 1998. With Barrow struggling in the league – and accused of an unprofessional attitude as the Cup success has dented their form – he is not afraid to intervene on the pitch once more.

"Our form hasn't been the best; the team hasn't shown what it can do," Sheridan conceded. "The league is the priority but I have told the players that none of their places is guaranteed. I've played once this season and I'm in good condition – if I am needed, I'm ready."

Accordingly, all New Year celebrations have been suspended at Barrow but captain Paul Jones, who played his part in the team's vanquishing of Brentford in the last round, maintained that this was out of confidence rather than fear.

Describing the match as the players' chance to "prove they are good enough", he admitted that there would be a "drink or two" if Barrow managed to capitalise on Middlesbrough's renowned flakiness against lesser opposition to force an extraordinary result.

If not, Barrow go back to fighting for their league survival once more and Paul Henney, their midfielder, goes back to work in the nuclear power station Sellafield, about the only heavy industry in Cumbria that continues to thrive.

Intriguingly, as a safety officer there he shares the same job as Homer Simpson. The demands of his other job, it might be said, are more the stuff of cartoons.

Source: Telegraph