A New Coastline
With our semi-regular trips up the northeast coast on the way to Scottish grounds, we are used to the beautiful coastline that runs along the eastern coast of Britain’s north.
Today, we would start just inland from the Durham Heritage Coast but end up on the other side, to venture down England’s northwest coastline on the edges of the beautiful Lake District in the county of Cumbria.
I’ve never visited the Lake District but having seen a glimpse of the edges of it today, I am certainly adding it to my ‘to-do’ list!
I imagine there would have been much opposition and controversy surrounding the Sellafield nuclear site when it was constructed back in the early 1950s because it dominates the scenic countryside around Seascale, to the north of Barrow-in-Furness.
I am getting ahead of myself though…
Barrow – Journey and Pre-Game
Coast to Coast
This may not have been on par with riding a motorbike across the USA’s famous Route 66 but it was still a cross-country trek and a long day ahead of us.
From northeast to northwest, tracking the length of Hadrian’s Wall at the northern end of England, all for the love of football, wherever it may be played… in this case, Barrow AFC.
Starting the day at six a.m. we caught the 07:05 Newcastle bus. Arriving in Newcastle at 07:55 we just had time to nip into Greggs and snag some pastry delights for the journey.
The 08:23 train was on time and we were soon rattling across the River Tyne’s rail bridge, before following the river west.
That part of the journey went smoothly, as did the whole day, which made a nice change, especially when it’s a long journey.
We arrived in the Cumbrian capital just before ten, with our connection due at 10:13… Perfect!
Once past Maryport, you start heading south, along the coast where the railway hugs the shoreline for some distance and there is a startling mixture of starkness and beauty. Some of the beaches are rugged and stone-strewn, and some are nice and sandy. Both versions seem to contain a mixture of wildness that isn’t evident on the northeast coast.
This isn’t a criticism, merely a comparison of the two and both are well worth visiting if you haven’t been to either of the north’s coasts.
Once through Workington – which is another club on my hit list – you get a clear run of sea views off to the right. It is worth thinking about this when booking tickets if you like a nice view out of the window. Left of the train heading north, right of the train heading south.
Once at Whitehaven and beyond, you can even see the Isle of Man, which surprised me. I had no idea it was so visible from Cumbria! Indeed, Whitehaven looked the most likely spot for a weekend break in the future, if we head this way.
The next talking point along the route is the aforementioned Sellafield nuclear site, which sits alongside the town of Seascale.
The area around the Sellafield plant looks lovely, with a river running between the coast and the railway and the plant off to the left.
At one point, this multi-function nuclear site employed upwards of 10,000 workers and is therefore very important in terms of the local economy. It was also the site of Britain’s worst nuclear incident in 1957 when the site was still known as Windscale.
A fire inside the plant caused radioactive material to enter the environment, causing 240 known cancers, and one would have to assume many more in the long term. It was classed as a five out of a possible seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale. This is categorised as an ‘Accident with wider consequences’.
For reference, the Fukushima and Chornobyl incidents were both classed as a seven, or ‘Major Accident’. I have always called it Chernobyl until I realised that was the Russian name for it. Chornobyl is the Ukrainian name.
After crossing the River Duddon, we entered the Furness Peninsula, which lies between the Irish Sea, the Duddon Estuary and Morecambe Bay. The largest town on the peninsula is Barrow-in-Furness, today’s destination.
Until 1974, Barrow was an exclave of Lancashire but was a part of the local government reforms enacted in that time and has since then formed part of Cumbria.
Barrow’s Famous Footballer
We arrived in the town at around 12:50. This was what I call a ‘tweener time. Too late to get a pub lunch but too early to head straight to the ground and with an insatiable stomach to satisfy, we decided the chip shop was the answer.
Before getting there, we came across a statue that took me by surprise. A football statue that was nowhere near the ground.
Hughes sadly passed away in 2004 at the age of just 57. As well as his fabulous playing career, I will always remember him for being one of the regular participants on Question of Sport back in the day. An infectious laugh and a genuine character of the game we all love.
An Olympic Lunch
About a five-minute walk away from the train station is a chip shop that had some great reviews on Google and that’s where we headed.
We ordered our lunch – a large portion of chips each, a fish wrap for Mrs Hopper and a homemade fishcake for me. We paid up and stood back while we waited for everything to be freshly cooked.
Soon enough, we were clutching our bag of goodies and leaving with the goal of finding somewhere to sit and eat them. Near the Emlyn Hughes statue are a few benches next to the road but it didn’t seem like a nice place to eat with all the car fumes so close by.
We thought there would be somewhere better along the route towards Holker Street Stadium. Turns out, we were wrong… the Olympic chip shop was a good discovery but it would be a while before we actually sat down to eat it.
We walked the length of Holker Street without finding a single place to sit and eat our food and this brought us to the stadium itself. Maybe there would be somewhere around here to sit.
Barrow AFC – First Glimpse
Barrow AFC – Fan Zone
We followed the road around the ground and came to an entrance that leads to the fan zone.
While Mrs Hopper went to get us a couple of drinks from the bar – a Guinness and a lager for a combined £7.70 – I separated the food and was pleased to say everything was still nice and hot despite the long wait.
With our drinks, we finally sat and enjoyed our dinner. What we didn’t enjoy so much, was the DJ!
What a row!
When music you don’t like is blasting out at deafening levels, it makes the experience pretty uncomfortable. For me, that encompasses jazz, cheesy pop music and this offering… trance/Ibiza-style club music.
I will be honest, I ate and drank as quickly as I could, just so that we could get away from the cacophony of noise assailing our ears. I’m a lover of heavy metal and punk music, so it certainly wasn’t the volume that bothered me.
By the way, amongst all this moaning, the homemade fishcake was delicious!
As well as a bar and a terrible DJ, the fan zone also had a burger van and some plaques on the wall with a potted history of the club and a wall of fame.
A Potted History of Barrow AFC
We also got our first view of ‘Bluey, the club mascot, while we were in the fan zone. He is a prominent feature of the matchday experience at Barrow and you will see him around the pitchside during games, as well as dishing out little presents and sweets to the younger fans.
With Barrow’s nickname being the Bluebirds, it doesn’t take a genius to work out where the name or the costume comes from.
Barrow AFC – The Stadium
With our food and drink eaten as quickly as possible, we made our getaway from the awful din emanating from the stage area and walked around to the turnstiles. I later realised that I’d forgotten to take photographs around the ground. (I blame worrying about food and my brain hurting from Ibiza dude 😂)
On our way around to the turnstiles, we passed the pitch where Furness Rovers FC of the West Lancashire Football League plays and surprisingly, there was a game going on.
We bought our tickets for the game from the Barrow AFC website last week and printed them off. We showed them and had them scanned at the turnstiles and entered the SO Legal Stadium, the sponsored name of Holker Street.
In front of us were some steps leading up to the side terrace of the Ray Wilkie Stand where we would watch the game from. The tickets weren’t for a designated area and you are free to stand on either the side or the end terrace.
The Ray Wilkie Stand
The Ray Wilkie Stand or the Popular Side, as it is also known, is a long, partially covered terrace that stretches the length of the pitch.
Holker Street End
The Popular Side extends all the way to the Holker Street End, another covered terrace split between home and away fans. In the away section, there are a small number of seats between two standing areas. The standing area on the other side of the seats is located on the corner and extends slightly into the other side of the ground.
The Main Stand
Opposite the Popular Side is the Main Stand. This is the only seated area in the stadium, other than the small section available for away supporters.
The Main Stand straddles the halfway line and covers around half the length of the pitch and has a capacity of around 1,000.
Unlike most stadiums, the Main Stand is not where the player’s tunnel or the team dressing rooms are located, although, the team dugouts are in front of the stand.
Small standing areas are on either side of the stand but segregation means the area on the right isn’t used, apart from the corner where away fans are.
The other end of the ground doesn’t appear to have any capacity for supporters apart from a small section of terracing in the far corner. Instead, there is a building that houses the player’s tunnel and the dressing rooms. It also backs onto the fan zone, where, even above the stadium’s piped music over the PA system, I could still hear DJ Ibiza’s music banging out.
Please, someone, make it stop!
There is also a small electronic scoreboard attached to one end of the building that shows the score.
Overall, Holker Street is a small ground with a capacity of just 5,400. Having said that, Barrow have only been a Football League side since the 2020/21 season and it works for where they are currently at.
The traditional floodlights were replaced in 2017, although one of the pylons of the old lights remains in place between the Popular Side and the Crossbar End and is now used as a radio mast.
I didn’t notice a club shop around the ground, although there is every possibility I missed it in the hunt for somewhere to eat our lunch and the avoidance of the DJ.
We did manage to find a programme from the hut on the corner of the Ray Wilkie Stand and the Holker Street End, priced at £3.00.
Barrow AFC – Stadium Gallery
Barrow AFC – Pre-Game Video of Holker Street
Barrow AFC v Newport County – The Game
Coming into this game, Barrow were on a run of two draws, two losses and a win in their last five games. This is a somewhat disappointing run of games for a team that were hovering near the top of the table earlier in the season but now finds themselves drifting in mid-table and struggling to score goals.
Opponents, Newport County were a team we saw lose 2-0 at Carlisle United on January 14th. You can read our review of that match here. Since that time, County have managed to play only one game for one reason and another. They won that solitary game 2-1 against a Swindon Town team that was down to ten men after the fifteenth minute.
During the January transfer window, Newport added a couple of young loanees from Manchester United and Middlesbrough. Charlie McNeil is an English centre-forward and on loan from the Manchester giants. However, the one that interested me was an Irish striker on loan from Middlesbrough, who would start today’s game on the bench.
Calum Kavanagh, the son of a player I saw many times gracing the pitch in Stoke City colours. A player I was gutted to see leave us for our then rivals, Cardiff City. Calum looks shockingly like his father and I was interested to see if he had the ability to match the look.
Disappointing to see him on the bench.
Barrow’s record signing Ged Garner would also be making his home debut for the club, although eleven-goal top scorer Josh Gordon would be missing with a hamstring injury.
Before the game started, a minute’s silence was observed almost impeccably, as a tribute to all those who lost their lives in Turkey and Syria during the devastating earthquake last week.
I say ‘almost’ because one individual felt the need to shout “What about the Leeds fans?”
I have no idea whether it came from the Newport or Barrow support because it was from the end that is shared. While we all remember that terrible evening in Istanbul and sympathise with the families of those involved, this earthquake and subsequent deaths had absolutely nothing to do with an isolated incident twenty-three years ago.
Hang your head in shame if that was you!
The game started, then restarted for reasons unknown to me but maybe you can pick out what the problem was in the video above?
Let me know if you do because I was baffled at the time and still am.
It did serve to set the tone though.
The locals seem to have previous with today’s match official, Seb Stockbridge and that heat won’t have waned any after today’s game! They were quick to let him know what they thought of him as he restarted the game and I have to give Barrow fans some credit… their hecklers had me smirking through much of the game as the abuse was directed at officials and opponents.
At more than one point, I caught Newport players laughing and even giving some stick back to the Barrow supporters around me.
This included Adam Lewis for having holes cut into the back of his socks, former Bluebirds player, Ozzy Zanzala, Cameron Norman for… just because and Scot Bennett for apparently being overweight (I wish I was that fat!)
My thoughts were that the referee may not entirely enjoy the stick and questionable decisions were unlikely to be awarded to Barrow.
I think I may have had a point…
So, with the match now officially underway and the floodlights already on, it’s time to describe the action.
Or, I would be if there was anything to report.
Apart from County having the ball in the net within a minute and a subsequent offside flag raised, there wasn’t much to report.
Honestly, the heckling was the highlight of the first half for me. There was no shortage of effort from either side but it didn’t convert into much in the way of exciting action, unfortunately.
I captured one of the main chances of the half in the video below.
Newport’s captain, Mickey Demetriou was booked for a tackle twenty-five yards from goal and the scramble of play from the resulting free-kick led to a header from Garner that was well saved by County keeper, Nick Townsend.
Barrow’s Sam McClelland was unlucky to see his effort loop just over the crossbar after a decent cross from Eliott Newby on the right.
McNeill came close for the visitors in the 26th minute but a smart save at the near post by Paul Farman in the Barrow goal, denied the United loanee.
Although there is no particular action of note to report, Billy Waters impressed me with flashes of ability up front for Barrow and I’m sure he will have missed having Josh Gordon up front with him. Between the pair, they have hit nineteen of this season’s league goals between them, for Barrow.
Half-time – Barrow AFC 0 v Newport County 0
So, with little to report in the first half, the players trooped off for a half-time break and attempt to work out a solution to the deadlock.
The Second Half
The second half saw great chances for both teams within a couple of minutes of each other.
Waters won the ball in the centre circle before running it into the Newport half and playing the ball to Newby on the right. He cut inside and unleashed a lovely shot towards the far corner of the goal. A corner was given, so I can only assume that the keeper got a touch on it. If so, good save sir!
At the other end, an impromptu game of head tennis ended with the ball dropping to Aaron Lewis in the home side’s box. He controlled the ball and from a narrow-angle, fired the ball across the goal, narrowly missing the far corner. It was unclear from my vantage point whether Farman got a glove to it or not but despite Newport’s protests, a goal-kick was awarded.
Unlucky, both teams!
Newport in the Ascendancy
The Exiles went close again a few minutes later, this time from the head of Calum Kavanagh, who had replaced Charlie McNeil in the 65th minute.
Cameron Norman put in a defence-beating cross from the right, finding Kavanagh perfectly and the Irishman’s header was heading for the bottom corner. This time, there was no doubting Farman’s touch as he clawed it wide for a corner.
Newport were looking like the better side by this point in the game.
The pivotal moment came in the 81st minute when referee Stockbridge played up to his part of the pantomime villain by sending off Barrow’s Rory ‘Touchy’ Feely. (Ok, I made that nickname up myself, sorry Rory.)
With a Bluebirds attack cleared from the County area, Feely and Adam Lewis both raced towards the free ball. The coming together resulted in a straight red for the Bluebirds’ number twenty-four, much to the chagrin of a disbelieving Popular Side.
At the time, from my perspective, it looked like a yellow card offence and certainly didn’t look like dangerous play.
In fact, there is a debate as to whether the foul should have gone the other way, with Barrow stating that Feely was left with stud marks down his thigh after the challenge and Mrs Hopper said at the time that she thought the “Newport player kicked the Barrow player.”
See what you think.
The red card gave Newport the confidence to push more men forward and it paid off for them deep into stoppage time.
In the 95th minute, Newport won themselves a corner taken by Adam Lewis. His fine delivery was met by the head of Demetriou, who rose almost unchallenged in the box. The firm header flew into the right side of the net, giving Farman no chance at all.
Cue delirious scenes in the away end as the ninety-five hardy soles from South Wales enjoyed their moment.
I should probably say ninety-four because one unfortunate guy was seen coming out of the toilets on his phone during the celebrations.
There is always one with a hard luck story to tell their friends. 😂
0-1 Newport County!
The goal was included in this video I took of the dying embers of the game, for those who want a different perspective of it than those shown in the highlights.
With no time for the home side to rescue a point, the game was brought to an end by the now even less popular referee and I’m sure he will get another warm reception next time he steps foot in southern Cumbria.
You can read a full Match Report from the Barrow FC website here.
Full-time – Barrow AFC 0 v Newport County 1
Attendance – 2,804 (95 Newport County fans)
Entrance Fee – £16.00
Programme – £3.00
My first thought is to reiterate my dislike of the music in the fan zone but this is probably unfair on my part and is based purely on my dislike of that type of music. Had he been belting out Metallica, I wouldn’t have minded at all. It may be an idea to pick music that is more universally liked though if you are going to pump it out at those volume levels.
The ground itself is small and tidy with some lovely terracing and a nice stand if you prefer to sit. Though it should be noted that the stand has three pillars supporting the roof. I’m not sure what impact this has on spectators’ views in there.
For the home team itself, they look like they need an injection of belief in themselves. They have now not won at Holker Street since the 3-1 win over Hartlepool United on November 19th.
The Barrow faithful are also still awaiting the first home goal of this calendar year and that may go some way to explaining the hilarious heckling that we witnessed.
For the Newport fans, I was happy for those of them that had made the long journey and it made me think these are the genuine super fans of football. For all the plaudits big teams get for their huge crowds, there is no substitute for supporters who follow a mid-table lower division side on a ten-hour round trip.
Well played guys!
Barrow – After the Game
With our train due at 17:15, we had no time to hang around after the game and smartly made our way out of the exit with the final whistle still ringing around the ground.
We got to the station with five minutes to spare and the train pulled into platform one on schedule and we started the long journey home.
We arrived in Carlisle at 19:45 without any of the lovely views we had enjoyed on the way south, due to the darkness descending.
After a bit of confusion with the onward train to Newcastle, train staff eventually finished their game of ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ and settled on platform five and we boarded our chariot home at 20:09.
This pulled into a very boisterous Newcastle at 21:50 and with various different emergency vehicles flashing by and a helicopter hovering overhead, we couldn’t help but look to see if it was a full moon as we headed to our bus stop.
The bus dutifully arrived a few minutes later and we got through our front door just before the clock chimed eleven. Phew!
This is a trip we tried to make earlier in the season but a train strike ‘derailed’ our plans. (See what I did there?) Hopefully, history doesn’t repeat itself and we can take in the MKM Stadium experience.
Onto the next!