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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Magpies Roll Out The Barrow

When looking forward to a draw in the FA Cup or Trophy, a common hope is for a Football League club whether current or former away from home to experience a touch of the big time. Barrow AFC was not what I had in mind when the draw was made two weeks ago but as things turned out it proved to be the setting for one of those days in the club's history that will live long in the memory.
The bungling manner of the FA's calendar for the competition meant that there was little time to organise group travel to York Road, which coupled with the scheduling right in the middle of the Christmas shopping season, meant that a few lucky Maidenhead fans made it to Holker Street with the consensus on the number travelling in no official capacity whatsoever being twelve. 
I took up Peter Griffin's offer of a lift up north, setting off from Maidenhead station at 8.30, speeding up the M40/M6 to the edge of Granadaland where we picked up Andy to increase our company to five.Stopping for a break a bit further on in the bona fide north, I earned my spotters badge by spying the West Cornwall Pasty concession and a group of Barrow players heading to the game. This reflected the Bluebirds remote location with the squad coming from far and wide (one of the starting eleven was rumoured to have come from Skegness), reminding me of past tales of the team never training together. 
As we turned off the M6 the countryside continued to grow more beautiful, the scenery calling to mind Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's Trip with any worries about the rain threatening the game disappearing as Morecambe Bay appeared with a sunny backdrop. Reminders that we were in the north continued as we followed a car sporting a rear window sticker stating "no pies left in this vehicle overnight" but it was something of a surprise to be confronted by the evidence of the manufacturing industry as we entered Barrow, for once a set of magnificent floodlight pylons drawing  us towards the football ground.
Stiegl time
Arriving at the ground at the same time as the team, who had stayed overnight in a nearby hotel, we made our way up the stairs to the Crossbar to sip Stiegl Lager to the backdrop of the goal fest at Eastlands and the Holker Street stadium.
Venturing out to the ground ahead of kick off we were greeted by absolutely grim weather, a strong wind and driving rain to see a functional ground, clearly of a different scale to the usual non league structure. After initially heading for the popular side covered terrace, it soon became clear this would provide little in the way of shelter so we returned to watch behind the Barrow goal, the brutalist clubhouse building cutting out the worst of the weather.
In a dull first half where the only excitement came from a couple of Barrow efforts which caused a tremor of excitement by hitting the side netting, and an Adrian Clifton shot which dipped just over the bar, I took the opportunity to chat to a couple of long time Barrow fans who joined us behind the goal. They explained how the ground used to look very different with cover on all four sides and a speedway track which they felt was the cause of their failure to be re-elected to the Football League in 1972 as opposition teams did not like the way the track cut into the corners of the pitch. They certainly conveyed the image of a club once worthy of the Football League which probably in no small part to their location became like Workington a few seasons later, persona non grata. Indeed the programme detailed a time in the late 70s when the Holker Street pitch was perfectly playable but the opposition were simply unable to make their way to the area.
One aspect of their potential status was the fine club shop and decent vocal support in the face of a league season where they stood at the foot of the Conference North, losing 6-0 at home on their previous outing. The £13 admission and £2.50 programme further suggested higher expectations but you could have forgiven the locals if they snubbed this pricy entertainment.
Earlier in the week the Bluebirds had appointed Darren Edmondson as manager. He had pledged to build a squad based on local talent. This will naturally take time to come to fruition but in the short term he sent out a team which played methodically, with at least showing signs of a goal threat. Our local company advised that the team kicking towards Holker Street and into the wind was usually on top, and so it proved as early in the second half having changed ends Richard Pacquette gave the Magpies the lead. 
Halftime entertainment next door floodlights by ASDA
I'd already been and gone from this end of the ground as having worked out how to gain entry to what would normally be the away end by drawing back a bolt from a yellow gate, two minutes in the wind and rain was as much as I could take so I retreated back undercover.
Packed away end
This location provided additional entertainment due to the background commentary from a professional northerner who did actually utter the phrase "southern softie" when a Magpie went to ground. Pacquette's goal signalled the start of Maidenhead taking the upper hand but the slender nature of a one goal lead meant Barrow efforts for an equaliser were always a worry.
With five minutes left though Maidenhead sealed the win when a mazy run by Harry Pritchard saw him deliver his second assist of the afternoon with a cross to Danny Green whose exquisite finish meant that the second goal represented an upgraded version of the first.
As the clock ticked down the rain abated so I returned to the away terrace to milk the applause of the players at the final whistle, the magnitude of whose achievement only became clear on the walk back to the railway station where the wind was so strong it was struggle to stand up and walk never mind run around. Taking the train home, after a brief stop for a pint in Lancaster and an odd meeting with the Queen of the South first team squad en route to their Christmas night out in Liverpool, it was now time to wallow in the drunken haze of an epic win away from home. Regardless or indeed because of the shortcomings in the Magpies league form, this FA Trophy run has been a great tonic with three superb wins on the road against the odds. The last round may not have presented much in terms of opposition but the sheer distance travelled and the biblical weather conditions mean this will go down as a day when a select few will say "I was there".
Brutalist clubhouse


The Popular Side
Proper floodlights

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