If ever there was a fixture that warrants “I’ll give it a miss I think”, then Barrow away is certainly up there. It’s a long, long way to Barrow, around 300 miles from Maidenhead.
Being based in East Yorkshire, it’s a slightly shorter journey for me – just the 380 mile round trip – but so long as motorways are behaving themselves, it’s a very straightforward trip along the M62, M6 and A590.
Leaving home around 10:45 meant I should’ve arrived in plenty of time for kick off. That I did, despite torrential rain around Manchester which resulted in one exit of the M60 being closed altogether. In fact, by two o’clock I was at Ulverston, the birthplace of Stan Laurel, ten minutes or so away from Barrow, where I stopped for supplies at the wonderful Booths supermarket. The sun was shining, I was feeling optimistic, but little did I know that the purchase of some pork pies and Oktoberfest beer for later that evening would be the highlight of the day.
Listen to the Berkshire Football Stories Podcast as Steve Jinman discusses the Devonshire Years Part One:
The drive through Cumbria is particularly scenic as the trees change to autumnal hues. The rolling landscape and the circling birds of prey are a delight after a long tedious trip along the motorways of northern England. That changes almost immediately as you hit the outskirts of Barrow, where bland light industrial units are the order of the day. The ground itself is easy to spot from afar, the floodlight pylons standing proud in the skyline.
Holker Street has seen better days. Two modest stands either side of the pitch, and uncovered open terracing at both ends. Perhaps the only positive about the ground is that there is plenty of street parking nearby. York Road may have its critics, but York Road now compared to twenty years ago has changed considerably for the better. I can’t imagine Holker Street has seen any improvements in generations. There is also a complete lack of atmosphere at Barrow, perhaps not helped by an insistence on segregation, unnecessary in my mind given the 1,400 crowd with just the twenty hardy souls following the Magpies.
‘I’m not sure who decided to match this with some dayglo orange socks’
Maidenhead were debuting our new red away strip which looked superb, one of my favourite shirts of recent times. I’m not sure who decided to match this with some dayglo orange socks. An odd combination if ever there was. The tone for the game itself was set as early as the second minute, when a crunching tackle from Joe Ellul on Dion Angus saw an early booking. Niggling fouls from both teams persisted throughout the opening stages, but Barrow players – Angus in particular – milked it best they could, with shrieks, screams and gasps every time a Maidenhead player came anywhere near them. The theatrics of Angus after a soft clip from Maidenhead keeper Taye Ashby-Hammond earned a penalty, scored by Rooney, were a sight to behold. I can only assume he’s a key member of one of the local amateur dramatic societies. From there on there seemed little doubt as to the outcome of the match.
Indeed, early in the second half, a long Ashby-Hammond throw seemed to catch Josh Smile unawares and a quick ball through was met by Scott Quigley who shot well to give Barrow a two goal advantage, and to put any hopes of a positive outcome completely out of doubt. Danny Whitehall looked lively when he was introduced, but too little, too late. Referee Benjamin Speedie blew his whistle at every opportunity resulting in four minutes added time at the end of the first half, and five at the end of the second.
In truth, Maidenhead offered very little throughout. It was the poorest I’ve seen us play this year (although it was only the fifth game I’ve been to: I was at Stockport and Wrexham and the home games against Hartlepool and Harrogate) but Barrow, on a superb run of five straight wins, were very worthy winners. Our dip in form is beginning to be a bit of a worry.
Walking back to the car, and others back to the station (miss the 17:19 and you’re here for the night), it was heartening that several Barrow fans thanked us for making the journey and wished all a safe trip home. They clearly understand the effort people make to get there. On the way home, rain of biblical proportions began to fall, taking the grit and dirt of the M6 and washing it down the gutter, along with my early season hopes of a possible play off finish.