Written by Phil Yelland
The Early Years
Founded in September 1901, the Club began playing competitive football in the Lancashire League at its first home ground 'The Strawberry'. They then moved to a new ground at Ainslie Street in the town in September 1904. A further move to Little Park, Roose in March 1905 saw the Club enjoy their first success, winning promotion to Division One of the Lancashire Combination in 1908. The following year saw the Club move to its current home, Holker Street, and the first game saw a 5-2 success over Eccles Borough.
There was no major success before the outbreak of the First World War apart from an F.A. Cup run which ended at the hands of then Football League Division Two outfit, Bradford Park Avenue. The Club ceased playing as a result of World War One in early 1917 because of transport difficulties
Joining The Football League
The Club resumed playing for the 1919/20 season and won Division A of the Lancashire Combination the following season and was duly elected to the Third Division North of the Football League.
Their League career began with six straight defeats which were representative of many of the struggles to come. Over the seasons up to the Second World War, the Club's best finish in the Division Three North was eighth in the 1933/34 season. On the final day of that season, the Club recorded its highest ever League victory, with Jimmy Shankly scoring five of the goals in a 12-1 win over Gateahead. That season also saw the club score over 100 League goals with 78 of those coming in just 21 home games.
After World War Two
Little changed immediately after the Second World War as the team continued to struggle in Division Three North, although in January 1954 an FA Cup Third Round tie with Swansea Town attracted a record crowd of 16,874 to Holker Street. The Town side included a number of Welsh internationals; the game finished 2-2.
When the League was reorganised in 1958, the Club found itself placed in Division Four. In January 1959, the eyes of the football world turned to Holker Street as the club entertained the mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers in an FA Cup Third Round tie. On a frozen pitch, a crowd of 16,340 saw the team put up a tremendous performance; the 4-2 winning margin flattered Wolves.
The Club continued to struggle in Division Four. In 1963, the Club erected floodlights and the official opening saw Scottish First Division outfit Dunfermline Athletic visit. Fortunes slowly improved and in 1967, with Don McEvoy in charge and a side including such well-known names as goalkeeper Fred Else, defender Brian Arrowsmith (who holds the Club record for Football League appearances) and striker Jim Mulholland finished third to win promotion to Division Three.
McEvoy left the Club that summer and was replaced as manager by Colin Appleton who led the team to eighth place in Division Three the following season. Ill health saw Appleton step down in January 1969 and the Club slid back to the bottom of Division Four in just over two years.
At the end of the 1971/72 season, the club finished third bottom of Division Four and required to make its eleventh re-election application.
In June 1972, they were faced in the ballot by Southern League Hereford United who had come to the nation's attention after a spectacular FA Cup success over First Division Newcastle United. The first ballot saw the votes tied at 26 each.
The second ballot saw United collect 29 votes to Barrow's 20 and, after 51 years, the Club had lost its much prized Football League status.
The Early Non League Years
The Club joined the Northern Premier League in August 1972 and found life at the lower level a struggle, with resources scarce and a distinct lack of success. In December 1973, a home game with South Liverpool was watched by just 143 fans.
In 1976, the Club reached the FA Cup First Round Proper for the first time since losing League status but the side, led by former Scotland international and Liverpool star Ron Yeats, lost 2-0 at home to fellow NPL outfit Goole Town. The crowd of 3,255 showed that the town still wanted football success.
In 1979, despite a lack of playing success, the Club joined the APL (now the Vanarama National League) and the opening home game saw a crowd of 2,027 watch as the team defeated Yeovil Town 2-0.
Trophies and Success
In April 1981, the Club won its first Trophy since losing League status, as manager Mickey Taylor led the side to a 2-1 ATS Trophy success over Chorley at Wigan. However, two years later, the Club was relegated back to the NPL.
Former Sunderland star Vic Halom was appointed as Player/Manager in the summer of 1983 and he took the Club to the NPL title at the first attempt. However, his talents were noted in the Football League and, just one year after his arrival, he departed - along with top scorer Barry Diamond - to join Rochdale. Over the next two seasons, the Club had a succession of managers, including former Manchester United star Brian Kidd, before being relegated again.
Just before relegation was confirmed - in March 1986 - Ray Wilkie was appointed as Manager and the next five and a half years saw the Club enjoy unparalleled success. The 1987/88 season saw the club reach the FA Trophy semi-finals where they lost to Enfield. However, the following two seasons saw the NPL title captured and with it promotion to the Conference.
Then, in May 1990, the Club captured the FA Trophy with a 3-0 win over Leek Town at Wembley thanks to two goals from Kenny Gordon and one from Club appearance and goal scoring record holder Colin Cowperthwaite. Two other members of that side enjoyed further recognition with Glenn Skivington going on to win five England semi-professional caps, whilst midfielder Kenny Lowe was to earn a transfer to Barnet for a Club record fee.
The Club failed to build on that success and lost the services of Ray Wilkie as Manager in November 1991 when he was taken seriously ill - and six months later the Club was relegated.
The Club failed to make an immediate impact in the NPL and, in the spring of 1995, Liverpool-based businessman Stephen Vaughan joined the Board and took over as Chairman.
The 1997/98 season saw the side, managed by Liverpool-based Owen Brown, win the NPL title and reach the FA Trophy Quarter Finals. However, within months of joining the Conference, Mr Vaughan had departed, Brown was sacked and a liquidator was appointed because of the Club's debts.
Despite finishing out of the relegation zone at the end of the 1998/99 season, the Club's circumstances saw it 'relegated' and accepted back into the membership of NPL in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.
Former favourite Kenny Lowe took over as Player/Manager in August 1999. In his four seasons in charge, he led the Club to the FA Cup First Round Proper on three separate occasions, as well as securing the UniBond Chairman's Cup in the 2000/01 season and the President's Cup twelve months later. He also steered the Club to the Final of the Marsden Trophy in the 2002/03 season.
Progress in the League was steady, resulting in the Club finishing runners-up to Accrington Stanley at the end of the 2002/03 season. At the end of the 2003/04 season Kenny Lowe stood down as Manager and his assistant Lee Turnbull took charge and guided the Club to third place in the UniBond Premier Division as well as winning the President's Cup for the second time in three seasons.
The Club joined what is now Vanarama North when it was formed in 2004-05 but apart from two F.A. Cup First Round appearances against Bristol Rovers and AFC Bournemouth, there was no tangible success.
Returning To The Top Flight
At the end of the 2007/08 season the Club won its way back to the top flight of non-league football, then known as Blue Square Premier, after an absence of ten years by defeating Stalybridge Celtic 1-0 in the Play-Off Final at Burton Albion. It was a remarkable success following the appointment of Darren Sheridan and Dave Bayliss initially as joint Managers on a caretaker basis in November 2007. They took charge permanently in December and masterminded a 20-match unbeaten run that ended in promotion.
The 2008/09 season saw the Club maintain its place in Blue Square Premier and enjoy a run to the Third Rounds proper of the FA Cup. The trip to Middlesbrough, then of the Premier League, saw 7,000 Barrow fans make the trip to Teesside for a wonderful day out where the team emerged with considerable credit at the end of a 2-1 defeat.
The 2009/2010 season saw the Club’s performances surpass expectations – after further consolidating their place in Blue Square Premier, the team reached the FA Cup Third Round Proper again – the first time there had been two successive appearances at this stage of the competition since the Football League days. Again, the team performed creditably in the 3-0 defeat at then Premier League Sunderland. However, the season was topped off with a trip to Wembley and, twenty years after first lifting the FA Trophy, the team repeated the feat by defeating Blue Square Premier champions Stevenage Borough 2-1 after extra time with goals from Lee McEvilly and Jason Walker.
The following two seasons saw further consolidation. Darren Sheridan left the Club in February 2012, leaving Dave Bayliss in sole charge.
Sadly the 2012/13 season saw the team struggle and it was eventually relegated after its longest spell at the top of the non-league game since losing its Football League place in 1972.
In November 2013 the Club parted company with Dave Bayliss as Manager just a matter of days before he would have celebrated six years in charge. Darren Edmondson, a former player, was appointed as manager to replace him in early December and he steered the Club to mid table security by the end of the season.
A New Era – And Success.
The summer of 2014 saw significant change at the Club, with the members voting in favour of a takeover by Barrow-born businessman Paul Casson who is based in the United States where he has a number of successful business enterprises.
Mr Casson made resources available for team building and in April 2015 Barrow clinched the Vanarama North title on the final day of the season with a 3-2 win at Lowestoft Town.
The foundations for the future were laid and the team went back full time for the return to the top flight of non-league football the following season.
The 2015/16 season saw consolidation in Vanarama National after a slightly sticky start. Following a defeat in the FA Cup at AFC Fylde and some inconsistent League results, manager Darren Edmondson was replaced by Paul Cox, who had enjoyed success at this level when winning the League with Mansfield Town. He steadied the ship and a ten-match unbeaten run between late February and mid-April secured a top-half finish.
The 2016/17 season saw further progress. The team finished in seventh position in the National League – their best League finish since losing their Football League place in 1972. The Club also reached the FA Cup Third Round before losing at home to League One side Rochdale in front of a capacity crowd, and after hosting the BBC Football Focus earlier in the day. On the way to the Third Round they defeated another League One side in Bristol Rovers 2-1 at the Memorial Ground - the Club’s first away win against a Football League club since March 1972.
However, the following season saw the Club escape relegation on the final day of the season.
Back To The Football League
The summer of 2018 saw former Chesterfield and Blackpool defender Ian Evatt take charge of the team. However, results were inconsistent early on and, following an FA Cup defeat at Chorley in October 2018, owner/Chairman Paul Casson announced he was leaving the Club. A consortium of local businessmen and supporters stepped forward to take over with Paul Hornby as Chairman. The team finished the season in the top ten of the League.
2019/20 saw a continuing improvement of matters on the field. After a poor start to the season, the team climbed to the top of the National League table following a 3-0 win at Notts County in November 2019 and remained there until the season was suspended in March 2020.
The team was declared National League champions on a points-per-game basis on 16th June 2020 and, after just over 48 years, finally returned to the Football League.