Levi Gill provides supporters provides supporters with an update from behind the scenes at The Progression Solicitors Stadium.
The football year typically starts off with a manic few weeks, and January was no different for Barrow than it was for many other clubs in this regard. Below, I’ve tried to capture the significant events of the past few weeks, both within the Club and the wider community.
Departure of Mark Hetherington
It would be wrong to start this month’s update anywhere else than with Mark Hetherington’s decision to step down from the Board. From my earliest involvement with the Club as the fans’ representative on the Board, Mark was the owner with whom I spent the most time and got to know best. Whether travelling to and from Board meetings together or sweeping rainwater out of the Main Stand on a matchday morning, any time spent with Mark was always enjoyable. The Chairman spoke recently on Radio Cumbria about Mark’s impact on the Club and I’d like to echo everything that he said. Mark’s knowledge, enthusiasm and drive to see this Club reach its potential will be missed but has hopefully been instilled in those who will continue the journey. We want to build and improve on the foundations that Mark has helped us to lay, and I look forward to seeing him at the ground to enjoy the fruits of his labour and see the story continue – perhaps even without a brush in his hand! All at the Club wish him and his family health and happiness for the future.
January transfer window
Becoming a Football League club has undeniably broadened the appeal of Barrow AFC for prospective players. This window was one in which the Club found itself able to compete against other EFL teams to attract new signings, something which twelve months ago would have been hard to imagine.
Michael Jolley and Paul Ogden have worked tirelessly to identify the necessary targets, while the owners have kept in constant contact to ensure that we were recruiting against the strategy set out at the start of the window and that potential deals were affordable and realistic. The end-result has been a new-look squad, which we believe has addressed the issues that have gone unresolved since the summer.
We’re in the midst of a tough run of games against top-of-the-table opposition at the moment, but we don’t want that to be an excuse. No game is unwinnable for Barrow at this level. In fact, many of our better performance have come against sides in the top half of the league. Now that the squad issues have been addressed, we fully expect to climb out of the danger zone over the coming weeks and to find ourselves in a much more comfortable position by the time we approach the home stretch of this most unusual campaign.
Much has been made of the financial implications of the additional investment in players in January. It’s true that much of this was unplanned, but it was necessary for the Club to recalibrate after a summer recruitment process that had perhaps not met our expectations. The alternative was to do nothing and risk a relegation and the loss of our hard-earned EFL status. Additional cost will necessarily be incurred, but at a level which is manageable to the owners. Additionally, some financial commitments planned for this season have been able to be pushed back to the summer which is allowing us to stay on or around the original spend profile we set out for the Club at the beginning of the season.
The financial outlook for the Club, as Paul Hornby said in his recent interview, is the healthiest it has been in decades, and this is testament to his astute stewardship. We believe wholeheartedly that the future is bright both on and off the field, and the aggressive recruitment undertaken in January is testament to the commitment of the owners who will do everything in their power to avoid relegation.
‘All Bluebirds’ Committee
I’d like to thank Steve Herbert and Chris Altree, in particular, for their involvement in the launch of the ‘All Bluebirds’ Committee at the Club, and also Craig Rutherford, Pastor Jonny Harrison, Freya Dawes, Mark Simpson and everybody else involved for agreeing to become members. Chris Altree, our Supporter Liaison Officer, has been elected as the Chairman of the committee and I know that he already has a lot of positive ideas about the role that the Club can play in championing worthy causes.
There will be a brighter spotlight shone on the work of this committee in the coming months as I think that all fans will be pleased to see the Club actively engaging in the local community and wider football on issues such as dementia awareness, inclusion and diversity. We’re also reviewing the options that we offer for bereaved Bluebirds who would like to immortalise family members inside the ground, and we thank our Club Chaplain for his positive role in this work.
In addition to the community benefits of such a committee, ‘All Bluebirds’ will be invaluable in demonstrating to the EFL our compliance with a number of mandatory procedures around safeguarding. The Club has had to strengthen its policies in this area this season in line with EFL requirements and Steve Herbert, in particular, as our Safeguarding Officer has been integral to satisfying the League’s compliance criteria. I’m looking forward to the rest of the year and seeing the positive impact that the Club can have for supporters and the community as a whole.
Battling the elements
As I write this update from the comfort of my office, a brave team of ground staff and volunteers are outside battling snow and biting winds to ensure that the Club’s frost covers are on the pitch in advance of tomorrow’s visit of Exeter City. This is the latest in a series of matches that have been threatened by the conditions in what is proving to be a bad winter for cancelled fixtures all across League Two.
Much of our recent difficulty has been down to rain, for which there is little mitigation. Covering the pitch in frost covers does little to solve problems caused by rainfall as the water still has to go somewhere and can’t be easily moved from the covers once it has fallen. The additional weight this creates also makes the covers almost impossible for less than a dozen people to move. Our drainage system has helped significantly, but last summer was the first in a multi-year programme to fully implement the solution. We still need to go between each existing drain with a new trench so as to halve the distance between trenches. At the moment, pockets of water are still able to sit in the gaps and create issues.
Rest assured that the Club’s policy is to do everything we can to get every game played on the day that we’re supposed to play it. Nobody at the Club, neither the coaching staff, my own staff or our owners, have any agenda to have games cancelled or deferred and are as frustrated as anybody else when Mother Nature defeats us. We are, alas, subject to the whims of northern weather and destined to fight this battle eternally – or at least until our rise to the Premier League funds a retractable roof!
As many people will be aware, Barrow Raiders club historian Keith Nutter recently passed away. While much of his legacy will rightly be centred around the work that he did at Craven Park, Keith was an avid follower of Barrow AFC for much of his life and contributed to the administration of a large number of local sports at both the amateur and professional level. Our own Sid Blain remembers fondly the away trips that Keith made (with a hardy band who travelled on the team bus at £5 per person!) in the early days of our return to the non-league landscape in the 1970s.
Keith was a close personal friend of mine and has been an invaluable advisor in my short time in this role. The insights he shared from his time as a Director of Barrow Raiders and his tireless desire to advance the cause of all Barrow sports teams have been crucial to some of the work that we’ve been able to do at Barrow AFC since August and his loss will be felt not just at Craven Park but also here at The Progression Solicitors Stadium.