Bluebirds bring League football back to Cumbrian coast

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

On the main thoroughfare in Barrow-in-Furness, by the town’s most prestigious hotel, stands a statue of Emlyn Hughes. Kicking a football over what appear to be waves of the Irish Sea, Barrow’s most famous sporting son and Liverpool legend not only had to cross Morecambe Bay to start his career at Blackpool, but break with familial tradition. His father Fred won caps for Wales and Great Britain at rugby league, playing for Barrow FC, the prominent oval-ball exponents formed in 1875.

Local soccer club Barrow AFC, promoted to the Football League in 2020 after nearly 50 years in the wilderness, first saw the light of day in 1901. By the 1950s, when Barrow’s once thriving industry building warships was in rapid decline, Barrow FC played several prestigious rugby fixtures at Wembley while Barrow AFC were a permanent fixture in the Third Division North.

The Bluebirds’ last season in the old Football League, 1971-72, was the second in succession that they had applied for re-election. This time, the 11th occasion that the club’s directors had been forced to beg their league peers for a reprieve and restart to the following season, Barrow’s pleas fell on deaf ears.

Welcome to Barrow/Rob Proud

While Emlyn Hughes was setting out on the first of four title-winning seasons with Liverpool, the local club he never joined was embarking on the first of 48 campaigns in the fifth or sixth tier.

It was by no means a smooth ride, the one constant being Holker Street, Barrow’s home since 1909. Set between the station and the waterfront north of town, this endearingly old-school ground was officially renamed after its sponsors as the Progression Solicitors Stadium in 2019. One of several positive moves by the club’s ambitious yet realistic directors, it was one that laid the groundwork for that long-awaited return to the Football League a year later.

With automatic promotion and relegation to and from The 92 now long established, Barrow cannot count on a favourable re-election process to maintain Football League status, rather results on the pitch. It took three managerial changes but safety was maintained in 2021-22, Holker Street gaining a new sponsors’ name, the Dunes Hotel Stadium, as Barrow’s owners looked to shore up the club’s future.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

The nearest airport to Barrow-in-Furness is Leeds-Bradford 150km away (93 miles), although the most accessible is Manchester 174km (108 miles) south. From Leeds-Bradford, the A1 FLYER bus runs every 20mins to Leeds City Square (£4 single/£6 return, 35min journey time), near the station. From there, the train to Barrow-in-Furness (advance single £50, overall journey time 4hrs) requires at least one change, via Manchester Oxford Road or Preston. From Manchester Airport, there are direct trains every 2-3hrs, or change at Preston/Lancaster, journey times around 2.5-3hrs, advance singles £20-£50).

Barrow station is halfway between stadium and town centre and walkable to both. Local buses are run by Stagecoach, single £1.50, Barrow dayrider £3.40, pay on board. Barrow-based Acacia Taxis (01229 43 43 43) can be booked online and offer airport transfers.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Traditional pubs dot the streets leading off Abbey Road, starting with The Derby Inn on Dalton Road, with cask and craft ales, a whole mess of gins, TV football and en-suite lodgings. A few steps away on Abbey Road itself, The Furness Railway also doubles up as pub and hotel, in the Wetherspoons chain. Further down Dalton Road, on the other side of The Mall, The Kings Arms shows sport on a maxiscreen and several smaller TVs. On the station side of The Mall, the tidy, friendly Robin Hood in the Stockport-based Robinsons Brewery chain also screens sport.

On the stadium side of Abbey Road, Cunningham’s on Bath Street prioritises pints and TV sport while on the other side of the ground by the reservoir, the Tally Ho on Schneider Road provides plenty of outdoor space, with TV football and pool within.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

Barrow Tourism has a database of hotels.

Just the other side of the main road from the stadium, the Travelodge Barrow in Furness offers standard, two-star rooms and free parking. Close to the station on the section of focal Abbey Road running away from town, the Maindee Guest House comprises a dozen comfortable rooms in classic B&B tradition. The other side of the tracks towards the town centre, The Duke of Edinburgh was accommodating rail travellers and film stars a century ago, a contemporary refurb coming under new ownership in 2006. Four-star comfort is complemented by a classy restaurant, with free breakfast for direct booking.

Further down Abbey Road, The Furness Railway is both 50-room hotel and Wetherspoons pub. Both popular pub and nine-room guesthouse, The Derby Inn just off Abbey Road provides convivial drinking as well as en-suite lodgings. Closer to the stadium on Duke Street, the traditional Ambrose has a mix of doubles, singles, twins and family rooms, a pool table, dartboard, TV and framed football shirts in the games room of the attached cosy pub.