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Friday, 11 July 2014

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BARROW AFC WIN FA TROPHY AT WEMBLEY

GOALS from Lee McEvilly and Jason Walker see Barrow AFC make history by winning the FA Trophy 2-1 against Stevenage at Wembley

SATURDAY - BARROW AFC 2 STEVENAGE BOROUGH 1

120 MINUTES: Bond misses a sitter that should have sealed it again as he’s open in the area. Mega-tense, but it doesn’t matter – they’ve done it – BARROW HAVE WON!

Two added minutes.

118 MINUTES: McEvilly should seal it as he has time and space to shoot, but places it wide at a snail’s pace.

116 MINUTES: Crucial save from Tomlinson from his own man as Jones deflects a Lawrie Wilson header at goal. Still Barrow hang on.

114 MINUTES: Mark Boyd is home free. He’s off at the area and looks to be away before Bayes comes out to challenge him and take the ball.

110 MINUTES: the set-up man Rutherford is coming off for Mark Boyd. There’s 10 minutes to go.

107 MINUTES: BARROW AFC 2 STEVENAGE BOROUGH 1 The local boy comes good. Jason Walker fires in from 25 yards after a ball from Rutherford and Barrow lead! The whole team, bar Phil Bolland, mobs him and the fans are delirious. It had to the Cartmel kid.

105 MINUTES: Gasps from Barrow as Paul Edwards hooks a shot on target towards the far corner, but it deflects behind for a corner. Still anyone’s game.

101 MINUTES: Barrow try a clever free-kick routine from 20 yards out as Walker tees himself up on the volley, but shoots weakly wide.

99 MINUTES: Odubade breaks and is going at the area as Tomlinson needlessly comes off his line. Odubade shoots and hits the netting again, but it’s wide and the Stevenage fans are only cheering for a split second.

94 MINUTES: Paul Rutherford tries his luck from 20 yards, but it goes well wide. Some unusual formations here, Stevenage a 3-4-1 and Barrow a 4-3-2.

We’re underway in extra-time.

EXTRA-TIME: It’s going to be 10 v 9 for the 30 added minutes. Barrow can never do anything the easy way can they?

101 MINUTES (90+11): That is the second time Hulbert has been sent off this season, having been dismissed in the home game against Kettering in the league. Griffin won’t be back, he’s been wrapped up in a blanket and carried off to applause from all quarters.

98 MINUTES: It doesn’t look good for Griffin as the stretcher comes on. It was totally out of character for Hulbert and he had to go.

95 MINUTES: ROBIN HULBERT SENT OFF. The Barrow midfielder goes as he flies into the face of Charlie Griffin with his elbow. It’s 10-a-side – if Griffin can carry on as he’s bleeding all over his face.

94 MINUTES: Carlos Logan forces a save from Bayes at his near post as Barrow keep it all in the Stevenage half. Real tense stuff as Borough break and Scott Laird shoots just wide.

INJURY TIME: We’ll have five minutes.

90 MINUTES: Stevenage are forced to change their keeper due to an injury to Chris Day as he dived across towards that Jones header. On comes Ashley Bayes. Borough have used all their subs.

89 MINUTES: Close again for Barrow as Bond crosses and captain Paul Jones heads just wide. The flag was up though, so it wouldn’t have counted.

84 MINUTES: Carlos is showing his locker’s contents to all and sundry – he’s the main reason Barrow are back level. His pace and crossing are spot on as Barrow keep pushing.

80 MINUTES: Paul Edwards has his name put in the book. He looks tired and his challenges are not as well-timed as they usually are.

79 MINUTES: BARROW AFC 1 STEVENAGE BOROUGH 1 It just had to be – Lee McEvilly has scored!!!!! The big striker puts a perfect header on a Paul Rutherford cross and it beats Day all ends up. The Bluebirds have scored at Wembley and all the momentum is with them.

77 MINUTES: Some premature cheers as a header from Jon Ashton ripples the net, but it’s the side-netting and Barrow can breathe again. Barrow have their first shot on target through Logan, but it’s an easy save for Chris Day.

74 MINUTES: Bring on the big man. They don’t get much bigger than Lee McEvilly as he comes on to replace the ineffective Gregg Blundell. If physical presence is what’s needed, McEvilly certainly brings it. Did someone say the Goonies?

71 MINUTES: There are 21,223 people inside Wembley today – 2,000 than 20 years ago when barrow beat Leek. They’ve just seen Edwards get a crucial toe to the ball to stop Charlie Griffin having a free shot on goal.

69 MINUTES: Walker snatches at another shot from the edge of the area that is easily cleared. The Barrow front man is then inches away from connecting with a Carlos Logan cross. It has to be said, Logan is having a stormer. Albeit after five minutes.

65 MINUTES: Stevenage bring on Charlie Griffin for Chris Beardsley ad Edwards struggles with cramp for Barrow. A free-kick almost comes up trumps as Andy Bond is played in to fire a shot from 20 yards that bounces just wide.

64 MINUTES: We have another chance to take a look inside Carlos Logan’s locker as he comes on for Simon Wiles. We’re told there’s a lot in there, but so far it seems to be full of lint and mouldy fruit. Logan’s first action is to shoot well wide of goal.
 

63 MINUTES: Odubade goes down under a challenge from Edwards in the area and there are screams for a penalty. Edwards doesn’t touch the ball and is lucky to get away with it as referee Lee Probert waves the shouts away.

60 MINUTES: More problems for Jones against Odubade as the striker skins him and shoots wide. Jones almost looks dead on his feet.

59 MINUTES: Joel Byrom sees his last action of the game as he hits a weak shot over the bar and is immediately replaced by Lawrie Wilson. Seems a bit harsh, it wasn’t the best shot, but don’t think it warranted him being taken off.

52 MINUTES: Barrow have started the second half well and have been camped in the Stevenage half. They are still lacking that final cutting edge, but the signs are positive. It’s also been pointed out to me that I enjoyed some Nice creams at the interval as well. Nice they were. Phil Bolland shoots wide from distance as I finish digesting said biscuits and find an unexpected bit of spice between my teeth that burns my tongue. I’m hoping that was from the chicken.

47 MINUTES: Oh Jason! The ball is played in several times to the Borough box and it comes to the feet of Jason Walker, a yard out, after a pass from Gregg Blundell. But the ball is caught in his feet and he can’t get a shot off – Walker voices those exact feelings to his team-mates.

SECOND HALF: After a fine buffet of Southern Fried chicken, fries and some custard creams, we’re back out on the field. If Barrow have as much bite as that chicken in the second half they have a chance. Joint-boss Darren Sheridan says the team need to starts attacking more, creating chances and taking advantage of the extra man. Wise words.

3.50pm: With Bridges’ sending off, the game could really be in the balance in the second half. Barrow have been battling hard to get back on level terms, but still the only shot on target from either side has been the goal. We may see a change of tactics from the Bluebirds after the break as they need to take the game to Borough to get a result.

HALF-TIME: BARROW AFC 0 STEVENAGE BOROUGH 1 As we reach half-time they’ve turned on the floodlights. It may not be bright and sunny, but it’s still lighter than an average winter’s afternoon in Furness. Maybe they don’t pay enough on their electricity bills.

45 MINUTES: A Stevenage corner comes to the head of Michael Bostwick and he directs it just wide. We’ll have three minutes of stoppage time and I can smell the half-time food already.

44 MINUTES: The half-time trip for an extortionately-priced burger has begun among the fans, with more Barrow supporters than Stevenage being tempted to the vendors before the whistle.

41 MINUTES: Borough are coping well with 10 men and should possibly be two up now as Odubade plays in Drury and his effort across goal is punched by Tomlinson only to the feet of Beardsley, whose effort at goal from 10 yards loops over, with the Barrow keeper nowhere.

39 MINUTES: Stevenage striker Yemi Odubade is giving Paul Jones a torrid time in the Barrow defence. Now playing as a lone front man after Borough restructured following Bridges’ dismissal, he is showing pace and guile to outfox the AFC skipper and now sends a shot across the face of goal.

34 MINUTES: Some superb dribbling from Simon Wiles to clear his own line, skipping past three Stevenage men before eventually being dispossessed 15 yards inside the Borough half. He had options, he should have passed.

27 MINUTES: DAVID BRIDGES SENT-OFF: A really dangerous challenge from Bridges catches Andy Bond in the lower midriff as it has become the fashion to call it of late and it’s a straight red from referee Lee Probert. Bridges was already sliding and couldn’t pull out, so possibly a little harsh, but definitely a bad tackle. There’s almost fisticuffs soon after as both teams flock round the incident, while Bridges takes off his shirt and storms down the tunnel.

26 MINUTES: A goalmouth scramble in the Barrow box following a Stevenage corner and a few nervous gasps from the Barrow support before Phil Bolland clears.

23 MINUTES: Wiles delivers a strong cross from a free-kick out on the right and Borough keeper Chris day flaps at it like a hyperactive pigeon. There’s no-one gone long for Barrow though and Stevenage clear.

19 MINUTES: There’s a clash of heads in the middle of the park as Andy Bond and David Bridges go up for a header. It brings the physios on and allows the players time for a quick drink on the sidelines.

13 MINUTES: Barrow need to keep themselves steady now and not let Borough take control of the game. The pre-match team-talks had centred on keeping them out for the first 20 minutes, but it’s time to rethink.

10 MINUTES: Barrow AFC 0 Stevenage Borough 1. Totally against the run of play and with their first shot, Borough take the lead. That man Drury (Andy, not Peter) gets to the ball on the edge of the area and hits a pinpoint accurate shot into the top corner.

SEVEN MINUTES: Three Barrow corners in the opening spell and Borough aren’t looking all that confident about clearing them, though no clear chances have resulted.

FOUR MINUTES: Both Dave Bayliss and Graham Westley are stood right at the edges of their technical boxes already shouting at their teams and waving their arms wildly. 90 minutes of that and they’ll both need as much of a rest as the players.

TWO MINUTES: A Simon Wiles corner is played in the box and it falls kindly to Jason Walker, who shoots first time but sees his effort blocked in a forest of Borough legs.

3.01pm: We’ve kicked off a minute late. Barrow will be attacking the Stevenage end in the first half.

2.58pm: You don’t get that at Holker Street – the fans all stand and sing the national anthem and the players are just about ready for kick-off. The tension is really setting in now as the Borough supporters do their best to boo the AFC team as its read out but fall victim to the Bluebirds cheers. The same happens when the Stevenage teams is announced.

2.55pm: ‘The time for waiting is over’ says the man on the tannoy to the sound of big cheers for both sets of fans, but nowhere near as big as those when the teams walk out and manager Dave Bayliss leads the presentation party down the line of players and mascots, each Barrow team member having a mascot all their own on what must be an extremely proud day for those youngsters and their families.

2.50pm: Anyone watching the ITV4 coverage will have just seen my colleague Mr Procter ‘working’ as they showed footage from the training ground in Watford where they have been based for the past two days. They will also have seen the stadium starting to really fill up on the bottom tier now, with both sets of fans in good voice. The split of the supporters means no fans behind the goals though, which is a shame.

2.40pm: Sesame Street’s The Count is taking a break from his day job to turn out as ITV4’s Jim Rosenthal down on the pitch in front of us. He has Neil Warnock and someone else we can’t identify with him out there. Commentary for them will be provided by Peter Drury, who had this to say when I spoke to him here at Wembley last week: http://www.nwemail.co.uk/afc/news/peter-glad-to-be-voicing-the-final-1.705795?referrerPath=home/2.3320

2.35pm: When the match starts, we will go to game time rather than BST just to avoid confusion, enough of which has been caused by the team-sheet which tells us Stevenage has signed cartoon dog Droopy. It’s actually meant to be Andy Drury, and I’m sure he won’t be overly pleased at the name change, though Droopy was pretty speedy and would be a valuable asset on the wing for any team.

2.30pm: Paul Turner taking over now from Lee Procter, who says the last few days have been hard work, only to then tell us about his evening jacuzzi with the players. No talk of who was longest in the shower though.  We have the teams here at Wembley as the players are out on the pitch warming up. The big news for Barrow is that Stuart Tomlinson starts between the sticks rather than Tim Deasy. The Barrow managers had told the rest of the squad the outfield players yesterday, but the two stoppers were made to wait until an hour before kick-off before they were told who had been given the nod. Jason Walker and Gregg Blundell start up front for Barrow in a 4-4-2 formation, with Lee McEvilly the striking option on the bench.

Barrow AFC Starting XI: Stuart Tomlinson, Simon Spender, Paul Edwards, Paul Jones, Phil Bolland, Simon Wiles, Robin Hulbert, Andy Bond, Jason Walker, Gregg Blundell, Paul Rutherford.
Substitutes: Tim Deasy, Mark Boyd, Lee McEvilly, Carlos Logan, Mike Pearson.

Stevenage Borough Starting XI: Chris Day, Scott Laird, Jon Ashton, Yemi Odubade, Joel Byrom, Mark Roberts, David Bridges, Chris Beardsley, Andy Drury, Michael Bostwick, Ronny Henry.
Substitutes: Ashley Bayes, Lawries Wilson, Stacy Long, Charlie Griffin, Peter Vincenti.

Referee: Lee Probert.
 

12.45pm: I spoke to soon. Gregg Blundell is up on his feet dancing and signing at the back of the bus entertaining everyone. He puts the song ‘I’ve got a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night’ by the Black Eyed Peas on the MP3 player. At the front, however, the club’s Wembley All Together Now CD is banged on. Some of the players sing along and then rip it out of Jason Walker when he’s speaking bit on the record about his ’two goals’ in the semi-finals comes on! What a brilliant atmosphere…… let’s hope tonight/today is indeed going to be a good day. We’re almost here now. Arch well and truly spotted!!!

12.30pm: Dave Bayliss tells me they have still not told the keepers yet which one will start at Wembley today. Imagine being Stuart Tomlinson or Tim Deasy – they must be so nervous! The 10 outfield starting players already know who they are. The weather is overcast on the way down the M1. The coach is more quiet now, the music has been turned down a bit and the players appear more focused. Even Gregg Blundell is quiet! The Scottish game between Kilmarnock and Falkirk is on the coach TVs, The word ‘butterflies’ can be heard plenty of times at the front of the bus. Jonah is on the phone talking Wembley tickets for friends and family. Just two-and-a-half hours till kick-off…… can you believe this is actually happening?!?! I can’t. We’re going to Wembley!!!!!!! The old first to spot the Wembley arch game has started. My betting is that director Russell Dodd wins!

12.15pm: We're off, the team coach is on it's way to Wembley! The players and directors are decked out in the grey pinstripe suites, Barrow AFC ties and yellow button-hole flowers. They look very smart! A bit different to the usual trackies and flip flops! There was lots of photos taken as we left the hotel and the same is happening on the coach. The music is pumping load out of the MP3 player at the back of the coach. The players are clapping along and signing. The music is a real mix - lots of R&B and upbeat dance tunes. Currently on the player is OMG by American singer Usher. Lots of the players are drinking water. There's a real mix of nerves and adrenalin on the coach right now. I'm, looking straight at Jonah, whose has that look of a gladiator, he's so focused. He has that face that Man United's Gary Neville has as he prepares to lead the Red Devils out at Old Trafford. Jason Walker is ont eh phone, while Robin Hulbert, Shez, Lee McEvily are playing cards. Simon Wiles has lived up to his 'best dressed' billing in a cracking pair of shiny winkle-pickers! I'm getting hammered for wearing my black pumps. Hahahaha! We've just passed the Stevenage bus on the roundabout before the M1!!! We've left them for dust!!! It's standing room only on this packed coach, with Martin Lewis and the guys from Lakes TV on their feet. We've pulled in and let Stevenage go past them. Apparantly if our coach pulls in second we will get a better position at the ground - 'it's all tactical' says Dave Bayliss!

11.20am: The Barrow AFC players have just taken a leisurely walk around the team hotel gardens and woodland amid light drizzle here in north London. Gareth Jelleyman has now joined the squad. There is still no word, it appears, on who will be the goalkeeper (either Tim Deasy or Stuart Tomlinson) at Wembley today. There are certainly a few nerves flying around – probably more so amongst the directors than the players! The squad will have a pre-match meal in 10 minutes, then it’s into the Wembley suites and off down the M1 for the biggest day in their footballing lives. I can’t wait!

10.23am: Barrow AFC general manager Martin Lewis, who arrived last night, chatted to me over a sausage and bacon sandwich (or two) at breakfast. He tells me the club have sold around 7,800 tickets for today's final and that Stevenage have sold around 12,000. The FA have told him there will probably be about 4,000 neutral fans there. My maths makes that a crowd of around 24,000. Ok, so Barrow fans might be out-numbered, but we all know how much noise the Bluebirds army can make. Several of the players have told me what a big impact the Barrow fans can make. They have asked me to tell the fans: 'Please, this is Wembley, we're here...... get right behind us and make as much noise as you can... do the town proud."

10.20am: Midfielder Robin Hulbert (with the help of ‘roomie’ Simon Wiles) has penned yet another brilliant blog overnight. This guy’s going to put me out of a job soon!
Hulbert writes: “Woke up Friday morning and thought we had signed a South Korean in the team, that was Liam the physio, he had one eye in Chester and one eye in Leicester! Liam certainly looked like he’s had a good night out in St Albans on Thursday! Friday was good, we trained in the morning and went through all the team formation. Obviously some of the squad are disappointed, but you don’t win anything with 11 men or achieve success individually. I’ve just tried to iron my Wembley shirt with a brick!!! Very creased!!!! All artillery is all ready and full of ammo. Just been loosened off by Jack the assistant physio. Jack has the biggest tongues ever on his rascal Adidas 1945 shell trainers. It’s getting louder…….. I can almost hear you……. But you’ve still got more to give!! Who’s that coming over the hill…………. (Robin Hulbert!!!!) I want to hear you signing that and all your brilliant songs/chants as loud as you can today….. you fans can make the difference at Wembley. So, here it is…. The time has now come…. All Together Now for Barrow AFC. Remember, win or lose, all Bluebirds are blue. Let’s make this a day to remember. See you At Wembley. Robin (and Wilesy).”
 

9.40am: It’s fairly quiet down at breakfast. All the directors are here. The only player here is winger Simon Wiles, whose munching down some porridge. I bumped into midfielder Robin Hulbert on the way down to breakfast – he’s been up since 5.45am! Robin is always one of the ‘early risers!’ He tells me that he, Phil Bolland, Gregg Blundell (three of the older lads!) and Simon Spender are always the players up first on match days on away trips. He’s not wrong. Soon after seeing Robin, there is Bolly and Gregg. All three have had their breakfast a long time ago and are off out for a stroll in the gardens. There are definitely a few nerves – totally understandable.
On reaching the breakfast room, director Dave Ingham (another early riser) comes over to me holding his camera and laughing. He then shows me evidence that when he came down to breakfast this morning there was just one person in the food hall – yep, you guessed it, Robin! The photo shows Robin sat there with a napkin on his head. Dave says this is exactly how he found the midfielder this morning. I’ll have to tackle Robin about his napkin headwear later! Most of the players, I’m told, will stay in bed until the whole squad go for a walk in the hotel gardens at 11am. Barry Poss tells me the lads love to watch Sky’s Soccer AM on the morning of a game. Skipper Paul Jones has just arrived for a bit of brekkie – he’s on tea and toast. All the squad will meet at 11.30am for a pre-match meal – chicken and beans, I’m reliably informed.
Joint-managers Dave Bayliss and Darren Sheridan are also up. They’ve both been to the gym and swimming pool already. Physio Liam Enwright is in there now, grinding out the miles on the treadmill. Perhaps he’s training for a return to the boxing ring!
Director Russell Dodd would like to point out that, despite what Dave Bayliss said on the radio last night, he has NOT visited any lapdancing clubs on this Wembley trip!!!! Hahahaha!!!
 

9.10am: It’s here…… the big day has finally arrived. Today Barrow AFC will play their biggest game in 20 years when they lock horns with Stevenage Borough at Wembley – yes, Wembley – in the final of the FA Trophy. Lots of the expected 7,500-8,000 Bluebirds supporters are already in the capital having traveled down yesterday, many more are en route as I write. Here at the team hotel I’m about the head down to breakfast and see how the players are feeling. I’m sure on the outside, they be cool, collective and relaxed, but on the inside they are bound to be bubbling with excitement – I know I am!
The squad will head out on a short walk around the beautiful 12 acres of gardens here at Sopwell House at about 11am, I think before a pre-match meal at 11.30am. Perhaps they don’t do breakfast then? I’ll find out. The coach leaves at around 12.15pm and is due to arrive at Wembley at 1pm. Tonight, the players and directors will return for one last night at the team hotel, where they will be joined by family – hopefully to celebrate lifting non-league football’s finest silverware.
 

FRIDAY

11.43pm: Right, that’s it…… time to get some kip in…. big day tomorrow….. apparently there’s some game at Wembley or something!?!?!?! Think I'll sleep in my Barrow polo shirt - again!
BLUUUUUUUUUEBIRDS!!!!!

11.40pm: Predictions, predictions, what do people fancy for tomorrow’s big game under the arch? Soon after winning away at Maidenhead in round two, I had a sneaky feeling that this could, given it’s the 20th anniversary year of winning the same competition in 1990, be the Bluebirds’ year. I don’t know why I thought it, I just did. And I’m been absolutely genuine when I say that. Yes, Stevenage are the best team in non-league football, yes, they beat us 4-0 in March, yes, they have won the FA Trophy twice in the last three years (both times – 2007 and 2009 - at the new Wembley), but we are Barrow, cup specialists, giant-killers extraordinaire. My main concern is in case the players freeze on the biggest of all footballing stages. If they don’t, and we keep it tight for the first 30 minutes, then I see no reason why Barrow can’t emulate the club’s heroes of 1990 and bring the silverware back to south Cumbria. It might just - and chatting to a few folk today they feel the same – go all the way….. to extra-time…… and dare I say it….. penalties. If it did go that far who would take Barrow’s five spot-kicks – now there’s an interesting question for late on the eve of the final. Providing their still on the pitch, Jason Walker and Andy Bond are surely definites. As for the rest? It could come down to who has the most nerve, the most bottle…… in which case don’t be surprised to see centre-half and captain fantastic Paul Jones putting his hand in the air to take one.
 

11pm: So, I know the 10 outfield players for tomorrow (and no, I’m still not telling you – I want to live to see the game itself!) but what about the keeper selection? Tim Deasy and Stuart Tomlinson have been neck-and-neck for the starting jersey for weeks and, as I understand it, co-managers Dave Bayliss and Darren Sheridan are still to deliver there decision to the pair. I’m honestly not sure they can pick between the pair, and both, to be fair, were outstanding in training on Thursday when the team did shooting practice. As Bayliss said in the Evening Mail earlier this week “you could toss a coin between them, it’s that close”. I know the two bosses are having a quiet drink down in the hotel bar now…… perhaps there also tossing said coin?
Tim has kindly emailed me the hilarious mobile phone footage of him and Tomlinson (filmed by Andy Bond) playing football in the supermarket down the road last night. I will try and get someone to put it on the Evening Mail website as soon as I can. It really is very, very funny (see the blog entry from 12.15pm today for more on this).
 

10.40pm: I’ve just got the following Facebook message from Steve Herbert, of the Ultras Barrovia supporters group. Steve is on the 5.30am train!
He says: “We are marching to Wembley from the Green Man (pub) at 2pm en masse as a support. If you are with any of the players, the core support are all in (stand) 104, and are with them body and soul All Bluebirds are Blue."

10.35pm: Just one sleep to go! The big day is now almost upon us….. 16-and-a-half hours and counting until kick-off at Wembley.
I’ve just been down to the hotel gym and pool. ‘Silver fox’ skipper Jonah was just leaving, but there was just about enough room left in the jacuzzi for a small one, alongside physio Liam ‘will he ever stop whining about his FA charge going in the paper’, assistant physio Jack Somerfield and Gary Robinson from Lakes TV. The facilities down at the pool area are top-drawer, real plush – not like some of the dumps I’ve stayed in on away trips this season (the ‘retro’ hotel in Gateshead where I ran away in the morning too scared to sample breakfast, springs to mind).
It was interesting chatting to Jack, who finished his degree at Edgehill just last summer. He joined the Barrow ranks just eight weeks ago…… now he’s going to be in the Wembley dugout! Like bus driver Andy, I think Jack could well be another Barrow AFC good luck omen.
 

8.15pm: Here is midfielder Robin Hulbert's latest blog entry - this time from the team hotel the night before the Wembley final! Got to say, Robin is loving doing this blog and is hoping to pen a final pre-Wembley one tomorrow morning. Check back here tomorrow to read it. Oh, and don't forget tomorrow's Wembley speical edition of the Evening Mail, on sale from 6am. Also, we'll be blogging on this very website all day tomorrow, including during the game. So, if you can't make it - and don'y have ITV4 -stay with us here! Without further ado, here's Robin's latest blog:

"Arrived here at last, had a nice trip down on our new luxurious coach, taking plenty of money off Shez at cards! Bless the gaffers’ cotton socks!! The coach was packed, we must have a big game on Saturday or something!! We stopped off at London Colney (Watford’s training ground) and had a light training session, finishing off with a shooting session, where, in front of the TV cameras, big Bolly was on fire. Eddie, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired!! (DOG POO).
The losers forfeit was bare butt (losing players pulling their pants down and the winners smashing balls at them). Some had bigger and hairier targets than others!!
We then went back to the hotel where I was not disappointed with my room-mate (Wilesy)! It was like walking into Cadburys World. But I was disappointed when I saw him walking around the room with his horrible grey Y-fronts, with his illumines white body! Our general nightcap is a 10 minute chat with either Jonah or Liam (Legohead). That always sees us get at least a good 10 hours kip!! Right folks, the temperature is heating up.
It’s getting louder……… but still not loud enough!"

 

 

8.10pm: Well, I was right, there was indeed pasta, lots of it……. But there was also plenty of other good old-fashioned pre-match grub like chicken, fish, rice, potatoes…… oh…. and baked beans, you got to love them old baked beans! During the final evening meal, club chairman Brian Keen stood up and gave a rousing speech. He congratulated the players on getting this far and urged them to give it their all at Wembley tomorrow. Brian should consider a new career in motivational speaking – his speech was a cracker and the lads applauded him warmly afterwards. Can you believe the FA Trophy final is now only 19 hours away?!?! Thanks to everyone who has texted me, emailed, Facebooked or left comments on the blog. I know a lot of my Barrow supporting friends are in the Big Smoke now as we speak. I hope you all have a great night out (without me!) – have a beer or two on Procter (not too many though – you don’t want to be rushing for the Wembley toilet and miss the winning Barrow goal!) I’m told the majority of Barrow fans will be boozing the night away in pubs close to Euston Station. Please do me and everyone here proud tonight – make our capital a sea of Barrow blue and white!
After the evening meal the players took it in turns to do one-on-one interviews with the guys from Lakes TV, who are producing a Wembley DVD for the club to sell. I did my best to earwig in! From what I can gather, right-back Simon Spender is the official ‘worst dressed’ AFC player, while Simon Wiles – although his flip flops and knee-high socks combination tonight suggests otherwise – is the ‘best dressed’.
I also helped central midfielder enforcer, and, as he’ll remind you, multiple player-of the season award winner, Robin Hulbert with his latest Evening Mail blog entry (see the home page for link). He and ‘roomie’ Simon Wiles penned it together last night. I’ll post his latest entry on this blog as well in a minute, so it’s easy to find.
Right, I’m off to joint the players in the hotel gym and swimming pool. I hope Stuart ‘Terminator’ Tomlinson is ready to be ‘out-lifted’ by Lee ‘two guns’ Procter…… or maybe not!!!
 

5.45pm: We’re back at the team hotel now after a brief trip into St Albans to pick up some tasty supplies (crisps appear to be the snack of choice). One person, no manes, visited the burger van!!! As I say, no names will be mentioned here! The final evening meal before tomorrow’s Wembley final is in 15 minutes in our posh eating suite (chandeliers galore!) I’m expecting lots of pasta, and perhaps….. let me think…….. more pasta. Good job I love pasta!
Reflecting on this afternoon’s trip to Wembley, I still can’t believe how good it was. I’m taking some stick off Tony Keen who read my earlier entry (about how the trip out onto the Wembley pitch was one of the best moments of my life), but, hey, you know what, I don’t care, I stand by what I said. After all, how many football lovers can say they have stood out on the hallowed Wembley pitch and played keepie-uppie? The answer: Not many.
The fun started when, after missing the correct turn into Wembley stadium and having to negotiate a long one-way detour, our coach couldn’t fit through the gate area. Bus driver Andy – who is proving a bit of a hit with the players – made the necessary wing-mirror adjustments and, finally we were in. After exiting the coach we were all led into the away team dressing room where the Barrow players will prepare for tomorrow’s big final. The faces of the players as they entered the dressing room were priceless. Let’s just say it was jaw-dropping. For the first time on this trip I think it really hit home for the players – they realised this is not a dream, it is really happening. Russell Dodd and Barry Poss handed out the yellow shirts the players will wear tomorrow and soon they were all hanging from the dressing room pegs. Photo after photo after photo were taken as proud players posed next to their shirts. Some seemed more excited than others. I did a quick video interview with young winger Paul Rutherford….. he was literally speechless. Andy Bond, Jason Walker, Robin Hulbert, Mark Boyd and Simon Wiles were snapping away like the paparazzi pack, while others like centre-halves Phil Bolland and Paul Jones (both have of course been to Wembley before – Bolland as a player, Jones for last week’s media day) appeared more calm in their surroundings. Cup-tied Nick Chadwick cut a disappointed figure. I was like a kid whose Christmas’s had all come at once. I was stood in the same changing room that the likes of Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, all my other footballing heroes had been in.
Even better, however, was to come when we left the dressing room and walked past the head sculpture of Sir Alf Ramsey and out onto the pitch. I filmed the faces of the players as they saw for the first time the inside of the magnificent stadium they would be strutting their stuff in 24 hours later. There were a few jokes about the re-laid pitch, but, on the whole, everyone was gob-smacked by the size and beauty of this most iconic of footballing arenas. We stood admiring, dreaming, taking photos for over half an hour. There were flags high above the pitch with both the crests of Barrow and fellow finalists Stevenage on. Barry Poss asked the lady from the FA if the club could take it home with them afterwards! She didn’t say no! I didn’t want to leave, especially not after getting to kick a ball on the pitch. Bondy and Tim Deasy were having a great time playing two-touch keepie-uppie with a ball they found. This was stuff that dreams are made of. I wasn’t the only one in awe. Players and directors alike just stood there taking in every single second. Eventually, the groundsman having confiscated the ball, we left the pitch and headed back to the coach. To say it whet the appetite for tomorrow’s big final is, perhaps, the biggest understatement ever.
 

4pm. Right, I’ve had a bit of time to try and collect my thoughts a little….. so I’ll begin. AMAZING, AWESOME, SUPERB, UNBELIEVABLE – these are just some of the superlatives uttered by the almost-speechless Barrow AFC players as they walked through the Wembley dressing rooms and out onto the pitch.
I’m also glad to report that the much-criticised Wembley turf, which has recently just been laid for the 11th time, was immaculate, like a crown green bowling green. How do I know this? Because - along the players, co-managers and directors - I just spent well over half an hour out in the centre area of the most famous pitch in world football. I also joined Tim Deasy, Andy Bond and director Dave Ryder in kicking a ball about down in one of the goal areas. I think Bondy was well impressed with my keepie-uppie skills – that was until one of the Wembley groundsmen came over and confiscated our ball!
 

3.35pm: Very rarely am I lost for words……. well today I am. Why? Because I just joined the Barrow AFC squad in walking out onto the pitch at Wembley. You might laugh, but it was one of the best moments of life. I’ll blog more about our trip to the greatest football stadium in the world when I find the words……….

2pm: Spirits are massively high on the coach as we head to Wembley. Everyone is hugely excited. The tunes are pumping out from the back of the coach, where Barrow AFC’s famous card school 12 continue to try and outwit each other. Safe journey to all the Barrow fans setting out on their journeys top Wembley today. For those travelling tomorrow, don't forget our special edition of the Evening Mail, on sale at 6am.

1.50pm: Wem-ber-lee, Wem-ber-lee, we’re the famous Barrow soccer and we’re going to Wem-ber-lee. We are indeed, in fact we’re on the M1 right now as an excited team coach heads for the world’s most famous football arena. The Barrow AFC squad tour around Wembely is due to start in less than an hour. There’s more cameras on this coach than a paparazzi convention! I think, for the first time, the dream is now starting to become a reality for these players. When they step off this coach shortly they will be at Wembley. When they make the same journey tomorrow they will be going there to play for the FA Trophy, to try and emulate Barrow’s1990 heroes. Stop pinching yourselves ladies and gentlemen, yes, this is really happening. I’ve just spotted the famous Wembley arch in the distance….. here we go!

12.20pm: I’ve mentioned the words ‘comedy gold’ a few times so far on this trip…..and, from the mobile phone of Tim Deasy, comes yet another installment. Having just watched the video on the keeper’s phone, I can honestly say it is funny enough to appear on Sky’s Soccer AM show tomorrow (yes, he is planning to send it in to the show!)
Basically it involves Tim, fellow keeper Stuart Tomlinson and is filmed by Andy ‘Spielberg’ Bond. The setting is the Sainsbury’s just down the road from the hotel. Basically it involves Tomlinson running down an aisle of the supermarket with the ball performing a few fancy step-overs. As he runs down past the tins of baked beans and Pot Noodles, suddenly out of an adjacent aisle appears Deasy, who performs the sliding tackles of all sliding tackles, steals the ball and dribbles away with it. Brilliant!
 

12.05pm: The 10 outfield players who will start against Blue Square Premier champions Stevenage Borough at Wembley on Saturday are now running through some corner routines with Bayles and Shez. You have to feel a bit sorry for those lads not in the starting line-up. There’s some glum faces sat on the turf near me right now. It’s understandable, but, at the same time, that’s football. The managers have picked what they think is their strongest available team.
This is a great setting for training. Apparently, Bayles tells me, Arsenal used to use it. The Gunners training pitches are actually now just on the other side of the fence from where we are now. When we rolled up in the coach earlier we saw a Ferrari – blacked out windows and all that – pulling into the training ground next to this one. Training over…. It’s back to the hotel for soup and rolls. And I do this for a living…….. I know…… you don’t need to say it….. I’m a right lucky so-and-so!
 

11.50am: There it is…… the managers have delivered the team news to the squad out in the centre circle with the players and Saturday’s all-important starting XI are now running through some tactical set-piece routines. Obviously, I too now know the eleven players who will start for the Bluebirds in the club’s biggest game for 20 years, but, as I’m sure all readers of this blog will understand, I am not in a position to make that public. That is for the managers to do shortly before kick-off, or earlier should they wish. And no……. no amount of bribery will get the info out of me!

11.25am: The players have had their fix of the keep-ball circle game that brought so many laughs yesterday and are now playing a bit of two-touch football. They all look up for it. There is definitely a determined feel, a real desire amongst the squad. Bayles and Shez may have the starting side for Wembley in their minds, but everyone is still trying to impress enough to get in that all important first XI. Kick-off is now just 27-and-a-half hours away and counting……
Barry Poss has just been telling me an interesting story. He tells me there’s a lady staying in our team hotel who, out of the blue, approached skipper Paul Jones brandishing a copy of Barrow’s All Together Now Wembley CD. She (sorry, I don’t have her name) is here for a pampering weekend. Her partner is a massive Barrow AFC fan and asked Jonah if all the lads would sign it. They duly obliged and her lucky partner now has a present that will probably make his year!
 

11am: Stu Tomlinson has arrived. It’s interesting to see Gregg Blundell leading the lads in their warm-up exercises. The more and more time you spend with the squad, the more you begin to realise the big role Gregg has in this set-up. Yes, he is one of the players, but he’s also an experienced voice who others certainly seem to listen too. Gregg also plays a big role in the team banter. Along with Robin Hulbert, the pair keep spirits high with their wise-cracks and jokes. Sitting at the front of the bus with Gregg on the way to training, he kept us entertained with his stories. He was also responsible for nicking chairman Brian Keen’s mints….. but I didn’t tell you that! Word also reaches me that skipper Paul ‘Jonah’ Jones has been on the wind-ups, swapping the kit round so young midfielder James Owen's new kit trousers are the wrong size! The players are still stretching, while Bayles, physio Liam Enwright, his assistant Jack and Barry Poss play a game of cross bar challenge. Bayles is having a nightmare! Barry Poss is the first to hit the crossbar. I have I go…… the less said about my attempt the better!

10.50am: We’ve just arrived back at the training ground now. Keeper Stuart Tomlinson missed the bus and will be making his own way here! Fine for Tomlinson, me thinks! Training today will be on a pitch that is so lush is resembles a bowling green – seriously, it is that good. Darren Sheridan has led the players off on a warm-up run out towards the woods while fellow joint manager and Darren Sheridan set up the cones ready for training exercises. Think we might have a few Kings of Leon fans among the players. The band’s song Sex On Fire was playing on the coach as we rolled up and the players even now are still singing it to one another!

8.45am: Just a little over 30 hours to go until dreams are realised and Barrow AFC kick-off at Wembley. Anyone else a tad bit excited, or is it just me? Today the players will return to Watford for another light training session before taking a tour of Wembley this afternoon. I’ll again be with the squad every step of the way, so keep checking back here from blog updates. Right now, it’s breakfast time at Sopwell House. I’m off to see which players eat healthy cereal and who tries to sneak bacon and eggs! Just so you know, yes, it is four quid a pint in the hotel bar, and yes, I had a few last night. The players, I’m glad to report, were all tucked up in bed.

 

THURSDAY

8.35pm: Believe in good omens? I may have found one for Barrow AFC. New bus driver Andy (this is the Bluebirds’ first away trip with Reays of Wigton) has previous at Wembley – and he’s a winner! Andy drove the bus when Carlisle United triumphed over Colchester in the 1997 LDV Vans Trophy final. A word of warning, however, Carlisle didn’t make it easy for their fans that day – they actually ended up winning after a penalty shoot-out! Will the same happen to Barrow on Saturday against Stevenage? I hope not, I’ll be nervous enough without a round of win-or-bust spot-kicks. Then again, don’t forget the Bluebirds’ record from the penalty spot this season: 13 taken – just one missed.

8.25pm: Further to my previous Sopwell House hotel ramblings, I have also discovered that Elstree Studios are nearby and that during the filming of Harry Potter, acting stars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint stayed here. And if you thought that was good, get this, guess where those oh-so famous Z-listers who are thrown out of the Big Brother house spend their first night after an eviction. Yep, you guessed it, Sopwell House! I am truly blessed with greatness in these beautiful leafy surroundings! On a more impressive note, I have seen the evidence, and yes, the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and both the England and Brazilian football teams have stayed here. Hopefully after this weekend they will add a signed Barrow AFC shirt to their gob-smacking collection.

8.10pm: Ever wondered what the Barrow AFC Wembley heroes eat for their evening meal on away trips? Well, now I can tell you. In tonight’s help yourself-style buffet there was pea soup, followed by ham or salmon with salad, followed by a selection meat stew, rice, stir-fry noodles, potatoes and vegetables, followed by cakes, yoghurts and fruit, followed by brews. I could have studied at length what each player devoured, but instead I filled my own boots! The food was superb. I sat on a table with the joint-managers and the banter was fun-filled. Robin Hulbert was again cracking the jokes, while Boydy took some more stick having been hit on his bare bum by a Carlos Logan shot earlier in the day at training. There’s certainly an air of quiet confidence about the place. The word ‘Wembley’ is noticeably rarely used, but you tell everyone is thinking about it. Heck, even Dave Bayliss admitted earlier, and this is rare indeed, that he was starting to get excited about Saturday.
Most of the players, who have new white Barrow AFC at Wembley 2010 polo shirts, have now retired to their rooms to relax, while I have a date later with the joint-managers down in the hotel bar for a couple of quiet sherbets! The directors, complete with their best shirts and aftershave, have headed off into St Albans for some food, and, one would imagine, a few beers.

5.30pm: Right, I'm off to have a good scan round this plush hotel and then for tea with the players (the directors are going out for a bar meal, I think). I'll report back later with more details on the hotel and more news and banter. The hotel, by the way, is called Sopwell House, in St Albans. Google it and have a look. Carling beer is four quid a pint when ordering it as room service. I wonder what it is priced at in the bar?! Not that the players will be interested, obviously! The same booklet tells me that Sopwell House is set in no less than 12 acres of beautiful gardens. It goes on to say: "Sopwell House has enjoyed a long  association with football and many of the country's most renowned football clubs, including the England squad, stay at the matches prior to matches at home and abroad. Football Fans should pay a visit to our Football Hall Of Fame running adjacent to the cocktail bar." Imagine if Wayne Rooney, David Beckham or someone like that has stayed in this very room at which I now write this. Weird eh?

5.20pm: Without wanting to sound like a broken record - oh my God. The hotel is amazing. I haven’t had chance to check it out fully, but it is beautiful. I’ll have a closer look later, but when I walked down the grand hallway there were framed signed football shirts from every top club and international team you can think off. This, I’m led to believe, is a hotel of choice for all the top teams. To that list they can now add Barrow! The club is certainly treating the players – and boy, do they deserve it. I’m in a single room on the first floor overlooking the gardens and across to the golf course – I’d have brought my clubs if I’d have known! Most of the players are rooming with their usual ‘roomies’. Oh, by the way, the room-mate Robin Hulbert has been poking fun at in his Evening Mail blogs is apparently Simon Wiles but…… shhhhhh….. you didn’t hear it from me!

5.15pm: The players’ Wembley suits (from Debenhams) have been handed out. They are grey and pin-striped. Very nice indeed. At least they’re not going for the white suits like Liverpool once wore for an FA Cup final at the old Wembley – remember them? Hahahaha!!! Stuart Tomlinson was last to collect his. When the keeper got measured up previously he asked for a 44 inch chest jacket. He has been given a 36 inch chest jacket! It appears someone has taken the wrong jacket! Tomlinson, who is renowned for his ‘Terminator’ physique and enjoyment of the gym, says: “Can you imagine me trying to get into that, I’ll tear it in half!” Hopefully it will all get sorted out. If not, it could be hilarious watching Tomlinson in THAT suit jacket at Wembley in two days’ time! Yes, I am actually laughing to myself, I am that sad!

4.50pm: We’re back on the bus and on the way to the hotel now. Training finished with yet more comedy gold. First Bayles and then Shez were asked by the ITV reporter Ned Boulting to introduce all the members of the one by one. Among the classics was Bayles introduced Robin Hulbert as ‘Barry Manilow’ Lee McEvily as ‘Fred Elliot’ Tim Deasy as another Coronation Street look-a-like ‘Tyrone Dobbs’ and Stuart Tomlinson as ‘a porn star’. Shez was in top form too, though most of it will have to be censored before being aired!

4.25pm: Without a doubt, the funniest moment of the trip so far. The losing team in the shooting practice game were forced to stand on the goalline with their shorts and underwear around their ankles and baring their backsides. No, before you all start with the wise remarks, this was not why I liked it! What was comedy gold was watching the winning team take pop-shots from the edge of the box at their helpless team-mates. The only person to hit the target was Carlos Logan, who stung the butt cheeks of poor Mark Boyd with a rasping drive. Boydy laughed it off, eventually!
It was absolute brilliant stuff, the funniest moment so far of what is turning out to be an truly amazing trip.
Think I managed to get Boydy’s embarrassing moment on video camera too. Check out the Evening mail website next week to see it!
Shameless plug time…. Don’t forget your 16-page Wembley special in tonight’s Evening Mail and Saturday’s special edition, on sale at 6am.

4.20pm: Did I mention it’s glorious sunshine down here?!? The players keep asking me if I want some sun cream for my sunbathing session on the grass. Life is tough eh! Simon Wiles has given me his ‘bling’ silver watch to look after while he trains. Anyone dare me to put it on EBay? The squad are still enjoying shooting practice, with Paul Rutherford just volleying in a cracker. Winger Paul’s only scored once this season. What chance he doubles his total under the famous arch on Saturday? That would be nice.

4.14pm: It shooting practice time now, but, as always with the Bluebirds, there’s a competitive angle to it, with the squad split in two and Bayles keeping a score of how many times they score from 18 yards. Keepers Tomlinson and Deasy are working over-time to keep out the quick-fire shots. Centre-half Phil Bolland curls a beauty into the postage stamp top corner, and make sure everyone knows it was him! Simon Wiles, Shez and Mike Pearson follow suit. It must be quite hard for Tomlinson and Deasy, not only are their team-mates firing shots in left, right and centre, but their every save, every move, is being watched by the joint-managers, who will ultimately decide which one of the two keepers starts at Wembley in two days’ time. Interesting to note there’s been no training drills involving tackling yet. Hardly surprising. Can you imagine one of the players getting injured in a tackle this close to the biggest day in their careers? Good to see the physios have finished working on Spender and he’s lashing shots goalwards with his team-mates.

3.45pm: While the rest of the squad go through some shuttle runs, star striker Jason Walker and right-back Simon Spender both get some physio work from Liam Enwright and his assistant. Hopefully it’s nothing to worry about! Walker is now back in the thick of things with his team-mates, while both physios work on defender Spender’s back.
Fifty yards away, the training fun continues, with the players enjoying a bit of keep ball while two selected team-mates chase round like mad men trying to win possession. There lots of laughs. Across the park, keepers Tim Deasy and Stuart Tomlinson train on their own. The pair are clearly good mates, but at the same time, both desperately want that starting jersey at Wembley on Saturday.
 

3.40pm: Oh, my God, I love my job sometimes, I really do! I’m sat here in the glorious sunshine at Watford Football Club’s massive, plush training ground. It’s like meadow after meadow of sweet green grass. It really is something special. The ITV cameras are here this time to film the players, who are currently at the other end of the meadow warming up away from all the attention. Darren Sheridan is leading the session, with players stood in a circle and taking it in turns to pick a stretching exercise. Sounds obvious, right? No. Before selecting their chosen stretch for the others to follow, each player must enter the centre of the circle and perform some kind some disco dance move – much to the hilarity of their team-mates. Shez, himself, Simon Wiles and Phil Bolland show they definitely have some moves!

2.49pm: Bit of very early team news from the camp. Defender Gareth Jelleyman has not travelled with the squad. He is attending his grandfather’s funeral and will join his team-mates at the hotel tomorrow night. My condolences to Gareth and his family, see you tomorrow night. The rest of the squad, including the cup-tied Nick Chadwick, are all here. Left-back Paul Edwards is keeping a very close on the match DVD, also being watched by Bayles and Barry Poss. ‘Eddie’ wasn’t at Barrow when they played Stevenage on both occasions this season. I interviewed Paul earlier in the day. See the Evening Mail over the next couple of days to hear his views on Wembley and the final.

2.35pm: The banter on the coach continues to entertain. Much of it is a bit to blue for the Evening Mail website, but, trust me, it’s very funny. The card games are continuing at the back of the coach, where DJ and keeper Stuart Tomlinson is perched, having seemingly been put in charge of the music. R&B appears to be the music of choice at present, though having heard what blares out in the dressing room after some games I wouldn’t be surprised if Take That is up soon! Across the aisle from me, Bayles and Barry Poslethwaite are watching a DVD of Barrow’s 4-0 defeat at Stevenage from March on director Dave Ryder’s laptop. There’s plenty of notes being taken!
We’re about half an hour from the training venue – Watford FC’s training ground – and the sun is now shining!
Oh, hang on, the TVs on the coach are finally working again – Tony Keen is congratulated for being Mr Fix It! It’s England v Pakistan in the Twenty20 cricket which is on. To be fair, the AFC players don’t seem overly bothered. They seem to prefer their cards! The directors are enjoying the cricket though.
 

12.40pm: Apologies for the delay since my last blog entry. We’re now back on the M6 and heading south towards Birmingham. The players and joint-managers joined the party at ‘the windmill,’ where BBC North West Tonight carried out interviews with Bayles, Shez, Jason Walker and the two keepers, Tim Deasy and Stuart Tomlinson. The players, most of them in their training gear, were in good spirits and, spurred on by Gregg Blundell, Simon Spender and Deasy, led the team in a rousing rendition of Wembley song All Together Now. Most of the squad are sat towards the rear of the coach playing cards, while myself, the directors and Bayles sit towards the front. Everyone always sits in the same places, so I am told.
Bayles and skipper Paul Jones are both engrossed in preview copies of today’s 16-page Evening Mail Wembley special. I hope it reads well because on this occasion I can’t hide at the end of a telephone line!
There’s a definite sense of excitement amongst the squad and the banter is good, with the lads taking the micky out of each other’s cars. There are, naturally - though the players probably won’t admit it - a few nerves knocking about. We are going to Wembley, after all.
Before I forget, the bacon and egg sausage buttie was fantastic, thanks Russell!
 

10.44am: The rain is absolutely pelting down as we pass junction 25 on the M6. This is certainly proving an eventful first Barrow trip for the new coach driver. We’ve also had the first play of the club’s All Together Now Wembley song. Jason Walker finds himself whistling along, and then curses himself for doing so! “I can’t get it out of my head,” laughs the striker. We’re fast approaching on ‘the windmill’ now to pick up the rest of the squad. Various media are expected to be there to film and do player interviews – could be very interesting in this weather! I hope they’ve brought umbrellas. Think I might stay on the bus with the bacon and egg breakfast sandwich I’ve ordered! Sky Sports News is on the coach TVs now and there’s plenty of chat about last night’s Spurs v Man City game.

10.30am: Robin Hulbert’s blog on the Evening Mail website is attracting plenty of chat, especially from physio Liam Enwright, whom the midfielder called Lego Head in his entry the other day. Liam’s response is to tell me that Robin has a big nose! We’re hoping ‘Chicken’, sorry Robin, continues his blog during the trip. It’s proving an excellent, and popular, read. Liam also fires some friendly banter at me. This has become a regular occurrence ever since I put his name in the paper for admitting an FA charge. Liam asks me for some positive publicity. I can do that. Liam tells me he worked at clubs including Bolton Wanderers, Bury and Morecambe before joining Barrow four years ago. He is also a former boxer, so not to be messed with! Liam laughs when he tells me he beat well-known Barrow boxer, then an up-and-coming fighter, Lee Kellett in the ring, on three occasions. Liam, who boarded the coach with four massive crates of water, has done a fine job at Holker Street (so he tells me!). With the success achieved under joint-managers Darren Sheridan and Dave Bayliss, and with the backing of the board, Liam has made the physio set-up at the club much more professional. He tells me about the time he “probably saved Nick Rogan’s life” in a pre-season friendly and also just how scary it was when Gregg Blundell was sent head first into the perimeter wall by an opponent at Holker Street. Liam, like Barry Postlethwaite (first team assistant coach) sat next to him on the coach, is an unsung hero of this Barrow AFC Wembley-bound operation.

9:45am: I’m glad to report that after a brief tour of some of Kendal’s finest housing estates, the Barrow AFC team bus in back on the road to Wembley and thundering down the M6 amid heavy rain. I’m also glad to report that top scorer Jason Walker has now returned to his normal colour after turning a funny shade of green on those winding back lanes. Director Neil Chalker is cracking the brews out – it’s tradition to do so once on the M6 is reached, apparently.
Next stop is Lancaster to pick up physio Liam Enwright, then it’s onto ‘the windmill’ to collect the rest of the squad. Neil, who like most of the directors is sporting a fetching Bluebirds polo shirt, tells me there is actually no windmill at ‘the windmill’. It is in fact named so after a pub just off the motorway at junction 19 near Knutsford. There you go, you learn something new every day!
The coach is plush. Nice leather seats, Sky TV on the go and plenty of tables at the back. This, I am told, is where the real action happens, where the cards are dealt and the money won! Jason informs me that the card game of choice is called Crash. He did explain the rules to me, but I’m useless when it comes to cards, honestly, or is that a bluff? A mobile phone rington has just gone off. It's Bad Romance by Lady Gaga. No-one's owning up to it being theirs!
 

9.22am: We’re off. The official Barrow AFC team coach in on the A590 – well we we’re! I’m guessing there’s an accident somewhere near Levens because we’ve turned onto some very, very narrow lanes. The coach, making its maiden Barrow AFC journey let’s not forget, just about squeezes past a house on the tightest of junctions. Well, this is an interesting – and unexpected- road to Wembley! I don’t think I’m the only one starting to feel a little coach sick. Jason Walker has gone a funny shade of green! I’m glad I didn’t have one of those meat and potato pies all the club directors were scoffing when we rolled out of Ulverston! Not quite sure where this back road will take us, but being a Kendal-born boy I certainly recognize that down in the distance away to the right.
The talk among directors has been interesting – politics and the election high on the agenda.
 

7.15am: Barrow AFC general manager Martin Lewis tells me the club have sold around 7,500 of the 15,000 allocation for Saturday's final at Wembley. Tickets will be on sale at the club shop at Holker Street until 3pm today. The shop will also be selling FA Trophy merchandise for the remainder of the week (9am - 3pm), before closing for the weekend at 3pm on Friday. The club will remain closed until 9am on Tuesday.

12.30am: That’s it. All packed. Wembley here I come. Tomorrow (8am at Holker Street to be precise) Barrow AFC’s journey south to play at the world’s most famous football stadium begins. Unbelievable, isn’t it? Barrow at Wembley, who could possibly have predicted that at the start of the season – and in the year the club celebrates the 20th anniversary of its 1990 triumph in the same competition. Perhaps it was written in the stars that the Bluebirds would make that return in 2010, I don’t know. What I do know is that I am unbelievably excited at the prospect, like a kid the night before Christmas, you might say.
The club have been very kind in allowing me to join the Bluebirds players over the next few days as they prepare for the biggest game of their lives. I only hope I can do the experience justice in this blog. I will do my best to provide readers with all the news and jokes from the team bus, to the hotel, to the training ground, and of course, to Wembley itself. And, if anyone’s wondering, yes, I have packed my football boots, just in case! Well, you never know!
The team coach rolls out from Barrow in less than eight hours now. Transporting them down the M6 will be a 34-seater new luxury coach from Reays of Wigton, whom the club recently struck a deal with to provide travel to all next season’s away games. I’m reliably informed that the coach has all the mod-cons, including Wi-fi, Sky TV, leather reclining seats and..... wait for it…..microwaves. The Pot Noodles are on me, lads! (Edit: on reflection I can't remember ever putting a Pot Noodle in the microwave! Last night's leftover curry it is then!)
Top scorer Jason Walker, he who seems to have been in the paper more than the MP hopefuls this week (note to self: I must vote before leaving Barrow), will be the first player to board, when we reach the far side of Lindale hill. Most of the squad will join at the ‘windmill’. Don’t ask – it’s a place just off the M6, somewhere near Knutsford. Reading the itinerary sent out by club football secretary Russell Dodd, I’m delighted to see the words ‘10.15am breakfast buns’. Wonder if said buns will stretch to hungry journalists? Hope so. Bacon, sausage and egg please Russell, easy on the red sauce though, thanks!
From there it’s onto an afternoon training session at Watford before retiring to the lovely-looking Sopwell House Hotel, in St Albans, north of London. I know, yes, I am a lucky so-and-so!
Oh, before I forget, or more likely fall asleep, a shameless plug… don’t forget the 16-page Wembley special in tonight’s (Thursday) Evening Mail. It’s jam packed with interviews and opinion, and, if I do say so myself, a damn good read. Want to know why joint-manager Dave Bayliss might have missed Wembley? What Stevenage Borough have done to rile Phil Bolland? And what the club’s 1990 Wembley heroes make of it all? Then get your Evening Mail tonight. Also in the special pull-out, the current Barrow players reveal all in a brilliant, tounge-in-cheek questionnaire.
Don’t forget there’s also a special Wembley day edition of the Mail, on sale from 6am on Saturday.
Right, time for bed and, most probably, more dreams of Barrow lifting the FA Trophy!

 

 

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Well done AFC, we're behind you all the way!

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