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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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Flying Barrow AFC winger jets in to see old pals

FORMER flying winger Ian Burgess may be living the American dream – but he was more than happy to make his latest 3,500-mile pilgrimage home to lend his support to the Coulston Family.

Barrow-born Burgess, who now lives in the US town of Hampton, New Hampshire, has carved out a hugely successful career for himself across the pond.

That’s because the 43-year-old is at the forefront of the soccer scene in the New England region as the chief operating officer and vice president of the semi-professional outfit, Seacoast United.

But after receiving a call from his boyhood friend Neil Doherty, another member of the AFC wingers’ union, he quickly made up his mind to dust off his football boots and pack his bags.

In doing so, he will be reunited with his FA Trophy-winning team-mates in tomorrow’s charity match against Barrow Celtic – an event which is in aid of ill-stricken Ulverston couple Paul and Clare Coulston.

“I always try and get back home every second year and it has been three years since I’ve been back,” said Burgess, who made 92 appearances for Barrow between 1988 and 90.

“Doc (Doherty) called me to see if I was coming back this year and I said ‘yes’, so he said to try and time my visit to play in this game.

“It has worked out as it is my kids’ vacation in America and I always come back to see friends, Doc is one of them, so it kind of all worked out.

“As I say, Doc had told me about the charity match and I know it’s for such a good cause because the situation this couple find themselves in is awful. So as soon as Doc mentioned it I thought, ‘we’ll try and time the visit right and make the best of everything’.”

The married father-of-two was just 21 years old when he arrived as a second-half substitute in the Trophy final in May 1990 to help the Bluebirds protect their 3-0 lead over Leek Town and get over the finishing line.

He had followed in his dad’s footsteps in gracing the hallowed turf, with Bill Burgess Jnr having played for Barrow RL in their 1967 Challenge Cup defeat to Featherstone.

But Burgess soon left Holker Street, and after completing a brief spell with Lancaster, he began his American adventure by securing a sports scholarship at West Virginia Wesleyan College before linking up with Seacoast in 1996.

Since then, he has helped Seacoast grow from a relatively small operation to a huge club that now boasts a handful of senior teams (three male, and two female), with the top men’s sides playing in the National Premier Soccer and the USL Premier Development Leagues – about three levels below the top-flight Major League Soccer tier.

But despite his long absence, he still has vivid memories of the day he helped his hometown club achieve their first Trophy triumph in their first Wembley final.

Although Burgess said: “The day itself went very quickly. My best memory was before the game kicked off when we were pulling up in the team bus at Wembley and realising that this game was bigger than I had initially thought.

“We had a great run to the final and it was good for the town, but being one of the youngest players, I still didn’t really appreciate the depth and the enjoyment that everyone was experiencing. I was just part of the scene and the set-up.

“But on the team coach, on the way in, I saw the Barrow flags and all the supporters and I thought ‘wow, this is huge’ and then you start to get a bit nervous.

“But the best part was walking out of the Wembley tunnel with our suits on, and there must have only been about 3,000 to 4,000 fans in the stadium at that time. But just the cheer we heard was amazing – that was very emotional but I thought, ‘wow, this is going to be a bit nerve-wracking’.

“But because I wasn’t starting the game, I still kind of took it in my stride because I thought I might not even get on the pitch so I thought ‘don’t get too excited’.”

Barrow’s boss that day, the late Ray Wilkie, had opted to leave Burgess out of his starting 11 so the youngster was forced to stew on the substitutes’ bench along with fellow midfield replacement Billy Gilmour.

But after two headers from defender Kenny Gordon and one from Colin Cowperthwaite handed AFC an unassailable lead, Burgess suspected his big moment was about to arrive – even if Wilkie needed some convincing.

It duly came though, when Burgess stepped onto the hallowed turf, replacing Doherty on 77 minutes.

“When we went 3-0 up I thought, ‘Come on Wilkie, you’ve got to get me on!’,” added Burgess.

“Myself and Billy Gilmour were sat right behind Wilkie and, god bless him, he was a miserable so-and-so at times. We kept saying to him ‘come on, get us on’ and he wouldn’t even look at, or speak, to us. But then, eventually, he told us to warm up. And when we got on the game went by so quickly.

“I just remember the turf being slow so when you tried to pass the ball it was like ‘wow, that hardly moved’. You had to put a bit more zip on it because we weren’t used to playing on a surface like that.

“But it was a great day, and then arriving home and being on the bus that went through the town was the amazing thing.

“Who would have thought that so many people would come out to celebrate just a bunch of local footballers?”

Wilkie over-looked Burgess in preferring to unleash fellow winger Paul Ferris – a decision that did not surprise the Barrorivan.

That was due to the fact that Burgess required surgery to correct a knee injury he sustained around the time AFC won promotion from the Northern Premier League in 1989.

He then struggled to cement his position in Wilkie’s first-team during the club’s first season in the Conference as he struggled to battle back to full fitness.

“It’s not that I lost interest, it’s just that I knew I wasn’t competing as well as I should have been,” admits Burgess.

“So I had a spell out, made an effort and I worked my way back, but I still wasn’t as strong as I was as when I first came into the Barrow set-up.

“So, from my perspective, I was in the squad of 13 and on the bench but I didn’t expect to start just by how things were leading up to the final. But I obviously hoped to get on, and did so.”

And Burgess has a lot to thank Messrs Gordon and Cowperthwaite because without their headed goals he may well have been left even more frustrated.

“I don’t think I would have got on had the game been tight, and I just base that on mine and Wilkie’s relationship,” he said.

“If the game had gone into extra-time, then I may have done, but I just don’t know.

“Ray and myself had a love-hate relationship at times, which was similar to the relationship he had with Neil.

“We were in a team that included a lot of experienced and older players and we were just the young guys. So a lot of the time it was a case of ‘you don’t speak badly of Glenn Skivington, Kenny Gordon or Cowperthwaite, but you can have a go at the young guys.

“That was what our relationship was like. But don’t get me wrong, I knew how to take that and he was probably still the best club manager Barrow could ever have had in the way he developed and brought players to a club like this – it was amazing.”

But it appears Burgess would gladly settle for retreating to the sanctuary of the dug-out tomorrow.

“I’ll just be happy to jog out on to the field now,” said Burgess.

“The godsend for me is that Jimmy Capstick will be playing – and if I’m no fitter than Capper, I’ll be amazed.

“The same goes for Cowps, because he was the best player who never had to be fit in his entire life – although I still bet he’s still a good player.”

Burgess is also delighted to be given the chance to catch up with his lifelong friend Doherty. The duo both attended Yarlside and Parkview schools, and he said: “Me and Neil are best friends and grew up doing everything together.

“There was no friendly rivalry between us – everything was always about Doc!

“And I bet he still doesn’t pass to me tomorrow, he was always very greedy growing up.

“In all seriousness, it was great that we could experience the Trophy win as friends. A few of my other friends also went on to play for the club including Paul Slater, Mark Jackson, plus my younger brother and older brother.

“That was good because before my era, and before the Skivingtons, the Capsticks and the Cowperthwaites, there weren’t that many local people in the squad.

“So it was good that Ray Wilkie got a good balance of local players and some quality ‘outside’ players as well.”

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