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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

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Pitch invasions, random hugs and kicking a ball at Wembley

TODAY, Barrow AFC reporter LEE PROCTER spends his last day in the role after nine years covering the club. He looks back at the highlights of his time at Holker Street.

IT started with a wasted jaunt to Marine for a game that was called off at the last minute and the near write-off of a work’s car.

It ended with a 500-mile Tuesday night round trip to Luton to witness a 6-1 drubbing and a bedtime of 2.30am.

In between, my nine years reporting on Barrow AFC, both as understudy and then the main man, have been just as eventful.

There have been highs and lows, cheers and tears, jubilation and frustration, all of which amount to memories I will hold with me long after I leave the Evening Mail today.

Let’s stick with the good – Wembley Stadium, Saturday, May 8, 2010, and skipper Paul Jones, the man who bled blue and white blood for the club, proudly thrusting aloft the FA Trophy in front of 8,000 delirious supporters.

Wow, I still get goosebumps now, even a tear in the eye.

Having travelled with the squad and spent the entire experience in their company, I felt part of the team. Going to Wembley the day before the final and even getting to kick a ball around on the hallowed turf remains a pub story very few of my mates can trump.

Then there were the FA Cup away days at Middlesbrough and Sunderland and, from a professional point-of-view, the golden opportunity to interview Premier League managers and players.

Perhaps, because it came first, the trip to The Riverside was, for me, the standout of the two.

Who will ever forget Jason Walker’s goal and then fellow Barrovian Wayne Curtis almost forcing a replay? What a truly special day out that was.

Even better was the Blue Square North play-off final victory over Stalybridge at Burton in 2008. I was stood among the hordes of “shoes off” Barrow supporters seeking colour for my feature article when suddenly Matt Henney tapped-in and the party erupted.

I must have been hugged by more than 100 strangers during the post-match pitch invasion that night.

Probably the best performance I’ve seen by the Bluebirds was the brutal 4-0 dismantling of an unbeaten Fleetwood side expected to swagger to victory at Holker Street in August 2011.

Indeed, it has often been when tagged as underdogs that Barrow have excelled – the FA Cup wins over Brentford and Oxford United, both at a rocking Holker Street, spring to mind.

Then there are those memories off the pitch that will forever make me smile:

* The thousands upon thousands of miles spent travelling the country with BBC Radio Cumbria’s Andy Wood and his questionable selection of chav music.

* The day I jumped on board the supporters’ bus and made a 23-hour round trip to Torquay to watch a 4-1 defeat.

* Giving former joint-manager Darren Sheridan a lift back from Crawley and being treated to his full repertoire of one-liners.

* Manager Dave Bayliss’s interviews – the guy is non-league’s equivalent of Ian Holloway.

* The time ex-midfielder Robin Hulbert dressed up as The Bay radio station’s mascot bear and jumped the mayor of Barrow mid-speech.

* Playing at a rain-lashed Holker Street in a charity match and, despite telling the manager I was a striker, being asked to play left-back and man-mark Chesney from Coronation Street. Random, I know!

There are more, so many more, but, as always, I have already exceeded my word count! (Editor’s note: Lee’s match reports should be 700 words, they are often more than 1,200. His back page pieces should be 500 words, usually they reach 800).

Away from Barrow AFC, my stand-out highlight was, without a doubt, reporting from last year’s Paralympic Games – special thanks to local athletics ace Dean Miller for making that happen.

Oh, and there was the time darts legend Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor stole my dictaphone – but that, as they say, is another story.

Thanks to everyone – there are way too many to list – for making my time at the Evening Mail so much fun.

See you on the terraces.


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