MANCHESTER United have shown this season that they are no longer the force of old, but they were the hottest ticket in town when they visited Barrow AFC for a friendly 25 years ago.

On December 14 1993, a team including Roy Keane, Bryan Robson and Dion Dublin took to the field on a wet and freezing night (what else?) at Holker Street for a match that went a long way to wiping out the club’s debts.

But what on earth brought the reigning Premier League champions and runaway leaders, at that point, up to this part of the world in the first place?

The answer is Brian Kidd, who was then assistant to United manager Alex Ferguson (pre-knighthood), having previously been in charge of the Bluebirds for four months during the 1984/85 season.

Kidd had remained friends with Barrow chairman Bill McCullough and had managed to get the Red Devils to agree to help out AFC at a time when the club were over £60,000 in the red.

Chief executive Max Rattray told The Mail: “It is really good of United and it shows the sensitivity of the club that they are aware of the grassroots stuff and are prepared to come to Barrow now when we have financial problems.

“All of a sudden they are here and it’s probably the equivalent of 10 smaller games.”

It had been anticipated that United would bring a reserve squad for the match and while some of their stars were left in Manchester – Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs and Mark Hughes to name but a few – the team which arrived was still littered with household names.

Keane was the most expensive footballer in Great Britain at the time, having cost £3.75 million from Nottingham Forest during the preceding summer. He was returning from injury.

Robson, although coming towards the end of his career, had been one of the most influential figures in English football for the last 15 years, and Clayton Blackmore was a Wales international.

Ferguson’s son Darren was another first-team player involved, as was goalkeeper Les Sealey, while there were places on the bench for promising youngsters by the names of Gary Neville and Nicky Butt.

Barrow had been knocked out of the Northern Premier League Cup three days earlier, following a 3-2 defeat at home to Buxton and were fifth in the table, in their second season in the sixth tier after their relegation from the Conference.

They had some new faces in their ranks for the match, in Mike Brown of Millom, Stuart Mason from Ulverston and Glaxo’s Colin McArthur, while work commitments ruled out John Brady, Darren Heesom and Darren Oldroyd.

Despite the filthy conditions, 2,056 packed the terraces at Holker Street, although the wind and rain did lead United, led by reserve coach Jim Ryan, to request the game to be reduced to 40-minute halves.

The contest was ultimately settled when Keane scored the only goal of the game four minutes into the second half by sliding the ball past AFC ‘keeper Ian Senior after being played in by Darren Ferguson.

Senior had previously denied Keane not long after Neil Doherty had shot wide for Mike Cloudsdale’s side.

And the Bluebirds came so close to an equaliser when Steve Watt charged through, only for Sealey to make a lunging save at his feet.

After the final whistle, United’s players were happy to mix with AFC supporters, while The Mail’s Leo Clarke grabbed a word with Robson.

He said: “You hope they enjoy playing against you because it’s a nice challenge playing against people like ourselves who are playing in the Premier League.

“I was pleased with the condition of the pitch, it was very good considering the weather, but that just spoiled it a bit, not just for the players but for the fans as well.”


Barrow AFC: Senior (Hoyland 57), Rooney, Brown, McArthur (Parkin 40), Skivington, Butler, Doherty, Addenbrook (Friars 43), Mason, Watt, Welham.

Manchester United: Sealey, Phelan, Blackmore, Casper, Martin, Keane, Robson, Ferguson, Dublin, Gillespie, Thornley. Substitutes: Butt, Neville, O’Kane, Riley.