First of all a confession: when I first started covering Barrow AFC in September 2018, I hadn’t entertained the notion of their long stay outside the Football League coming to an end.

True, they had made a reasonable start to the campaign under an ambitious young manager in Ian Evatt, but he had had to pick up the pieces from a dismal season where they had avoided relegation from the National League by the skin of their teeth.

But if you were to walk through Barrow at the time, you wouldn’t have known the town had a football club, with replica shirts back then normally displaying the crests of Manchester United, Liverpool or Barcelona.

Back then, it was seen as an achievement for the club to get 1,500 through the gate at Holker Street, a tired old stadium that was largely open to the harsh elements that the ‘bracing’ local climate threw at it.

It was going to take time to get back a connection with the supporters, but Evatt had already made a start towards that by installing an attractive passing style of play that was at odds with most of the others teams in the league.

After a rocky patch in the autumn, which coincided with the process of a change of ownership at the club, steady form for the rest of the campaign allowed them to finish the season tenth in the table.

While this was seen as a considerable improvement by many, it wasn’t enough for Evatt who made it clear from my first week with The Mail that the Bluebirds were going places with him in charge.

He saw mid-table as an under-achievement with the young and talented squad he had put together to restore pride after too many of their predecessors saw Barrow as one last payday under previous owner Paul Casson.

Nonetheless, I had seen enough to suggest that AFC could challenge for the play-offs in the following season if they played their cards right.

They made some good moves during the summer, with Brad Barry and Patrick Brough shoring up the defence, Scott Quigley giving them a leader of the attacking line they lacked and Dior Angus making his loan move from Port Vale permanent.

However, early optimism took a blow in August, which fell into a pattern of the Bluebirds frustratingly letting winning positions slip away through a succession of individual errors.

Evatt’s reaction following a 3-2 defeat at Woking at the end of that month was the most frustrated I had seen him and he was left wondering what his team had to do to win by the time of Hartlepool’s smash-and-grab raid at Holker Street in early September.

If you’re going to pinpoint the turning point in AFC’s season then you don’t have to look any further than the 2-1 win at Aldershot Town that followed.

Evatt’s side controlled the majority of the game, but hearts sank when Jack Hindle conceded a soft penalty with his side hanging on to their lead in stoppage time.

A true Sliding Doors moment came when Dixon pushed away Connor Shields’ spot kick before Matt Platt, making just his second appearance, produced a miraculous tackle from the rebound.

Evatt had taken his time in bringing in the right centre-back, but in the 22-year-old Blackburn loanee he had got it absolutely spot on, as Platt proved to be the rock at the back on which the surge up the table was built.

The result kicked off a club record-equalling run of seven straight wins, in which Rooney and Quigley came to the fore with a glut of goals that remained a steady stream for the remainder of the campaign.

The autumn produced some real highlights on the road, with a 2-1 win at at-the-time leaders Bromley giving an indication of what Barrow were capable of, but it was at Notts County where they hit the front and never relinquished their position.

The slightly over-confident Magpies were left stunned by AFC, who could have won by more than the 3-0 scoreline, and their nickname-sakes Maidenhead were put to the sword 4-0 the following week.

The surreal nature of the season had become clear by the time Barrow recorded 7-0 wins on back-to-back Saturdays against Ebbsfleet United and FC United of Manchester, the latter in the FA Trophy, in January.

The crowds were now flocking into Holker Street and after an unforgettable season, for every possible reason, they have witnessed something many of them wouldn’t have thought possible not long ago.

It came after a wait more nervous than any period of stoppage time, but it could not have been more worth it and the fans’ socially distanced celebrations on the pitch will live long in my memory.

For after 48 years away, their team are back where they feel they belong and looking at a bright future.