Football: Barlow driving hard bargain

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The Independent Online
STUART BARLOW'S boyish looks disguise the fact that he is 31. That is why his next aim at Wigan Athletic is a final pay day.

The top scorer in England - with 19 goals already - is determined to hit the target in the pay stakes too if the club's owner, Dave Whelan, will oblige. Barlow is a free agent at the end of the season and his shooting boots are driving a hard bargain, causing trouble for opponents and the club's financier alike.

The former Everton striker wants to stay, but admits he may have to go from the club he has helped transform along with his talented team-mates. Barlow said: "I've got to have security for my wife and three kids. I really love my football here and I want to get it sorted, but they are the most important factor. I'm hoping Mr Whelan pulls me into the office and sorts it out. I only asked away because it was dragging on so much.

"I've never enjoyed my football more. It's a brilliant new ground, we play good stuff and chances are coming. The chairman wants us in the Premier League in five years and when you see Watford doing it and Manchester City going close there is no reason why we can't do something similar."

Whelan has created a mini-Monaco of the north, a plush football setting but one that is far from full despite Wigan's amazing form. The only unbeaten side in the country, who are top of the Second Division, still have just 4,000 hardcore fans. Even success will not bring the fans out in a town where another code is king.

Barlow said: "Wigan is rugby mad and has been for years. We're trying to put football on the map but it takes time. But people are sitting up and taking notice."

One player who will not be part of Wigan's push for promotion is their out-of-favour forward Graeme Jones who yesterday signed for the Scottish Premier League side St Johnstone for pounds 100,000.

The 29-year-old was a prolific scorer for Wigan in their Third Division championship-winning campaign with 33 goals, but has since lost his first- team place and is now deemed surplus to requirements.

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