The real Barrow boys

Kenny Lowe has rebuilt his local side from the bottom. Now the FA Cup looms

Kenny Lowe has been managing very nicely, thank you - which is more than can be said of one of his near neighbours. Kevin Keegan, in fact, has not been managing at all of late. It might have been different if he had popped into the Lowe household for a little advice. The presence of Barrow AFC in the first round proper of the FA Cup on Saturday bears ample testimony to the skills of the other football manager who lives on the Wynyard Hall Estate in County Durham.

Kenny Lowe has been managing very nicely, thank you - which is more than can be said of one of his near neighbours. Kevin Keegan, in fact, has not been managing at all of late. It might have been different if he had popped into the Lowe household for a little advice. The presence of Barrow AFC in the first round proper of the FA Cup on Saturday bears ample testimony to the skills of the other football manager who lives on the Wynyard Hall Estate in County Durham.

When Lowe took charge of the Cumbrian club 15 months ago they had a grand total of four players, no league in which to play and no money. They are still in administration, pending a High Court battle about the ownership of their Holker Street ground, but they are in a healthy playing position under their 39-year-old manager. Lowe's Barrow boys are lying in mid-table in the UniBond League Premier Division - the Northern Premier League that was - and have an FA Cup first-round date at home to Leyton Orient.

A gate of 4,500 is expected, the biggest at Holker Street since the April day in 1990 when 5,707 crammed in to watch Lowe score the goal against Colne Dynamoes ("a 30-yard chip executed with Faldo precision", the Newcastle Journal described it) that took Barrow to the FA Trophy final, which they duly won against Leek Town at Wembley. The pulling power of the former Football League club, who lost their Fourth Division place to Hereford's FA Cup giant-killing heroes in 1972, was one reason Lowe left his player-coach post at Gateshead to take on what seemed to be a managerial mission impossible.

Barrow had been banished from the Conference because they had gone into liquidation. When last season got under way, Lowe had no league in which to play the team he had hastily assembled. "When we eventually got into the UniBond we started eight games behind everybody else," he recalled. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but emotion had a lot to do with it. I had spent five hugely enjoyable years at Barrow and I knew the potential of the club.

"We are now getting 1,500 through the gate. We have sold 700 replica shirts at the club shop. We're expecting a crowd of 4,500 for the Orient game. That shows you the potential. This is a big club at this level. It has been difficult, with the club in administration.

Once the ownership of the ground is sorted out we will be able to move on: sign players on contract, pay transfer fees for players and so on. But at the moment we can't do that. The administrator allows us X amount of pounds each week and we've got to stay within that budget.

"I run the team with Lee Turnbull and basically we just beg, steal and borrow, twist the arms of friends. Just about everybody who plays for us is a friend of mine or a friend of Lee or Tony Chilton, who also helps out. It's just guys we know on a personal level, but we know that they're good footballers and they seem to enjoy it with us."

Most have Football League experience, such as defender Lee Rogers, who played in Chesterfield's two FA Cup semi-finals against Middlesbrough in 1997, midfielder Wayne Bullimore, who played for the England youth team in his days as a Manchester United trainee, and striker Nicky Peverell, a member of the York City team who knocked Manchester United out of the League Cup five years ago.

Remarkably, though, Lowe has succeeded in moulding them into a successful side - winners of the UniBond Team of the Month for October - without any training, not in the collective sense at any rate. Because of Barrow's geographical remoteness, stuck out on the limb of the Furness peninsular in southern Lakeland, and because his players live and work at various points across the north of England, Lowe gets to meet his squad only on match days.

"We do have four clusters of players who train together during the week," he said. "It's just not practical for us all to get to Barrow for midweek training. It was the same for me when I played in the League for Barnet. Barry Fry gave me enough rope to hang myself. You either trained and looked after yourself or you weren't in the team."

Fry signed Lowe from Barrow for £40,000 in 1991. He also signed him for Birmingham City, for £75,000 from Stoke in 1993. It was only then, at the age of 31, that Lowe became a full-time professional footballer.

He started as a part-timer with Hartlepool, while serving an apprenticeship as a pipe-fitter and welder with ICI, before being released at the age of 22. After a spell in Australia, he returned to the north-east of England to combine a career as a non-League player with a career as a mechanical engineer - he designs pressure vessels and heat-exchange systems for Foster-Wheeler in Middlesbrough.

Now 39, Lowe hung up his boots at the end of last season. He was, as his mother Lillian once proudly told The Northern Echo, blessed with a left foot that could "make the ball talk". His talent was heard at international level - the Teessider won two caps for the England semi-professional team, 126 fewer than his sister won for the England netball side. The former Kendra Lowe, now Kendra Slawinski OBE, in fact, happens to be England's most capped netballer.

Her big brother could make a bigger name for himself on Saturday, of course. "It's all the old clichés," he said, "but if Orient have an off day and we rise above ourselves anything can happen. I've never been involved in an upset in the FA Cup before. When I was at Birmingham we took Liverpool back to Anfield for a replay and lost on penalties. Still, there's a first time for everything." Even for a first-round win for the bankrupt Barrow boys, perhaps.

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