Friday, 24 December 2010
237 Andy Fensome
Position : Right back
Played : 1996-97 to 1997-98
Appearances : 80
Goals : 0
And so we come to the Barrow years. This feels like a turning point and actually we are at the halfway mark of the story.
In many ways, the Barrow years seem like a portal into the modern world. Personally, when Graham Barrow came to the club I was a bachelor living in Littleborough with my parents and I had only just met my future wife. By the time he left my father had died and I was a married man living in Bolton. I watched his first home game from my usual spot at the back of the Sandy just to the left of the nets and his last from my current seat in the WMG. The squad he inherited included Dave Thompson who'd played in my first game at Spotland ; the one he bequeathed to Steve Parkin included Keith Hill and Gary Jones.
In a wider context, Princess Diana was alive and kicking in 1996 and John Major had another year to go as PM. The internet was still largely the plaything of geeks in May 1996; three years later we were all online.
In a less tangible sense I think Graham Barrow still influences the way a lot of Dale fans support the team today. He seems to have permanently invaded the psyche of certain fans in a way that no one before him did ( one of the symptoms is over-estimation of his successor). From a statistical point of view this might seem strange; his record is one of consistent mediocrity not disaster. It's better than Peter Madden's for instance who was at the helm for a similar length of time and is still regarded with a degree of affection. I think the main reason for this is sheeer disappointment. When a friend who, like me, worked in Manchester phoned me with the news Barrow was coming to replace Mick Docherty we went out for a celebratory drink that lunchtime (I guess we were asking for it). It seemed like a done deal. The Board had come to their senses and appointed the man who took Chester up on a shoestring and then saved Wigan from the Conference before being prematurely dismissed by an overambitious chairman. The reaction Barrow got when he walked into the room at the Fans' Forum that summer seemed to surprise and disconcert him ; you could feel the energy from long-suppressed optimism coming to the surface. What followed over the next three years was a painful reminder that a good track record counts for very little once the whistle blows at the start of your first game. One by one people realised that he wasn't going to lead us to the Promised Land (Mr P was a very early Cassandra). Because he was such a nice guy he retained a small band of defenders to the very end but most of us just despaired. I know I never allowed myself to get so excited again until the final whistle blew in the Northampton game this April.
The other main reason was the sheer perversity of his team selections and the obstinate refusal to change a losing formula. He inherited and signed good players then didn't use them properly ; who else would have played Gareth Stoker and Jason Lydiate in midfield with Gary Jones and Jason Peake in the squad ? The quality of the football was overwhelmingly dreadful, effective enough to keep us out of trouble but not good enough for anything else. I can't recall any other time when so many fans were convinced that they knew better than the manager; the programmes from the time must be unique with the manager justifying himself on page 3 and the Supporter's Club page tearing him to shreds (because Barrow genuinely believed they had a right to voice their opinion) further in.
Well, we must get on with the story of his first season. I still think he did a decent job in 1996-97. His hands were tied by having half a dozen players on contract from the previous season - the likes of Lancaster, Martin and Taylor - that he didn't want to play at all and one or two more like Deary and Thompson that were on their last legs. In that context a one place improvement on Docherty's final position wasn't too bad and the strong finish to the season - capped by pooping on Lincoln's play -off party in the final game - gave some cause for optimism. For me it was the following summer when he started to veer off course.
Andy looked to be a good signing on a free from Preston. The 26-year old had been at Norwich for three seasons but made his League debut for John Beck's Cambridge in 1989. He was a key player in the side which almost made the Premiership in 1992 taking many of the long throws onto Dion Dublin's head for which they became infamous. Beck took him to Preston in 1993 for £7,500 and he was their player of the year in 1994-95. The following season he had more competition for his place and only made 20 appearances.
Andy brought with him some tricks of the trade from Beck. He tended to hit balls first time into the box when going forward and took a good throw but he was rarely that effective as an attacking player. He was more solid defensively than Andy Thackeray though. His best moment came in a home game ( but someone will have to help me out with which one it was ) when he sent an early and inch-perfect cross into the box for Andy Farrell to score with a diving header at the Sandy Lane end , a rare and precious moment of quality in those times.
I think everyone was surprised that Andy was released in May 1998 and he was reported to be gutted. He signed for Barrow FC initially but left when they hit the financial skids and signed for Morecambe helping them win promotion to the Conference and being a regular there for 3 seasons. He wound up his career with Lancaster City after joining them in 2002. He has since been working as a coach for Preston's Centre of Excellence and a match summariser for Radio Lancashire. Earlier this year he had a short spell as assistant-manager of Hereford but was sacked along with Simon Davey in October.