In the summer of 2010 I happened to find a job advert for a media position at Barry Town FC. Having graduated in sports journalism a couple of months previously and dreaming of a job in football I applied immediately. Having been away in Leeds for the last few years I was not too sure of the current state of the club, but I got a call from Stuart Lovering, the owner of the club, within 24 hours and arranged to meet him.
When I was younger, Barry Town had dominated Welsh football, winning the Welsh Premier League seven times out of eight between 1995 and 2003. I knew they were no longer the unstoppable force they had been, but was truly shocked to see just how far they had fallen down the league pyramid. If I had been shocked then, it was nothing compared to what my first meeting with Mr Lovering.
Within 30 seconds of the ‘interview’ starting he told me I could have the job, but he wasn’t sure when I could be paid. It would “only be a few months” he reassured me. Moving on from this revelation at a rapid pace, he informed me that my job was to increase the stature of the club to be “similar to Galatasary or Fenerbache” and was convinced the club could draw crowds around the same size of Cardiff City, who were attracting at least 20,000 or so for every league match at this time. At this stage I was looking round for the hidden cameras and Noel Edmunds, but this man was actually deadly serious.
I knew little of what had caused Barry to fall so far down the table, and asked him what had been the cause of the fall to the third tier. He looked flustered for a moment, and then proceeded to blame the people of Barry for “forgetting they had a team”. He told me that we would be running a weekly Barry Town newspaper, which would get the people back on board and the club back into the Champions League. If these various bizarre statements were not enough, he then gave me a tour of the ground which left my jaw on the floor for the entire way round.
The place was an absolute tip, which looked like it had not been maintained for several years. A popular song from near enough every set of away fans in Britain says how a place is an *expletive* and “they wanna go home”, but this would never be more true than if they visited Jenner Park. Behind one door was the worlds dirtiest mattress, with a Chinese man wearing only his pants asleep on it. Every room had discarded pizza boxes which suggested this man was not alone in living at the ground. As well as these unexpected tenants, there was evidence of disrepair everywhere you looked, with exposed wiring, rubbish not taken out for months and a balcony which Lovering described as “luxury for special guests”. The only problem was it looked like it would fall down if so much as a mouse stood on it, and had a tree growing out of the middle.
Still, at this stage I was unaware of the full scale of Lovering’s decimation of Barry Town and started to work there. For three days. At this point I was told by text that he had decided to make himself media officer, as he felt he was more likely than me to start getting crowds of 16,000 every week. It was hardly a surprise, it was clear that the only experience Lovering had of running a successful football club was on Football Manager, and he probably wasn’t even very good at that. My bizarre Barry Town experience was over, but the nightmare for Barry Town and their supporters was just getting started.
This brief look into the crazy world of Stuart Lovering gave me a real interest in to just what had happened to the team that had once dominated the Welsh game, and taken on such clubs as Dynamo Kiev, Aberdeen, Boavista and even FC Porto as recently as 2000 in the Champions League. After beating FK Shamkir of Azerbaijan in the first qualifying round, Barry were beaten 8 – 0 in front of 55,000 people in Porto, but pulled off a sensational 3 – 1 victory in the return leg. They may have been convincingly knocked out of the competition, but it remains one of the best results every achieved by a Welsh side.
I discovered that the problems for Barry began shortly after this triumph, with the 500 people turning up to home games not enough to pay the spiraling costs the football club was incurring and the professional wages they had to pay. The so called ‘football troubleshooter’ Kevin Green was hired to find a way to save Barry from financial oblivion, but his various plans did little to stop the steady decline. The last roll of the dice for Green was to bring in a new high profile chairman, former Wimbledon and England striker John Fashanu, who was also famous for hosting Gladiators with his “awooga!” catchphrase.
Many fans felt that this would save the club and the celebrity influence of Fashanu would turn things round. ‘Fash’ made a number of promises, including foreign investment through TV deals in other countries (sound familiar?) such as China and many across Africa. To help promote the club to these markets Fashanu signed a significant amount of Nigerian footballers. The attempts to take Barry Town international never really took off, and in 2003 he left the club after appearing on reality TV show “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here”.
By 2003, the debts faced by Barry Town were over £1,000,000. While most English Premier League clubs would dream of only having this sort of debt, the figure was truly monumental for a Welsh top flight side. The club was once again top of the league, but plunged into administration, with every player on the books leaving the club. They were replaced by amateurs, the majority had previously been playing in divisions five or six tiers below this level. From topping the league, weeks later they were losing 8 – 0 away to Caernarfon Town. With Barry circling the drain and fans desperately trying to raise money to save the team, the now infamous Stuart Lovering stepped in. He paid an estimated £125,000 to take control of the club and pay off a C.V.A that was in place.
If anyone saw Lovering as a savior, they were to be extremely disappointed. The money problems were far from resolved, and in the Welsh equivalent of Manchester United dropping to the Championship, Barry Town were relegated. A year later, Barry went down again. This was the lowest the club had ever fallen since formation in 1912, and marked the darkest days yet in the fall and fall of Barry Town. Worse still was to come, when the club found it could no longer afford to pay the rent at their spiritual home of Jenner Park. This resulted in almost a year and a half of Barry Town being forced to play their ‘home’ games in Treforest, around 20 miles drive away from Barry. This lasted from January of 2005 until May 2006, when the team were finally allowed to return.
Thus followed a period of relative stability, although still far more turbulent than the supporters of most clubs would ever have to experience. In 2007 popular manager Gavin Chesterfield came in and got the club promoted back to the second tier. Despite this on field success, Lovering decided to put the club up for sale with a ridiculous asking price of £195,000. This is £70,000 more than he paid for the club which had been top of the Premier Division with the best squad in the league. Despite these expensive demands, a deal was almost done to sell the club to Clayton Jones, owner of a coach travel company. This deal fell through at the last minute, and Stuart Lovering’s reign of terror went on.
Despite the fantastic job done by Gavin Chesterfield, he was briefly forced out of the club by Lovering in 2010 and joined Haverfordwest in the Premier Division. Chesterfield has since returned, and is helping Barry maintain a promotion push this season. With the club looking to take back their rightful place in the top flight, Stuart Lovering struck again. The running costs of the club have been funded by supporters for the last two years, with the players playing for nothing more than pride and the love of the club. This means Barry Town has not been costing Lovering a penny, yet he decided at the end of October 2012 that he wanted to kill the club for good.
He announced that he would withdraw the club from the league in December if they were not sold, and appointed himself club secretary to give himself the power to do this. From their glory days taking on Porto and the rest of Europe, Barry Town could soon be no more. The people of Barry have fought for many years to save their team, not taking the easy option of supporting a team on SKY, watching nearby Cardiff City push for promotion or traveling a little further for the bright lights of Premiership football in Swansea. These people deserve a football club to support for their commitment, but they are in the position where 100 years of Barry Town rests on the whim of one man. If Stuart Lovering decides to kill Barry Town, he can.
If this nightmare situation comes to pass for Barry Town, the world of football will barely notice. The breaking news banner at Sky Sports News will no doubt have a new £200,000 a week contract or Wayne Rooney’s latest haircut to discuss, while Barry Town become a distant memory. As the lights go off at Jenner Park, the remark of passersby will be “there used to be a football club over there”. It doesn’t have to end this way for Barry Town. The club can be saved, along with dozens of other clubs in the same situation. For this to happen, the story of Barry Town has to be told and the madness of Stuart Lovering exposed. Someone out there can make a difference and give the people of Barry back their club. The soul of football lives on in clubs like Barry, a soul that cannot be allowed to die. Clubs with generations of history are being allowed to slide into nothingness for the cost of a couple of days wages for a Premiership footballer. Barry Town celebrate their 100 year anniversary this year. Without the help of the football community, there will not be an 101st.
Save Barry Town. Save football.
The Stand Up For Barry Town movement is on Twitter at @StandUpForBarry, using the hashtag #SaveBarryTown