At long last, it’s time to kick off a new League Two campaign – and, not for the first time, we do it against Cumbria’s second-best team. With the Euros taking place over the summer, it feels as if we’ve lost all idea of time. No football deprivation means we can’t actually work out how long ago it is since Boro’ were in action. But we needn’t worry about that any more – unless the Bluebirds are rocking up to the Lamex with plans to shoot down our optimism?
Stevenage v Barrow
Lamex Stadium, Stevenage — 06 August 2021 — Sky Bet League Two
Last season, late penalties were Boro’s chosen shit-housing tactic of choice. It started, as it does now, with a campaign opener against Barrow. We hadn’t seen them since the 2010 FA Trophy final, which was probably for the best. But our first day frolics on 12 September 2020 saw us rain on their parade. After a 48-year absence from the Football League, the Bluebirds were set for the win until Inih Effiong (remember him?) scored a late leveller from the spot.
As we made an unlikely and belated chase for the playoffs on 27 March 2021, it felt as if we’d play out another draw at the Lamex. Elliott List struck in the 53rd minute to hand us the lead, only for Calvin Andrew to equalise with 12 minutes left on the clock. The frustrations of those fans watching on iFollow grew louder and louder as time started running out. With just three minutes remaining, however, Jack Aitchison won a penalty that Luke Norris converted.
Stevenage v Barrow: A ‘traditional’ season opener?
Last year’s trip to Holker Street was the latest in a series of early season fixtures between our two sides. We’ve no idea how it’s happened like that. Yet, playing the Bluebirds at least in the month of August – if not first up – is surprisingly familiar. And it goes back to our first-ever encounter on 15 August 1998 when Carl Alford won it for us at their place. That’s not necessarily a good omen though. Their 2-1 win later that term on 17 April 1999 is their only ever league win against us.
Back to the August shenanigans and we fast forward to 30 August 2008; a 3-1 away day victory that gave GW his first league win in his second spell as Boro’ boss – six games in. The rest, as far as he’s concerned, is history. We doubled up on the Bluebirds later that season too; winning 3-0 at home on 17 January 2009.
The 2009-10 campaign gave us a severe dose of déjà vu as we headed north on 15 August 2009. This time, it was a distinctly unthrilling outcome as we played out a 0-0 draw under Morecambe Bay’s grey skies. It was then a fair ol’ wait until the return fixture; a midweek outing on 9 March 2010. We were now on the title charge, the Bluebirds were battling the drop, and Yemi Odubade was in the groove. His hattrick propelled us to a handsome 4-0 win.
For trivia’s sake, it was our fourth of eight successive league wins.
The elephant in the room as far as Barrow is concerned is the 2010 FA Trophy Final. We had eyes a non-league double after Andy Drury curled us in front at Wembley. But the hit that we took when David Bridges was harshly sent off took its toll as the Cumbrians drew level. This took the game into extra time, but not before Robin Hulbert was sent off for them. The red card was the lenient response to his leading elbow that forced Charlie Griffin out of the action.
It left a sour taste in the mouth, sure. But the memories of that day had long since faded when the Bluebirds were promoted in summer 2020. Us spoiling their opening day dreams last term? Hardly a whiff of payback about it…