“Barrowcelona”: The Non-League Team That Play Like Barcelona

“Barrowcelona”: The Non-League Team That Play Like Barcelona

Barrow currently sit top of the National League,
heading for promotion with a seven-point lead after 33 games. With their commitment to style over pragmatism,
Ian Evatt’s side are attracting admiring glances from throughout the non-league game,
especially due to their commitment to playing out from the back. Yet Barrow are doing much more than playing
attractive football. They are top despite having a bottom-six budget
and on course to return to the Football League for the first time in almost half a century. “This football is not like anything we’ve
ever seen before,” says Ryan Sutherland, who has followed the club for nearly 20 years
and does everything from looking after the kit to working in the club shop, selling tickets
and managing Barrow’s Twitter account. He is one of only two full-time staff on the
operational side of the club. “If you speak to some of our older fans,”
he says, “they get a bit emotional talking about it, especially the fact that we could
go up this year. We have people coming into the club in the
week now just for a chat about how good it would be if the club got promoted. It’s literally their dying wish to see League
football here again. “We’ve been nowhere near before. The closest we got was when we were in the
play-offs for a brief spell four or five years ago under Paul Cox but the football was just,
‘Get it to the full-back and hoof to the centre-forward’. People just didn’t buy into that as much
as they do now, so the way we’re playing clearly does make a difference.” Barrow have just had five consecutive attendances
of 2,000-plus for the first time since they were in the Football League. They are tapping into a new fanbase, aware
that a generation of supporters were lost through the years spent in the wilderness,
and in the process lifting some of the gloom in an area where the locals tend to drink
from a glass that is half-empty. Indeed, according to a survey carried out
by the Office for National Statistics six years ago, Barrow was deemed to be the least
happy place in the United Kingdom. It’s a place incongruous with its club’s
rebirth. “We’ve scored some good goals,” manager
Ian Evatt says. “One of them was after 24 passes. And we had another where every player touched
the ball before it went in the net. Our fans started nicknaming us ‘Barrowcelona.’” Evatt made more than 500 appearances for Derby
County, QPR, Blackpool and Chesterfield before taking over as Barrow AFC’s manager in 2018. He describes himself as “a modern-day coach
with old-school values”, who found an additional motivation at Barrow from day one. “Everybody I spoke to said that you can’t
get out the National League playing football,” he says. “And that made me even more committed to
doing what we do.” When he was appointed, the club was in a mess. Barrow had finished 20th the previous season,
one point and one place above the relegation zone. Evatt, whose managerial experience was limited
to the three games he spent in charge of Chesterfield as caretaker, didn’t even have enough players
for a five-a-side team. “We inherited a club where the connection
with the fans was completely gone” he remembers. “They’d just survived the previous season,
the crowds were low, the style of football was route one at best. And then we came in with this new philosophy
and only four players, so we had to recruit a whole team in July.” Evatt’s philosophy owes much to his time
playing under Ian Holloway in a Blackpool team that won promotion to the Premier League
in 2010 with what the former central defender describes as an “attacking, expansive and
brave” style of football. “But the biggest thing that Ian changed
was the mentality of our entire club. And that’s what I bought into the most,”
Evatt says. “He wouldn’t accept that Blackpool were
just happy to stay in the Championship. And he didn’t want us to accept that.” The 38-year-old felt the same way about Barrow
and the National League, yet he soon realised that both himself and his assistant Peter
Atherton, the former Sheffield Wednesday full-back and captain, had their work cut out when it
came to implementing their football ideas. A simple rondo on the opening day turned into
chaos. “The first training session, we couldn’t
string three or four passes together; it was frantic,” Evatt says. “But then, six weeks later, we’re scoring
goals when it’s 24 or 25 passes.” Evatt brought in players who were comfortable
on the ball and then it was all about training how they play by working on possession-based
drills, passing combinations and repetitive shadow play exercises. Coaching, in other words. “I spend a lot of time studying Pep Guardiola’s
methods and training sessions, and other people that play a similar style and philosophy to
us,” Evatt says. Then there are what Evatt describes as the
“non-negotiables”. Some are quite intriguing. For example, when Barrow play a 4-3-3 formation,
their winger on the opposite side of the pitch to the ball has to stay high and wide even
when they’re not in possession. “He cheats,” Evatt says. “Our centre-forward occupies their two centre-halves. And so it always gives us that out ball — bang,
counter-attack.” Opta don’t gather statistics at this level
but Lewis Duckmanton, the club’s analyst and goalkeeping coach, has compiled his own. “The average percentage of possession for
us this season is 59,” he says. “Average number of passes is 507. The highest possession in a game was 81 per
cent. We’ve got the best ball recovery time in
the league, the most passes per match and the highest time of ball being in play.” It shows how Guardiola’s influence has stretched
from Manchester City to the humble environs of Holker Street, the 110-year-old home of
the best non-League team in the country. Ball recovery time seems relevant too. “Again, that’s Pep’s influence — the
six-second rule,” Evatt says. “If we’re not winning the ball back in
six seconds, there’s something going wrong. Especially at this level. No disrespect but the more pressure you’ve
got on the ball, the more people struggle with it.” Another relates to the psychological side
of the game. “At half-time, our players have to run in. That’s non-negotiable. It sends that mental message that we’re
relentless.” One non-negotiable is absolutely fundamental
to how Barrow play. “Regardless of what the opposition do when
we have a goal-kick, whether they’re pressing high or not, my players have to show for the
ball. Then, it comes down to decisions. “If teams do commit bodies to stop us playing
out, we will try and be brave, even if it means using the keeper to create an overload
or the midfield players rotating. But we have this set plan where we the three
centre-halves will go into the six-yard box as you are allowed to do now and the wing-backs
will then stay high and wide. “The midfield players will probably suck
their midfield players in towards our goal if they’re going man-for-man and pressing
high, and then we’ve got that opportunity to go bang, straight into Scott Quigley, a
bit like Ederson does with Aguero at times. And then, it’s more or less four-v-four. But our structure, how we look to play out,
is non-negotiable.” It is fascinating to listen to and feels like
a ballsy way to set up at non-League level. “It’s massively ballsy,” Evatt says,
nodding. “But what is football? What do you believe in? I believe that football is there as an entertainment
industry. Supporters work hard, 9-5, five or six days
a week, to be able to afford to come to football. If my team are just going to set up to win
games by set pieces and long balls, it’s not what I would want to spend my hard-earned
money to watch.” That said, Barrow’s own supporters had to
be “re-educated” about the new style of football they were seeing and that process
is ongoing. “When we first started, there were moans
and groans — and there still are one or two when we recycle the ball. ‘Get it forward!’ ‘Get it in box!’” Evatt says, mimicking a northern accent. Within the National League, managers and clubs
have generally been very complimentary about the way that Barrow play. Yet there is also some curious post-match
feedback at times that leaves Evatt and Atherton slightly baffled. “When you go and speak to some managers,
they say: ‘We’d love to play how you play but I haven’t got the players.’ Hang on a minute, your budget is three times
what mine is — if you want to play football,” Evatt says, “recruit footballers.” “It’s that simple. Then coach them. Teach them. Improve them”.

100 thoughts on ““Barrowcelona”: The Non-League Team That Play Like Barcelona

  1. I've never understood England's love affair with hoof and hope at the lower levels. To me, the better the players the further they should be allowed to pass. Long pass completion percentages are awful and headed shots and crossing is statistically the worst way to consistently play at EVERY level. The traditional 4-4-2 TM systems are the least efficient ever. You'd think that with less conditioned, slower, older, less skilled players you'd want to ask them to do things as simple as possible.

    Anybody can make a square pass to a player 4 yrds away. So passing it short from back-to-front and having a big guy hold it up and then lay it off for a through ball makes the most sense. Most of the time, the big guy gets fouled or dispossessed in a spot that a counter-press can be effective at winning it back. then you can take advantage of undisciplined defenders being ahead of the ball. Also, the 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 probably makes the most sense down there. Maybe this team shows people that you can do things differently, and following the herd mentality means you have to brute force your way up the tiers.

  2. Can you guys make a video about South African football or African football as to why it can’t compete with other nations football

  3. I’m currently reading the sequel to Pep Confidential, named Pepe Guardiola The Evolution, and it’s a masterful look inside the mind of the man. Extraordinary

  4. This video was painful to watch cause it’s utter rubbish, barrow have cheated there way to the top especially when they played notts county, should have had 3 players sent off, and Notts should have had 2 penalties in that game but non were given cause the ref lost control of the game, there a shit scummy team that will just come back down next season if they go up they just use cheating manipulative tactics to win this video is honestly tragic 🤦🏻‍♂️

  5. Barcelona do not play style over pragmatism since Pep left. No idea how they've managed to maintain this image while never playing the way people think they do

  6. This is nothing new or brave. Literally every team on the face of the earth is trying to play this slow, tedious and mind numbingly boring modern possesion football. Deeming this style as the only way to play "enjoyable" football is dogmatic and narrrow minded.

  7. What in the world is "attractive football"? You know what's attractive? Winning. They don't ask how, they ask how many. As long as you win, that's all that matters.

  8. Unrelated to content of video, but I thought I'd let you know that the one of the adverts before the video was a trailer for Maisie Williams' new Sky series, and featured a few uses of the F-word…

  9. Good stuff, at least Barrow fans can now watch great football. I wonder if it makes up for living in such a dump of a town.

  10. Being a Carlisle fan, it'll be amazing to see this pokey little county in the north have 2 football league clubs. Can't wait for our 1st league fixture with them, here's hoping Barrow can finish the job

  11. Hi tifo, im from Indonesia i am an acmilan fan and psms fc….it seems along time ago since my hometown club psms fc become great. Sometimes i wish i can be a rich tycoon, so i can buy the clubs…and turn it around like this team. This kinda story brings joy to my heart, and bring hope that someday my club will be good again, and win trophy… MAJU AYAM KINANTAN, Bravo PSMS FC, Milan Siempre, Forza Rossonerro…

  12. Best of luck to them. I always found it odd that Evatt didn't seem to get on with Holloway at QPR but then they did so well at Blackpool.

  13. Gotta say, I saw them play on BT early in the season and they played miserable long ball stuff so I don't know what's happened since or whether that was an anomaly??
    Hoping you guys do one about Yeovils rebirth under the new owners/ Darren Sarll

  14. Sounds like a real football man I love the fact that he models it on Ian Holloways idea he had Blackpool smashing top teams.
    I'm a Carlisle United fan and we need this kind of change at Brunton park

  15. I don't know about anyone else, but I see a very strong resemblance to Revie here…at a lower level I know, but even the circumstances and the background are alike…

  16. Be good to see them in the football league. I remember seeing barrow in 1990 when they beat my team kingstonian in the FA trophy quarter final. They actually went on to win it that season so at least we lost to the eventual winners.

  17. I don't know if it's a coincidence but for the past few months I've been theorising football and explaining it to myself in a manner that barrows coach treats his team and most of his methods and ethos are the same as what I've been theorising is needed in order to have success in the current footballing world and it saddens me that I can watch footballers being paid 100 times more than barrows whole squad and they look like deer in headlights when they step on the pitch, resulting in them not working hard enough for the teams systems to be effective and said players begin losing their heads and second guess every single touch of the ball. I believe any football player can be coached and disciplined into being a functioning cog in a winning team. That's why teams like Sheffield, Wolves and Burnley have risen to the unforeseen heights that they have. My belief is that once you have a group of players with a genuine feel for the game and a football, any decent coach should be able to train and educate any and every player in what is needed from their position in order to win and as well as training them all to learn how to instinctively make the right decisions and react in almost every scenario to win the individual battles that they all encounter on he pitch (I.e the high focus on ball recovery time is the birth of the mentality of your individual players winning their encounters with opposition players).

  18. Check out the history of Gretna FC's short-lived stint in the Scottish League and its owner Brooks Mileson. I think that story would be ideal for this channel.

  19. Barrow is an absolute shithole, a rundown de-industrialised dosshouse of a town, overrun with zombie-like druggies and benefits-supported 30 year old heavily tattooed single mothers of 7, so good for them that they have something to be pleased about for the first time in living memory.

  20. Evo has brilliantly built a squad out of nothing this year. We were almost relegated last year, saved by a point. Even if there's no promotion this season, it's been a pleasure watching them. As for the above comments, you will be surprised of how many fans barrow have internationally. I agree the town is a shithole that's why everyone lives away from Barrow. They do need to become a proper full time club and not just say they are… employ more people because the treatment of fans is horrendous, can't go on having the kit man, media man, commentator, groundsman, programme editor etc running the club shop too…you buy stuff and you can't get your order fulfilled ..hope it improves and let's get into league 2! P.s there's a good chance we will not be playing Morecambe if we go up lol as for the Dover fan, 20 odd years ago that quarter final pen shootout was my first emotion as young fan I was inconsolable in tears so thanks for that lol

  21. Interesting story. Not something I would’ve known about as I don’t rly follow the non league game, but always happy to learn something new

  22. I knew a guy from Barrow when I was at uni, if you'd have told me that Bolton would be in the same division as them 15 years later, I would not have believed that!

  23. Positional play demands more effort and creativity from players than route one or simple going vertical counter-attacking football. Therefore it develops players. Playing negative defensive football won't develop players. And development of the football game and players is more important than some immediate results. That is why Guardiola is progressive coach and Mourihno is regressive. First one progressed football game. Another one cares only about immediate results. And it's not about mere entertainment, it's about Art, possibility of Football as Art. Spanish would never say Barcelona plays like that to entertain, but rather to inspire and excite as any good Art (or creative work). You can be entertained by kick and rush football. But it's simplistic and lacks creativity. Positional play is superior to counter-attacking play or quick transitions bc it demands more from a player.

  24. Tifo, I'm a week late from the anniversary but can you made a video about late Niccolo Galli, a promising youngster who got killed by accident at the age of 17?

  25. it reminds me of the manga and anime Giant Killing starts, with the protagonist coaching an amateur team who reach the quarter finals of the FA Cup

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