Chris Dunlavy profiles the career of the Wigan interim manager
COLD, confused, shocked by their team-mates’ consumption of alcohol and incapable of finding a shop open beyond 6pm.
When the ‘Three Amigos’ descended on Wigan in 1995, Roberto Martinez, Jesus Seba and Isidro Diaz were about as comfortable in Lancashire as a Yorkshire rose.
Thank goodness, then, for Latics boss Graham Barrow. “Graham was my mentor,” said Martinez, who would later employ Barrow as his assistant at Wigan.
“But he is also a good friend. As the manager of Wigan, it was his job to make sure we settled in quickly, but he went over and above that.
“He also welcomed us as part of his own family. We were regularly invited into his home to practise our English with his wife, Mags, and his two children, James and Hannah.
“Being so far from our own families, he helped us feel at home.”
It was a caring, compassionate side to the 62-year-old that precious few of his battered and bruised opponents ever saw.
A legendary figure at Chester City, the club for whom he made 248 appearances, twice managed and led to a famous promotion, Barrow remains the hardman by which all others are judged at the Deva.
Crunching challenges, gaping wounds, off-the-ball retribution – every Blues fan has their own cherished memory of a midfielder whose style belongs to a bygone age.
“Nobody got the better of Graham,” said ex-Chester striker Stuart Rimmer. “You’d see players leave something on him and think ‘Bad move’. He was hard as nails, brave as a lion and a fantastic leader.”
That uncompromising ethos was, in part, the result of an education in the rutted and ruthless amateur scene of the 70s and 80s.
Released by Blackburn as a teenager, Barrow played for Chorley, Southport and Altrincham whilst working full-time as a heating engineer. By the time he finally turned pro at Wigan, he was 27, battlescarred and grimly determined to leave the boilers behind.
Equally, however, Barrow embodied his managers – the fearsome Larry Lloyd at Wigan and the human hairdryer, Harry McNally, at Chester.
“Neither suffered fools,” said Barrow. “They had rules and, if you didn’t abide by them, you wouldn’t last long. But Harry, in particular, played a huge role in my development. He taught me the values of discipline, respect and hard-work. You wanted to run through walls for him.”
When McNally was sacked in 1992, Barrow reluctantly stepped up. Two years later, he led the club to runners-up spot in the Third Division – arguably the finest moment in the club’s history and one that beat Kevin Keegan to third spot in the LMA manager of the year awards.
“It was a great year,” recalls David Pugh. “And Graham was actually pretty innovative. We often played 4-5-1, which is all the rage now, but hardly seen in those days.”
Sadly, the summer sale of key players saw Barrow walk out. Loyal to the end, he couldn’t lie to fans over the board’s actions and felt compelled to make a stand. “It was silly really,” he said. “I had a family, a mortgage, but I had to stand by my principles.” Then came Wigan, the Dave Whelan revolution and the Three Amigos. The Spanish injection was Whelan’s idea, yet Barrow could spot his own players well enough. While scouting Martinez and Co at lower league Balaguer, his eye was caught by a skinny teenager playing for opponents Las Palmas. Barrow was told that young Juan Carlos Valeron – later to win 46 caps for Spain – was not for sale. Barrow lasted just six months more at Springfield Park, a victim of Whelan’s root-and-branch restructuring. Stories of the parting vary. Whelan says he told Barrow to his face, Barrow that he received a phone call instructing him to clear his desk. The pair eventually re-forged their relationship, though not before several years of animosity. Barrow then spent three years at Rochdale, two at Bury and another at Chester, returning to the Deva for a fourth time in 2006 as assistant to Mark Wright. So bound was he to the Blues that even an offer to join Martinez at Swansea was rejected, though he did eventually rejoin the Spaniard at Wigan in 2009.
“I have not appointed him for sentimental reasons,” said Martinez at the time. “Graham has got a great knowledge of the game and sets extremely high standards in everything he does.
“He was a leader as a player and took that into management. He is very demanding, with a great manner and impressive man-management skills.”
As an FA charge for scuffling in the tunnel with Newcastle assistant John Carver in 2013 demonstrates, Barrow remains a formidable opponent.
But, as a coach, he has blended the principles of Lloyd and McNally with the ultra-modern methods of Martinez.
“Graham is great to work with,” said Joe Hinnigan, former Sunderland defender who assisted Barrow at Wigan, Chester and Rochdale. “His best attribute is trust. He lets you get on with your job and doesn’t interfere.”
Over the years, Mr Chester morphed into Mr Wigan. When Martinez asked Barrow to be his No.2 at Everton in 2013, the likes of Callum McManaman and Gary Caldwell begged him to stay, then urged the chairman to hold firm.
And, when the sacking of Warren Joyce in March led to Barrow having interim charge until May, the duo were among a host of ex-Latics who sent messages of goodwill.
“I didn’t want or expect to be in this position,” Barrow admitted. Chester fans may remember they were his exact sentiments in 1992.
HOLDING FIRM: Wigan have entrusted Graham Barrow with the manager’s job till May
UNLIKELY LADS: Former Wigan boss Roberto Martinez and coach Barrow