Barlow hunts success at the Lane

Frank Barlow
Frank Barlow

Frank Barlow has taken so long to get back to his beloved Bramall Lane - almost 40 years - that he hopes it will now prove to be his final destination of a long footballing journey.

But for that to happen, this relatively youthful and ever-in-demand 64-year-old knows that he and his long-time mate Danny Wilson will have to bring success back to Sheffield United.

And with retirement still far from his mind, Barlow admits that he has gambled in swapping a relatively safe job at Premiership Sunderland for one back at the sharp end of management.

As chief scout for the Wearside outfit, he was a fair way below the radar - even allowing for recent speculation on the future of manager Steve Bruce, another long-standing friend in football.

At Bramall Lane, as assistant to new chief Danny Wilson, Barlow has his head back over the parapet. And this, by the way, is a man who has never relished being the boss, having been a reluctant supremo in spells with Chesterfield, Scunthorpe, Nottingham Forest and also Wigan Athletic, where he was briefly caretaker.

So you can gauge the true pulling power of the two factors that finally brought Barlow back to the Lane - his friendship with Wilson and the lure of the club he supported as a boy, then played for between 1965 and 1972.

“I wouldn’t have taken this job for any other person or any other club,” says Frank. “Just after Danny phoned me about it, I watched a play-off game involving Nottingham Forest and saw Billy Davies getting all stressed on the touchline.

“My wife said to me: ‘Are you sure you want to get back to that?’”. I thought about it and said: ‘Yes, I do.’”

Although people like Frank can’t help themselves when it comes to the drug that is football, he doesn’t need the profile and the power kick that drive some people in the game.

And that, besides his vast knowledge of the game, is one of the reasons why Barlow is seldom out of work. Managers can trust him, relying on the honesty of his judgment safe in the knowledge that there is no personal agenda.

Not that there would be with Frank anyway. He is genuinely one of the best-liked men in the game. Having known him since he was a player and then coach at manager at Chesterfield - to where he moved from the Lane in 1972 - I can say that I have never heard a bad word said about him.

“It’s taken me 39 years to return here, which seems a long time - but really it’s flown by,” he said. “It almost feels as if my career has come full circle and, yes, I would like to finish here.

“When Danny asked me to come, the only thing to evaluate was my age. At 64, did he want somebody younger? But I’ve always known that you have to adjust to the job as you go along and I know I can do that with Danny.

“I’ve known him a long time, we’ve worked together several times before and I admire him. He has great qualities, on the human side as well as football. That’s why there’s a great friendship between us.”

Rekindling old memories and adding new ones is also part of the attraction. “I remember my dad bringing me to my first game at Bramall Lane in 1955,” Frank added.

“It was against Charlton who had Sam Bartram in goal. United won 5-0. Later, I was an average player here in a great squad.

“I’ve remained friends with so many of the players of that time - Ted Hemsley, Billy Dearden, Geoff Salmons, Len Badger and, of course, Tony Currie. He would have been a stand-out player in any era.

“I’m also proud to say I saw Jimmy Hagan. He was brilliant. And what can I say about Joe Shaw. Alf Ramsey used to say Martin Peters was years ahead of his time.

“Well, Joe, as a centre half, was 50 years in front of his time. The way he read the game, his speed off the mark - exceptional.”