Barry Town United AFC’s storied history dates back to 1892 when an association football team named Barry and Cadoxton District was formed in the area. During the early years, this side endured many upheavals, playing on five different grounds under various identities, including Barry Unionist Athletic, Barry United Athletic and Barry District. Players who featured during these years included Ted Vizard and Billy Jennings; who would each go on to play in the ‘White Horse’ FA Cup Final.
In November 1912, a meeting at The Windsor public house in Holton Road saw townsfolk choose to pursue membership of the thriving Southern League as Barry AFC (the ‘Town’ suffix was added after World War II). The club would secure land owned by the Jenner family and the people of the town came together to build Jenner Park, getting it ready for the first match of the 1912–13 season.
On 6 September 1913, Barry played their first ever fixture; a Southern League match against Mid-Rhondda at Jenner Park. The game attracted 4,000 spectators, including 1,000 travelling supporters.
Fittingly, the new team would register a surprise, albeit merited, victory, with Barry’s Ralph Isherwood scoring the very first goal at Jenner Park just three minutes in. His second, midway through the second half, sealed a 2–1 victory, a fine start for the Barry side on, coincidentally, the same afternoon that future friendly opponents Arsenal played their first ever match at Highbury.
The ensuing two seasons would see Stoke City, Brentford, Coventry City and others visit the new ground. However, the Great War would soon interrupt any competitive proceedings; with Barry’s first ever captain, Major James Wightman, one of many casualties of The Battle of the Somme.
SOUTHERN LEAGUE SUCCESS
The 1920–21 season ranks as one of Barry’s greatest, as they surprised many by becoming champions of the Southern League’s Welsh section. The achievement was all the more impressive when considering the small squad played over 100 matches in all competitions during the course of the season. Competing simultaneously in both the Welsh and Western League, the board gave priority to Southern League fixtures, swayed by aspirations of joining the new English Third Division.
Inspired by Stanley Cowie, the title was clinched in early May, and yet hopes of Barry being able to move to the Football League were scuppered a month later, when Charlton Athletic and Aberdare Athletic (the latter of whom finished second to Barry in the Welsh section) were elected instead.
Barry retained membership of the Southern League for more than 60 years – their highest finish being fourth in the 1930s. Among the notables of the era were Johnny Gardner (with over 500 appearances), Dai Ward (300+ goals) and Fred Whitlow (a 100+ goal marksman) while Barry-born Ernie Carless combined football exploits with a successful cricketing career with Glamorgan CC.
At the end of the 1920s, a crowd of 6,000 at Upton Park saw Barry beat Dagenham 1–0 to progress to the FA Cup 2nd Round; before losing to Brighton ten days later. It proved to be their most successful run in the competition. Barry reached the 1st Round again in 1934–35, losing 1–0 to Northampton at Jenner Park, but the build-up was tainted by a fire that ravaged the grandstand.
Football again took a backseat in 1939, with the eruption of World War II . Barry’s Chris Mason would be captured as a POW during the conflict, though would return to Jenner Park to resume his career afterwards; entertaining spectators thrilled by the adventures of players such as Derek Tapscott (who would later sign for Arsenal), celebrated strikers Stan Richards and Gwilym Cain.
In 1949–50, Jenner Park became one of the first grounds in the country to introduce floodlights, with Newport County, Swansea City and Cardiff City all visiting to showcase the facilities. Two seasons later, an all-Welsh showdown in the FA Cup 1st Round saw Barry beaten by Newport, 4–0. Nevertheless, the town’s most celebrated footballing achievement was right around the corner.
In May 1955, following a 1–1 draw at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham, Barry beat Chester City 4–3 at Ninian Park in the replay to lift the Welsh Cup for the first time. Former Chelsea right-wing Charlie Dyke scored the winner, converting a dramatic late free-kick to take the cup back to Barry.
SIXTIES, SEVENTIES AND EIGHTIES
In the late 1950s, a host of Scandinavian stars made their way to Jenner Park, and dazzled fans with their skill. Among their number were Finland’s Hannu Kankkonen and Bengt ‘Folet’ Berndtsson; a member of the Sweden squad that reached the final of the 1958 World Cup. The influx of players from continental Europe came as a result of chairman John Bailey’s business interests overseas.
During this period, the club embarked on an overseas tour, playing summer friendlies in Malta against Sliema Wanderers, Hibernians and Valletta. All three fixtures ended in a draw.
1961 saw another big game as QPR visited Jenner Park in the FA Cup. A crowd of 7,000 saw Laurie Sheffield’s opener for Barry cancelled out late on. QPR would win the replay at Loftus Road comfortably. The 1960s and 70s are perhaps most fondly remembered for the personalities that pulled on the shirt. Among them, prolific goalscorers Ken Gully and Clive Ayres, brothers John and Dickie Batt, long-serving Bobby Smith and Ashley Griffiths, and Mike Cosslett; today, a club coach.
In 1982, Barry would leave the Southern League, focusing on Welsh League competition and winning six Welsh League titles before the decade’s end; thanks in no small part to the goals of striker Steve Williams. The most significant match of the decade though came on 17 November 1984, as 3,850 crammed into Jenner Park to see Barry vs Reading in the FA Cup 1st Round. Despite Ian Love‘s goal, an injury-time winner by Trevor Senior was enough to send the Royals through.
EXILE AND RETURN
After insufficient floodlighting had ironically stopped the club being able to compete in the Southern League for most of the 1980s, the tail end of the decade saw the necessary ground improvements put in place, helping to support a return to the English football pyramid.
Barry entered the league’s Midland Division and would consistently finish in the top six, yet were denied the opportunity to field a reserve XI in the Welsh League as they had done previously. Meanwhile, huge and lasting changes to Wales’ club football landscape were on the horizon.
The creation of the League of Wales (now Welsh Premier League) in 1992 then prompted a decree that Barry would no longer be able to compete in the English pyramid at all while based on Welsh soil. As part of a group of clubs known as the Irate Eight (alongside Newport, Merthyr, Colwyn Bay, Bangor, Caernarfon, Newtown and Rhyl), the Town were forced into exile; with the first team adopting the cunning guise of Barri AFC and playing ‘home’ matches out of Worcester City’s ground, while the reserves (by now, a local league outfit), manned the Jenner Park fort. However, this arrangement would last only a season, as O’ Halloran performed a shock u-turn that saw the first team return home; eventually accepted into Welsh League Division One for the 1993-94 campaign.
DECADE OF DOMINANCE
Barry’s return home to Jenner Park would spark the side’s most successful period of all, as they earned immediate promotion to the top flight and a unique quadruple of Welsh League, Welsh League Cup, FAW Trophy and Welsh Cup honours (the latter, for the first time since 1955).
The Welsh Cup win was one of the Town’s most famous achievements, as they upset Football League neighbours and Second Division outfit Cardiff City in front of 16,000 spectators at the old National Stadium. Barry’s next reward was a European Cup Winners Cup tie against Žalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania, but they crashed out 7–0 on aggregate. Nevertheless, greater glory was on the horizon.
After an indifferent first season in the League of Wales, Barry opted to become the league’s first fully professional club and, thereafter, won their first LOW championship in 1995–96. The season was however marred by the untimely deaths of club chairman Neil O’ Halloran and young midfielder Matthew Holtham, the latter in a motorway accident on the way back from an away game in April.
1996 saw the club create history as the first League of Wales side to progress beyond the opening round of a European competition. Following victory in Latvia over Dinaburg, Barry ousted Hungarian side Budapest Vasutas in one of several epic European nights at Jenner Park. Despite trailing 3–1 from the away leg, Barry stormed to victory in the return, before winning a penalty shoot-out, 4-2.
Into the UEFA Cup first round proper, a memorable tie with Scottish Premier League side Aberdeen was their reward and, after losing 3–1 to Roy Aitken’s side at Pittodrie, the Dragons were held to a pulsating 3–3 draw at a rain-swept Jenner Park; exiting the cup in thrilling fashion before over 6,000.
On the domestic scene, Barry were all-conquering, clinching a treble of League of Wales championship, Welsh League Cup and Welsh Cup. The championship was claimed with a record 105 points and a goal difference of more than +100. In January 1997, the team was part of the first League of Wales match to be televised live; a 5–2 win over Caernarfon that still holds the league’s attendance record. Then, from March, Barry went 51 matches without tasting a single league defeat.
1999 saw Barry become the first League of Wales team to win the FAW Premier Cup, with a 2–1 win over Wrexham at the club’s own Racecourse. Pipped to the title in 2000 by an emerging TNS, Barry would soon regain their crown, while European battles with the likes of Dynamo Kiev and Boavista saw players of the highest calibre grace Jenner Park, including the legendary Andriy Shevchenko.
Then, in the 2001–02 season, Barry became the first League of Wales team to win a Champions League tie, when they defeated the Azerbaijan champions Shamkir to set up a tie with Portuguese giants Porto. Barry lost the first leg in Portugal by an 8–0 margin, after conceding two early penalties in front of a partisan 55,000 crowd. However, the Town would win the home leg 3–1; a famous result that has grown in legend with the career success of Ricardo Carvalho, Helder Postiga and others.
DECLINE AND TURMOIL
Barry’s golden era would not last forever, and the continual challenge of securing enough prize money to sustain their high standards set would eventually catch up with those running the club. After chairperson and backer Paula O’ Halloran stood aside, former Scarborough and Grantham Town official Kevin Green came in as the club’s new Chief Executive; yet his varying initiatives failed to stop the rot. In one move that garnered significant press, Green would recruit FA Cup-winning ex-footballer and celebrity John Fashanu as the club’s high-profile chairman in the winter of 2002.
Some saw Fashanu as the missing piece of the puzzle, and the man who would help sustain Barry’s success going forward. Promising African and Chinese television deals and an influx of Nigerian internationals, Fashanu made the headlines, yet did little to steady a Barry ship in increasingly rough seas. Then, after success on reality show I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! saw him attain new-found mainstream popularity, Fashanu left the club; which by now was in a perilous financial state.
In the summer of 2003, the club went into administration and a professional squad containing a young Abebayo Akinfenwa would quickly disintegrate. An interim management team was appointed, together with an amateur squad drawn primarily from N & M Construction of the South Wales Amateur League (five levels below the Welsh Premier). Within a month, Barry had gone from winning a match in Europe to losing 8–0 at Caernarfon. Though the professional-era bubble had well and truly burst, fans set about raising money to help keep the club alive. Eventually, mystery man Stuart Lovering arrived to purchase the club. Few could have foreseen what was to come.
2003–04 was difficult, with champions Barry’s first Welsh Premier League win not arriving until February 2004 when they beat fellow strugglers Welshpool 5–4 with a 98th-minute penalty from youngster Luke Sherbon. Manager Colin Addison was brought in resuscitate the team’s ailing fortunes, yet the Dragons still ended up bottom of the division and were relegated to the Welsh League Division One. Controversially, Addison was dismissed by Lovering on the eve of the next campaign, with replacement David Hughes leaving months later on finding his budget slashed.
Meanwhile, a district valuer had determined the club should pay £42,000 in rent and rates each season for the remainder of its lease. Judging the figure to unfairly be based on the relinquished professional status, Lovering opted to move the team to the White Tips Stadium in Treforest from January 2005 to May 2006. During the absence, a number of fans formed breakaway Barry FC; the culmination of a series of disputes with Lovering, who had banned them fundraising at the club. With the Town relegated to their lowest-ever league status in 2006-07, the future appeared bleak.
While chaos reigned off the field for much of the decade, the roots of recovery began to grow with the appointment of manager Gavin Chesterfield. Chesterfield led Barry to promotion in 2008, with the hope a winning run in the second tier would see the club’s dwindling support return. After stumbling early on, Barry enjoyed a 21-match unbeaten streak and finished the season third. Nevertheless, any achievements were continually overshadowed by events behind the scenes.
In December 2008, a crisis meeting at Jenner Park saw supporters pledge their commitment to operating the first team (eventually forming a company for this purpose), to allow Lovering to focus on finding a buyer. In one of multiple close calls, the club appeared on the verge of being sold in 2010, when businessman Clayton Jones appeared to strike a deal. However, this fell through at the eleventh hour, scuppering an ambitious plan to bring in John Hartson as Barry’s Director of Football.
Undeterred, 2010 saw the Stand Up For Barry campaign launch, using new social media platforms such as Twitter to spread news of the club’s plight with a wider online audience. With celebrities and strangers alike throwing their weight behind the cause, the support received from across the football community proved an invaluable asset, as Barry’s fans strived to keep their club alive.
Shortly after the close of the 2010–11 campaign, Lovering announced his renewed intent of withdrawing the Barry first team from so-called ‘higher league’ football. To prevent this, the Barry Town Supporters’ Committee (BTSC) took on complete control of all football and its funding; beginning what became known to some as the ‘DIY Football’ era. In the eventful months that followed, the rejuvenated, fan-run Barry Town set-up enjoyed their most successful Welsh Cup campaign in several seasons; defeating historic rivals Merthyr at Penydarren Park and winning at Haverfordwest in extra-time, before being edged out at Newport County, by three goals to two.
2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the club’s formation, with a series of events lined up to mark this and the subsequent centenary season. To launch the festivities, Cardiff City visited in an August friendly, attended by 2,000 spectators. However, Lovering’s threats to withdraw Barry from the Welsh League would intensify in the weeks prior, threatening to cast a cloud over the celebrations. In November, a successful ‘100 Years of Barry Town’ event was attended by players past and present, before the Town beat Welsh League champions Cambrian and Clydach on the 100th anniversary.
Then, in March 2013, following wins against Caerleon, Penrhyncoch, Ely Rangers and Pontardawe, Barry won 2–0 at Flint Town United to progress to the Welsh Cup semi-final for the first time in a decade. Gavin Chesterfield’s team would narrowly lose to eventual winners Prestatyn Town, while marking the first ever appearance of a fully-amateur Barry side at the Welsh Cup semi-final stage.
SURVIVAL AND RESURGENCE
On 7 May 2013, mere weeks after their heroic Welsh Cup exit, Stuart Lovering moved to withdraw the senior team from the Welsh League, against the will of the BTSC, players and supporters; who were ready, willing and able to fulfill the remaining two league fixtures (both against Ton Pentre).
Rejecting this perceived act of sabotage, those running the football outlined their intentions to continue as they were, adopting the United suffix to help symbolise their continuing unity and endeavour. However, a meeting of the FAW Council in Betws-y-Coed determined the team would have to play “recreational football” instead; a declaration that was met with widespread outcry.
Eventually, there seemed hope for beleaguered Barry, when a second meeting was arranged to hear new evidence as to why the team should be able to continue. At this second gathering, in Caersws, 15 of the FAW Councillors voted against discussing Barry’s future, sensationally ending the meeting in no more than five minutes and at considerable expense. Notably, it emerged that this decision went against the recommendations of the FAW’s Domestic Committee and legal team.
With their immediate and long-term future unclear, Barry began their pre-season across the border in England, followed by a 3–2 defeat to Premiership newcomers Cardiff City, watched by a crowd of 1,650 supporters. Remarkably, given the difficult circumstances, Barry had even led 2-1 at half-time.
Ultimately, a High Court judge in Cardiff ruled in Barry’s favour; stating that the FAW Council had acted unlawfully in denying them their licence to play Welsh League football. As a result, the fan-run Town team were entered back into the Welsh League for the start of the 2013-14 football season.
In the years that followed this landmark struggle, Barry would go and win two consecutive Welsh League titles, reclaiming their rightful place in the second tier and continuing to develop as a club, both on and off the pitch; adopting new youth, academy, female and pan-disability sections.
In 2016–17, the team would reach the final of Nathaniel MG Cup for the first time since 2001, becoming only the second side from outside the top flight to achieve this feat since the Welsh Premier League’s tournament was expanded to include outside entrants, several years previously.
Then, in April 2017, the club secured its return to the JD Welsh Premier League as Welsh League Division One champions; the latest step in a remarkable revival for a club that would not give in.