Barry Howard played a big part in my early years as an Alty fan.
I don’t hate any opposition team these days, but as a teenager in the early to mid-1970’s, I despised Runcorn.
This wasn’t because they were one of our four main local rivals, along with Northwich Victoria, Wigan Athletic and Macclesfield Town, I’ve never been a big one for that, but because in my first six seasons watching Alty, home and away, they generally got the better of us, both here at Moss Lane, but particularly at their sloping Canal Street ground.
They had some outstanding players.
Mal Bailey, Barry Whitbread, Phil Wilson (who would all go on to play for the Robins with distinction), Alan King, Peter Duff and Trevor Finnegan spring easily and quickly to mind, and they had one of the best non-league managers of that era in Stan Storton.
But the best Linnets player of them all was Barry Howard. Alongside, John King and John Rogers, Barry was the player that I most wanted at Alty and over a twelve-month period in 1977/8, after Tony Sanders became manager, they all duly arrived….halcyon days!
Barry Howard got a move into the Football League, departing Runcorn for Stockport County, but became the club’s then record signing, when he joined the Robins for £3,000 in the summer of 1978 after we had just won The FA Trophy for the first time at the twin towers of the old Wembley Stadium, defeating Leatherhead 3-1.
He settled quickly, scoring his first Alty goal on his debut and providing three assists in a 4-1 home win over Worksop Town, followed by a further goal in midweek in a 4-0 victory at Lancaster City. That season was the first of FOUR consecutive seasons when we reached The FA Cup 3rd Round, a record that is unlikely ever to be beaten by a non-league club.
Barry played at White Hart Lane in the 1-1 draw at Spurs and the replay at Manchester City’s Maine Road, graced Anfield as we took on Liverpool, the then European Champions, who fielded a full-strength team, but one of the great man’s best nights came in an FA Cup First Round Replay at Moss Lane, against Sheffield United in November 1981.
Having held the Blades 2-2 at Bramall Lane, the Robins swept aside Ian Porterfield’s team 3-0 with two goals from the diminutive winger and a thunderbolt from Graham Heathcote.
Ask Alty fans for their favourite Barry Howard goal and most will probably say that it was his stunning left foot finish from 25 yards to seal a 2-0 FA Cup 2nd Round win at Rotherham United.
Barry was fast, strong as an ox and with his low centre of gravity, it was exceptionally difficult to knock him off the ball. He was in the mould of John Robertson, a contemporary, who had a magnificent career under Brian Clough at Derby County and Nottingham Forest, where he won pretty well everything, including two European Cups, scoring the only goal of the game that beat Kevin Keegan’s SV Hamburg in the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in the 1980 final…….although Barry was much quicker than the Scottish international.
73 goals in 288 games, for Tony Sanders’ magnificent side, was an excellent return and he was consistent, scoring 11-20 goals per season during his Moss Lane career, including 5 in the 1981/2 FA Trophy run that ended in the torrid heat at Wembley with a 1-0 extra-time defeat to Enfield.
Barry was at his peak in helping Alty become Champions of The National League in its first two seasons 1979/80 and 1980/81. For many Alty fans, this was our best ever team in the 132 year history of the club.
A League Cup (Bob Lord Trophy) winners medal, a Cheshire Senior Cup Final winners medal and seven England non-league caps set the seal on an almost perfect non-league career.
A magnificent dribbler, with superb close control, his crossing was accurate and effective. There were no real stats in those days, apart from the score, but Barry would have been consistently close to the top of the assists table in each of his Alty campaigns.
Barry Howard, we salute you, a true Alty great!