On Monday morning we learned the very sad news that Barrie Williams, who managed Sutton United to great success in the 1980s, had passed away in Spain, where he had been living in retirement for a number of years.
Barrie joined the club in 1977 as Keith Blunt's assistant, having previously briefly managed Ilford, and after he and Keith had guided Sutton to the Anglo-Italian triumph 39 years ago this week which many feel was the catalyst for the successes that followed, he took charge in 1979 when Keith joined Swedish club Malmo. Two years later he led U's out at Wembley in the FA Trophy final, and although the last minute defeat to Bishop's Stortford was the first of several disappointments over the next year, Barrie was building a squad of whom a number would go on to make 400-plus appearances for the club, and the success soon followed, beginning in the 1982-83 season with an unprecedented treble of the Surrey Senior Cup, Isthmian League Cup and London Senior Cup, two of which were retained a year later - indeed the Surrey Senior Cup would reside at Gander Green Lane until 1989. In 1985 Barrie guided U's to our first Isthmian championship since 1967 and, after the club had declined promotion, the title was retained the following season. Promotion was this time taken, and at the highest level of non-league football top ten finishes were achieved in each of the first two seasons.
Towards the end of the decade came the FA Cup success which projected Barrie and the club in to the national limelight. In November 1987 U's recorded a first win over Football League opposition, beating Aldershot 3-0, and followed this up with a win at Peterborough before unluckily going out at Middlesbrough in a replay. The following season the third round draw paired U's with Coventry City, and in what is regarded as one of the all-time great FA Cup giantkillings U's beat the team that had won the cup just 18 months earlier 2-1 – no non-league side would beat a side from England's top tier for another 24 years. Although a heavy defeat at Norwich followed, the club's conduct, and Barrie's demeanour, throughout the two cup runs won many friends throughout the football world.
Barrie's qualification as an English teacher made him an erudite verbal and written communicator, and reference is still made to the use of lines from a Kipling poem in his notes for the programme for the Coventry game, particularly when they proved so prescient as ''the everlasting team work of every bloomin' soul'' did indeed prevail. He also had great humour, and these characteristics, plus his ability to coach and manage a squad of players with whom he always got on so well, meant that those following the club in the 1980s not only saw considerable success on the pitch, but also great enjoyment and fun off it, and the comments following news of his passing on Monday reflect the fondness with which those times are still remembered.
Current club director Micky Joyce was a member of the squad who played under Barrie and he paid this tribute. ‘' I had the pleasure of playing in the team Barrie created during the successful 1980's. A genuinely nice guy who had time for everyone. He was a teacher and highly respected football coach who taught me and others to accepting winning and losing as the same imposters, but we won more than we lost. He was a scholar of the game he loved and has to be considered as one of the best managers of his generation. He spoke eloquently and passionately about football, his players and of course Sutton United, and has left a legacy that has been followed to this day. The pipe smoking bard will be missed by me and all those who he met.''
After leaving the club in 1989 and a spell out of the game, Barrie had brief spells managing Hendon and the England Women's team before retiring to Spain, where he lived with his wife Marion until her death last year. He is survived by his daughter Lesley, grandchildren Lewis and Hannah and two great-grandchildren, to whom the club's sincere condolences are extended. His son Steven predeceased him.