Leon Wob­schall

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - SPORT - ■ Email: leon.wob­schall@ypn.co.uk ■ Twit­ter: @LeonWobYP

THE SIGHT of Barns­ley – the na­tion’s un­of­fi­cial ‘cap­i­tal of coal’ – los­ing its sense of pride and self-con­fi­dence in the late eight­ies and early nineties was har­row­ing in the ex­treme.

The painful demise of the min­ing in­dus­try fol­low­ing the crip­pling strike of the mideight­ies re­vealed a big hu­man cost. A town strug­gled to smile and needed a bea­con of hope.

It ar­rived from the town’s foot­ball team, whose fairy­tale rise to the Pre­mier League in 1996-97 will al­ways con­sti­tute a ma­jor so­cial de­vel­op­ment in the his­tory of Barns­ley.

The story of how Barns­ley FC made a town be­lieve again is chron­i­cled in a film en­ti­tled Day­dream Be­liev­ers, which pre­miered in the town last night.

That pro­mo­tion sea­son and the Reds’ his­toric cam­paign in the big time in 1997-98 – the only time they have dined at the top ta­ble of English foot­ball – are times which no-one con­nected with the town will for­get. It will stand the test of time.

Heart, re­solve, hon­esty, friend­ship and above all, to­geth­er­ness – es­teemed qual­i­ties which served Barns­ley’s pit com­mu­ni­ties well over the decades – were rich in that side, man­aged by Danny Wil­son and cap­tained by Neil Red­fearn.

And the re­spect will al­ways en­dure, as it did when sup­port­ers and ex-play­ers and staff came to­gether for the film pre­miere at the town’s Lam­p­room Theatre.

Sum­ming up that spe­cial time, Red­fearn said: “We be­came ev­ery­one’s sec­ond favourite team and cap­tured the na­tion’s imag­i­na­tion. We also pro­vided a re­lease for ev­ery­one in Barns­ley.

“Oak­well was a good place to go to. It was a real com­mu­nity thing as op­posed to just foot­ball.

“A York­shire trait is stick­ing to­gether, watch­ing each other’s backs and be­ing in it for one an­other. We epit­o­mised that.

“I re­mem­ber when we trained in the week and had 100 to 150 fans come down. Some were young kids and some had re­tired. The club used to openly let them in and we al­ways had a bit of ban­ter af­ter.

“At away games, if some lads did not need tick­ets, we would pass them out to the sup­port­ers.

“As play­ers, we went out to­gether and did ev­ery­thing to­gether. It was per­fect for the young play­ers. Some­times, you get a cyn­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment with old pro­fes­sion­als, but it was not there. We had good at­ti­tudes and top play­ers and such a good bal­ance of youth and ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I played in a lot of Cham­pi­onship foot­ball and watch a lot now, but that Barns­ley side was the best Cham­pi­onship side I have ever seen or played in. We are just miles in front of every­body.

“A lot of things came to­gether at the time. We had some good ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers and Danny had the odd mas­ter­stroke like putting Paul Wilkin­son and John Hen­drie to­gether.

“Then we had a raft of young play­ers that Eric Win­stan­ley brought through. GREAT DAYS:

“I look at the divi­sion now and that side would breeze it.”

Af­ter win­ning their first five league games of 96-97, the Reds sim­ply re­fused to go away.

It cul­mi­nated in those mag­i­cal events on April 26, 1997 when Barns­ley were pro­moted amid a sea of Oak­well emo­tion fol­low­ing a 2-0 win over Brad­ford City.

Top se­nior pro­fes­sion­als in­clud­ing Red­fearn, Hen­drie, Wilkin­son and Dar­ren Sheri­dan dove­tailed with tal­ented academy prod­ucts Nicky Eaden, Adie Moses, Dave Wat­son and Andy Lid­dell. Com­mit­ted for­eign play­ers such as Ar­jan de Zeeuw and Clint Marcelle added to the mix. The chem­istry was per­fect.

It rep­re­sented a spe­cial time for Barns­ley and its peo­ple. A time which ‘one of their own’ in Eaden, brought up in the pit vil­lage of Else­car, will trea­sure.

He said: “The Brad­ford game was the best day of my ca­reer.

“It was my home­town club and we were to­tally un­fan­cied from the start of the sea­son.

“Ev­ery­one ex­pected that we were go­ing to blow up, but we just kept go­ing.

“I re­mem­ber af­ter the Brad­ford game and there were lads I had been to school with on the pitch. It was a bit sur­real.

“The to­geth­er­ness among the lads was bril­liant. Once Taggs (Gerry Tag­gert) left, I got pro­moted to be­ing ‘so­cial cap­tain’ be­ing from Barns­ley and we were a real tight group. You did not re­alise how good the dress­ing room was un­til you left.

“We had nights out with the wives at places like Beat­son House in Cawthorne and we had a box at the club and all the wives got quite friendly.

“At the time, I was liv­ing near Locke Park. You would walk to the pa­per shop and if you had won, it was: ‘Not bad, Satur­day’ from some­one. If you got beat, it was ‘sh** Satur­day, that’

“There were no airs and graces and peo­ple treated you as one of the lads.

“I re­mem­ber when we had a re­cep­tion in the town hall and we went on the bal­cony and it was a sea of peo­ple.

“You had never seen any­thing like it in Barns­ley. It was ab­so­lutely lash­ing it down, but they did not care.”

The big Pre­mier League show then came to Barns­ley, with Wil­son’s side cast­ing aside a fraught start to give them­selves a fight­ing chance of se­cur­ing their top-flight sta­tus in the spring of 1998.

But fates sadly con­spired against the Reds, who never re­cov­ered from a con­tro­ver­sial home loss to Liver­pool, when the hosts had three play­ers sent off.

Mis­takes were made along the way, with sev­eral con­ti­nen­tal sign­ings fail­ing to come off, but there was still im­mense pride at Barns­ley’s brave ef­forts against the big boys.

De­fender Moses re­called: “It was such an un­be­liev­able achieve­ment to get there and some­thing that will prob­a­bly never be re­peated.

“At the start of the pro­mo­tion sea­son, we were one of the favourites to go down.

“It was my only sea­son in the Pre­mier League and look­ing back, I can say I played at Old Traf­ford and An­field, which are great places. But if you are get­ting ham­mered at those places, it is not as great!

“But I look back now and am proud. You see the Pre­mier Years on Sky Sports now and when 1997-98 is on, my lads are watch­ing it.

“Look­ing back, we signed a few for­eign play­ers and some of them were not prob­a­bly the best and not all of them had the best in­ter­ests of the club at heart.

“The likes of me, Scott (Jones), Nicky, Bully (Martin Bul­lock) and Watty would have run through a brick wall for the club. Whether some of the for­eign ones would have done that, I don’t know.

“We had some good ones too. Ar­jan was fan­tas­tic and Clint was a good lad and a fan’s favourite. Eric Tin­kler was de­cent and had a good at­ti­tude too.

“I re­mem­ber on the first day of pre-sea­son, Danny say­ing: ‘It is go­ing to be a big sea­son, you have to raise your game.’ Run­ning around the laps that Eric set up, we were lap­ping some of the for­eign lads, who were jog­ging and hav­ing a chat at the back.

“But we were a bit un­lucky in the end. We dragged it out and in other sea­sons, our points to­tal would have kept us up.”

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