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Barnsley FC - Masters of the Second Tier

The Barnsley FC Badge

As the weather begins to change, leaving many of us no doubt hoping for glorious beer garden sunshine, spare a thought for Barnsley and their supporters- having had to sup many a pint of bitter at the second tier table. The Tykes have spent more seasons and thereby played more games at that level than any other club! The circumstances behind their various near misses couldn't be more different, either...

 

 

Stretching right back to 1914-15, when they were denied a place in the First Division by a ballot of the existing member clubs. Having finished the season in third place in Division Two, the place they might have reasonably considered theirs was awarded instead to Arsenal. In 1921-22 they missed out on promotion on goal difference before spending the vast majority of the pre- and post First World War campaigns yo-yoing between the Second and Third Divisions.

 

When the Football League replaced the Northern and Southern sections of the Third Division with a nationalised Fourth in time for the 1958-59 season, the Tykes would drop one further and, from 1965, spend three seasons on the bottom rung of the ladder before promotion and then another relegation in the early Seventies. Seven seasons would pass before they climbed up again in 1979, before an upturn in fortune and a second promotion by 1981. 

 

However, they still couldn't clinch that ever elusive place back in the top flight, despite decent foundations being built by player-manager and former Leeds man Allan Clarke prior to his return to Elland Road as gaffer in September 1980. Replacing him was another former Whites favourite, Norman Hunter. After yet another fall through the trap door he was able to steer his new charges to second place in the Third Division, the return to the Second once again putting them within reach of the prize of Division One football. 

 

By the dawn of the Nineties, the road to get there hardly ran as smoothly as they might have liked. Viv Anderson's sole season as player-manager, in 1993/94, would find them hanging on to their Division 2 status largely thanks to seven wins from nine games in mid-season. Survival was secured with a 3-2 win at Bolton on the last day before Anderson left for Middlesbrough and a spot as Bryan Robson's assistant, having lost seven of his final ten games pre- departure from Oakwell.

 

Then came the man Michael Duff may well be looking to for a spot of inspiration, as he looks to take Barnsley back into the Championship- Danny Wilson- who took over in time for the 1993/4 season. Being promoted from having been the assistant to Anderson, Wilson initially also combined managerial duties with playing, and to his credit led them to sixth, a fair leap in quality no doubt appreciated by those in the stands.

 

Even so, a restructure of the league system would once again stand in their way…where sixth would previously have been enough to snaffle a play-off spot, the Premier League's decision to drop to 20 clubs from 22 meant they missed out to Tranmere by four points. 

 

The following season proved an anti-climax having been whippet-quick out of the traps, five wins from nine getting them up to third before a slump found them down in fifteenth by Christmas. Having had time to run off the turkey with all the trimmings, Boxing Day marked the start of another run of five wins from nine games taking them into February, before just two wins from a further 14 games saw them fall from a play-off place into tenth.

 

Overhauling his squad during the summer, Wilson would bring in Clint Marcelle and John Hendrie, both men ultimately proving instrumental in lifting the club to the highest heights of the Premier League (itself the product of a rejig of the league system)...

 

And no doubt jigging they were when Marcelle scored the goal which got them there, at home to Bradford in the penultimate match of 1996/97! By way of coming full circle, he had also bagged the winner on his début on the opening day away at West Brom, finishing with ten league goals and behind only Neil Redfearn on 17. An opening run of five wins from five games matched their best ever start to a season and set out quite the statement of intent.

 

They would finish second behind Bolton, 18 points the gap between the two, with a 5-1 thrashing away at Oxford on the final day not mattering a jot. After 102 years of waiting they were a top-flight side, but their stay was brief. With the worst defensive record in the Premier League- 82 goals shipped- 1996/7 proved something of a short, sharp shock!

 

Barnsley started with some credibility, suffering a 2-1 home defeat by West Ham, as Redfearn got their first top-flight goal before adding another one the following weekend in an away win at Crystal Palace. They would subsequently get a harsh lesson in the realities of life among the lions when Chelsea came to Oakwell and took the points back to London after a long ride to Yorkshire and putting six goals past their hosts.

 

Some pride was at least salvaged in beating Bolton, the winner netted by Macedonian striker Georgi Hristov, who had arrived from Partizan Belgrade in the summer. He would add seven more to his tally before injury forced him to miss much of the next two years and he moved to NEC Nijmegen. Few female fans are likely to have shed any tears, though...

In an interview with a Belgrade sports paper after arriving in England he would admit he was finding it hard to settle following his move, as well as having a none too subtle dig at the local women!

 

"I'm finding it difficult to find a girlfriend in Barnsley, or indeed settle into a decent way of life.The local girls are far uglier than the ones back in Belgrade or Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, where I come from.

 

Our women are much prettier. Besides, they don't drink as much beer as the Barnsley girls which is something I don't like at all. England is a strange country and I found it hard to adapt to living here. The main thing is that I am not on my own. To be honest I expected more of Barnsley as a town and a club."

 

Enough to make you spit out your pint. 

 

Following the victory over the Trotters, the Tykes wouldn't taste victory again until a 2-0 home win against Coventry around two months later. Euphoria proved short lived, though, as the next week they were at Old Trafford and being handed a 7-0 spanking!

 

Just three weeks later they would pull off the only smash and grab of what was turning into a turgid season, in winning 1-0 at Anfield, Ashley Ward the scorer.

 

If you thought it wouldn't get much better from there, no prizes for being absolutely right. The final whistle at Oakwell after a home defeat by Manchester United and relegation probably came as a relief, Wilson opting to defect to Sheffield Wednesday and Hendrie appointed player-manager in preparation for their swift return to the First Division.

 

He wouldn't even last the season, his assistant Eric Winstanley taking over and shepherding them into thirteenth, the highlight a 7-1 home tonking of Huddersfield.

 

They would come agonisingly close to a return to the Premier League just two seasons after their exit, Dave Bassett appointed gaffer and taking them into the play-offs following a fourth place finish. Defeat in the final by Ipswich ensured they'd just miss out having taken the lead thanks to Richard Wright's own goal. 

 

They had suffered thanks to an odd combination of the league's most potent attack- 88 goals making them the Football League's top scorers overall- but with a defence which leaked 67 goals!

 

Within just two seasons the misery would only increase with a fall into the Second Division, finishing above only Stockport to slump back outside the top two divisions for the first time in over twenty years. The collapse of ITV Digital nearly sent the club to the wall before then- mayor of Barnsley, Peter Doyle, stepped in to buy the Tykes and a 2006 play-off final win over Swansea got them something of a fairytale end after so much disappointment.

 

More yo-yoing between what is now League One and the Championship would follow in its wake, before a 2015/16 Football League trophy final win over Oxford and play-off win over Millwall sealed Championship football.

 

By December of 2017, then – owner Patrick Cryne had sold his majority stake in Barnsley to the current ownership group including chairman Neerav Parekh and Billy Beane. The latter famous as one of the men behind the moneyball philosophy which propelled the Oakland Athletics to unlikely Major League Baseball success, the data- based model still in use in player recruitment at Oakwell.

 

Probably the most successful of their managerial appointments before luring Duff from Cheltenham was Valérien Ismaël. He took a young squad assembled on a tiny budget to the Championship play-offs, building on good work started by Daniel Stendel, who had secured promotion in his sole season in the dugout.

 

After several backward steps under Gerhard Struber, who narrowly avoided relegation, then Markus Schopp and Poya Asbaghi, who between them couldn't halt the slide downwards, it now falls to Duff to lead another upward climb. 

 

At time of writing the Tykes sit fourth in League One on 72 points from 36 games. Whether he can keep it going and undo an all too familiar narrative of decline, fall, rise then fall again could surely be one of the stories of the season...

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