‘It’s like watching Brazil’: Barnsley’s season in the sun

Written by Adam Stanworth

Image Credit: Premier League

It is almost exactly 24 years since Barnsley celebrated promotion to the Premier League with a 5-1 defeat Oxford United on the final day of the season.

Neil Redfearn scored a consolation goal that day as The Tykes suffered a thrashing, but it mattered not as a place in the top-flight had already been secured for the first time in the club’s 99-year history.

It was truly a remarkable achievement for the South Yorkshire outfit and it represented the culmination of manager Danny Wilson’s quiet transformation of Barnsley from a mid-table second-tier side into one capable of challenging for a promotion place.

More than a quarter of a century on, those same dreams could be realised once again as the club looks ahead to the play-offs after a magnificent season.

With the Premier League just three games away, we look back to their last campaign in the top-flight and explore a time when Brazil played at Oakwell stadium.

“You’ve just made it to the promised land” explained Carlo van de Watering, co-host of the popular Barnsley podcast ‘The Reds Report’.

For Carlo and many other Tykes fans there was a sense that playing Premier League football was something of an aberration, a fantastical experience that simply had to be enjoyed.

To complement their seat at English football’s top table, Barnsley played a superb brand of passing football that led to fans exclaiming that watching their beloved reds was more akin to watching Brazil.

“My first emotion was let’s just enjoy it and, of course, there’s the tagline of ‘its just like watching Brazil’ but it really was like watching Brazil I think with the passing football that we played.

“It was flowing football and it was brilliant to watch.”

It truly was.

Wilson’s side earned their first top-flight victory on a clammy midweek evening at Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace fell victim to the flowing football and Neil Redfearn’s left foot.

With his collar up, Redfearn collected the ball mid-way inside the Palace half, nonchalantly shimmied his way across the edge of the penalty area and struck a piledriver into the top corner of the net.

The trip to South London was one of many treasured away games enjoyed by the Tykes faithful that season but for Carlo and his fellow supporters, the result was largely irrelevant.

I remember when United beat us seven nil or whatever at Old Trafford, it didn’t matter, did it because you never expect to win there.

“I remember playing Chelsea, we’re losing five nil and, you know, there’s 20,000 of us Barnsley fans singing we’re going to win 6-5. Yeah, we got battered but I can say I saw Gianfranco Zola and Vialli.”

However, the Tykes showed time and again that they weren’t just there to make up the numbers as they enjoyed famous victories at Anfield and Villa Park, with Ashley Ward scoring the winner on both occasions.

It was not only the league that yielded such monumental wins as Danny Wilson’s men enjoyed a wonderful cup run that saw Barnsley brush aside Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur before they faced Manchester United in the fifth round.

After holding United to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, the Tykes welcomed Sir Alex Ferguson’s champions to Oakwell where they played out one of the most iconic games the old stadium has ever seen.

John Hendrie opened the scoring with a deft chip over the towering Peter Schmeichel before the largely unknown Scott Jones headed home a second, just prior to the break.

Teddy Sheringham’s reply was cancelled out quickly by none other than Jones, who scored perhaps the only brace he would ever score in his career, with another crashing header.

Andy Cole added a second for the visitors but it was a mere consolation as Wilson’s side held on to knock the champions out of the FA Cup.

Scott Jones, I mean, he had to fill in because it was an injury close to the game and to be honest nobody had really heard of him, but yeah he popped up with a couple of goals.

“But I think that that was the advantage of us that season that we would expect it to lose every match and when results went that way it was a bonus.”

Such results meant more than just three points for Barnsley, it meant that the town was able to shed the negative image it had been unfairly handed by the press during the 1980s and gave locals something to be proud of.

I suppose Barnsley was still in the aftermath of the mining industry sort of closing down, there was the miner’s strike and mining was all that Barnsley had.

“So to realise the dream of playing in the Premier League, it just united the town and people started to notice Barnsley for the right reasons.”

There is a poignancy to Barnsley’s promotion push of this season as, just like in 1997, the town is emerging from a traumatic period and uniting around the success on the pitch, albeit virtually.

“You look at the greater scope of things, people have lost lives, jobs, so a lot of people have been worse off. So it’s been great that during those times that we’ve been able to have this lift, to enjoy what we see on a Saturday to go on that run.”

Looking into his crystal ball, Carlo was optimistic about where the club could be, come May 2022.

“Survival on the last day from the Premier League. Is that too much to ask?”

Written by Adam Stanworth

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