Pete Sixsmith was adamant. There simply wasn’t time for a new First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground on Barnsley, not least because we were also in the same division last season and he wrote a perfectly good instalment of the series then.
At the time John McCormick introduced Sixer’s piece with a historical note, saying the town probably originated in Anglo-Saxon times (‘hence the -ley‘), was mentioned in the Domesday book and had a ‘venerable football club which has done more than many may think, including FA and League cups and a short spell in what we now call the Premier League’. And that team proceeded to tonk us 3-0 as we continued our undignified slither from first to third tier. And this is how Sixer set up that forgettable match …
Here’s another town and ground that I have a soft spot for. The town, because my sister-in-law Denise is a Barnsley lass and, despite running the Hampton Road Hilton in Southport for many, many years, still retains her very distinctive Barnsley accent. Plus, for a town of 91,000 people (about the size of Darlington) it seems to produce an incredible number of national figures.
Let me share with you a list (in no particular order): John Arden the playwright – I “studied” Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance at school: Mr HD ”Dicky” Bird, the town’s resident rain god and one time cricket umpire; Ed Clancy, professional cyclist; Brian Glover, an unforgettable Mr Sugden in Kes and a wonderful Mr Heslop in Porridge (“I read a book once; green it was”); Darren Gough, fast bowler and master of Terpsichore; Jimmy and Brian Greenhoff, both canny footballers but Brian’s hair do just wins it for him; Dorothy Hyman, sprinter who has a stadium named after her; Mick McCarthy, currently leading a renaissance at Ipswich Town; Ian McMillan, the Bard of Barnsley; Michael Parkinson, purveyor of Funeral Plans for the Over 60s; Kate Rusby, the Barnsley Nightingale; Arthur Scargill, the leading “enemy within”; Tommy Taylor and Mark Jones, both killed at Munich in 1958 and last, but by no means least, Harry Worth, he of the glorious opening sequence with the shop window
And Darlington? Vic Reeves, Wendy Craig [I do believe she’s from Sacriston – JMc – yep, the Darlo link is that she went to school there – Ed] and Giuseppe Wilson, who played for Lazio and Italy. Barnsley lots, Darlo not very many.
The football club is an integral part of the town. If you are a Barnsley supporter, you come from Barnsley. There are no glory hunters, unless you are a poetry lover, a folk fanatic or a radical socialist and you attach yourself to the club.
For many of my generation, the soft spot started when Michael Parkinson, in the days when he was a fine journalist rather than a golfing buddy of Tarby, Brucie (RIP) and other entertainers of a certain vintage, wrote lovingly of Skinner Normanton and Danny Blanchflower, Tommy Taylor and Johnny Kelly.
That spot increased when Kes appeared on the silver screen. It ranks as one of, if not the finest, of British films of the post war period and was filmed in the town. Dai Bradley as Billy Casper, Colin Welland as Mr Farthing, Brian Glover as Mr Sugden and Freddie Fletcher as Big Bad Brother Jud, are characters firmly embedded in my mind. The football match with the cheating bully Sugden, is reminiscent of so many PE teachers of that period.
Denise used to stand on the Pontefract Road End when it had a cover that extended over the rear part of the terrace. She had been in the same class at school as Arnie Sidebottom (One England cap and a lifetime in county cricket when it meant something) and her cousin courted and married a Barnsley skipper of the late 80s. As a Sunderland supporter, I was able to look down on her because we hardly ever played them and the chances of visiting Oakwell were remote as they lingered in Divisions Three and Four.
So, my first appearance at Oakwell was in January 1981 when the Tykes took on Enfield in an F.A. Cup Fourth Round tie. The ground was basic. The current main stand was there (and had been since the early days of the last century) and had a wonderful paddock to stand in. This is where I went.
Opposite it, where the impressive West Stand is situated, was a covered terrace called The Brewery Stand, because that was where the Oakwell Brewery was situated.
They brewed the very distinctive Barnsley Bitter for over 100 years on the Oakwell site. It was a local beer for local people and had to be sought out but like Vaux and Camerons and lots of other town breweries, it had a loyal following. Then along came John Smiths, at that time part of the Courage group, who bought it and shut it down in 1972 in an act of cultural vandalism that many Barnsley folk have neither forgotten or forgiven.
The other end of the ground, where we will be sat on Saturday, was uncovered and had great views of Wakefield. I know. I saw my cap disappear over the fence on a storm tossed night in 1995 in Mick Buxton’s last game as manager!
Barnsley were going well under Norman Hunter in Division Three (they were promoted at the end of the season) while Enfield, of the Isthmian League, had already put out Wembley, Hereford United and Port Vale in the competition proper. A trip to Oakwell was probably not the draw they wanted with the likes of Spurs, Everton and Manchester United still in it (we had cravenly lost a replay at Roker to Birmingham City) but it caught the imagination of the nation.
I decided to take it in as my ground hopping career began to take off. I drove down in the Citroen 2CV that I owned at the time, parked up, paid some ridiculously small sum to get in and caught my first sight of Mick McCarthy (or Macca as he was referred to by the home support).
He had a full head of black hair and a 70s porn star moustache. He was huge and dominated the Barnsley team as Charlie Hurley had dominated ours in the 60s. He was every inch a Barnsley centre half, straight out of the mould of Skinner Normanton and a local lad from Cudworth (say it without the w) to boot.
I think Trevor Aylott put them ahead. He was a strong centre forward who was a long way from his Sarff Landon roots. He had a good career at Oakwell (96 games, 26 goals) and scored regularly at Crystal Palace (sad to see them in the relegation zone), Luton Town and Bournemouth ending up with 80 goals in a career that stretched over 475 appearances.
Just when it looked like the home team were going to make progress, up popped an Enfield player called Peter Burton to slot in an equaliser much to the consternation of the Oakwell loyalists. But they got a good night out at White Hart Lane four days later when they cuffed the upstarts 3-0 before losing to Chelsea in the next round.
My first visit with Sunderland was in 1988-89 when we lost a middle of the table Second Division game 3-0 on Easter Monday. I had been to Halifax for an early kick off, took in our game and then dashed through to pay my first visit to Belle Vue, Doncaster.
Our line up was ;
Norman; Bennett, McPhail, Ord, Gray; Armstrong, Owers, Doyle, Pascoe; Gabbiadini, Hauser. Subs; Lemon, Gates.
They lined up thus;
Baker; Joyce, Broddle, Dobbin, Futcher, Shotton, Agnew, Robinson, Lowndes, Currie, McDonald.
Steve Agnew had an excellent game for them and the goals came from Mark Robinson, Steve Cooper, who came on for David Currie and Jim Dobbin from the spot. We were not great that day….
Since then I have seen three important wins at Oakwell and been entertained in the Board Room. Craig Russell got a vital goal to give us a 1-0 win in Reidy’s first promotion season as we held on after Paul Stewart got himself sent off.
Nicky Summerbee, Lee Clark and a beauty from Kevin Phillips wrapped the title up on a bitterly cold night in April 1999 and thousands travelled in March 2007 to see Grant Leadbitter and David Connolly put us firmly on the way to the Premier League. The team that day was;
Ward, Simpson, Collins, Evans, Nosworthy; Liam Miller, Leadbitter, Whitehead, Wallace; Connolly, John. Subs; Carson, Wright, Cunningham, Tommy Miller, Murphy.
Is that team any better than the one we have now? Answers on a postcard please to Ellis Short…
And the boardroom? Well, Shildon played an FA Vase tie there against Shaw Lane Aquaforce a couple of years ago. The Shaw Lane pitch was permanently under water and after umpteen postponements, the FA told Shaw Lane to play it pdq. They hired Oakwell and we had a grand night out. I sat in the front row of the East Stand, a venerable structure which is surely part of football’s heritage trail and one of the Shildon sponsors made sure that me and my travelling companions, who included Malcolm Dawson oft of this parish, went in for tea and biccies.
And guess what? There was a picture of Syd “Skinner” Normanton on the wall. It made up for the 3-1 defeat.
*Oakwell pictures courtesy of Wikipedia. Attribution: By Number 57 (Own work) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.