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Football News: Whatever Happened To? Part 1: Barnsley

Whatever Happened To? Part 1: Barnsley
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Whatever Happened To....? Part 1: Barnsley


This series, suggested by ken, is to look at those teams that have been in the Premier League and what happened to them since their relegation. First I will start with Barnsley, who spent just one season in the Premier League, dropping back down in 1998 after finishing 19th.


In 1993 when Danny Wilson arrived at Barnsley as player/assistant manager to Viv Anderson, it was a depressed region, still suffering deeply in the aftermath of the Miner's Strike and the closing of the pits. It was a club that had never been in the top flight in their history and held the record (which they still hold) of spending the most number of seasons in the English second tier. Wilson's assistance was not enough to save Anderson and in 1994 Anderson was moved on to be replaced by his assistant, who began as a player-manager.

Wilson's appointment did not pay immediate dividends and a significant portion of the fanbase had begun to turn on him prior to the 1996/97 season, despite the team only missing out on a play-off place in 1995 because the Premier League reduced its size from 22 teams to 20, but chairman John Dennis stood by him. The season began with a bang, five wins on the trot set the tone for a season where they played some slick football, despite an extremely limited budget, and achieved promotion. The town of Barnsley itself were lifted from the doldrums by the success and the excitement of watching their team play some great football, to the point that they would sing that it was 'just like watching Brazil'.

The Premier League was not good for the club on the pitch, despite a few good memories and they were straight back down to what was then known as the 1st Division. Despite publicly announcing he was staying, Danny Wilson jumped ship to Sheffield Wednesday. Further upset followed for Tykes' fans as influential captain Neil Redfearn was sold to Charlton Athletic. Redfearn was just one of a number of their promotion heroes that was sold, with only Craig Hignett coming in as what can be termed a significant signing.

The money from the season in the Premier League was mostly spent on rebuilding the North Stand of their Oakwell Stadium as they looked to use it as a multi-use venue. Wakefield Trinity Wildcats Rugby League Club played their first ever Super League game at Oakwell and non-league side Wakefield & Emley used the stadium to play their FA Cup tie against Rotherham United. It meant that there was little money available to spend on the team, which meant star striker (who still finished the season as Barnsley's top scorer) Ashley Ward was sold partway through the season to Blackburn for £4.5m.

All that meant that Wilson's replacement, veteran forward John Hendrie, was left with a difficult job, with the board expecting a promotion push. Something that was made even more difficult as their number one keeper, who had been on the fringes of the England team, Dave Watson suffered a serious injury midway through the season. Watson was never able to recover from it fully and was later forced to retire. It was little wonder Barnsley were nowhere near the play-off places, but it cost Hendrie his job in April and Eric Winstanley stepped in as caretaker until the end of the season.

Dave 'Harry' Bassett arrived to replace Hendrie for the following season, but they lost even more players, including promotion heroes Arjan de Zeeuw and Clint Marcelle. With the help of new signings Neil Shipperley and Geoff Thomas, Bassett was able to take them into the play-offs to face Birmingham City in the semi-final. They were the Football League's top scorer with 88 goals but their defence was an Achilles heel, the 4th worst in the division, conceding 67 goals. An easy 4-0 win at Brum's St Andrew's Stadium made the second leg a formality, though they did lose that 2-1, they still went through 5-2 on aggregate.

Their opponents in the final were an exciting, attractive Ipswich Town side in the final play-off match at the old Wembley Stadium. Barnsley took the lead through an own goal by the Tractor Boys' goalkeeper Richard Wright but Tony Mowbray, Richard Naylor and Marcus Stewart scored to give Ipswich a 3-1 lead. The Tykes got back into the game with 12 minutes to go with a penalty which top scorer Craig Hignett converted but Martijn Reuser killed the game off in the 90th minute with a fourth goal. That consigned Barnsley to yet another season in the second tier and led to the sale of yet another of their top players, this time 19 goal scorer Craig Hignett.

Nicky Eaden joined Hignett through the exit door and were neither were adequately replaced, which left the Tykes struggling in the First Division. Dave Bassett shocked the fans by quitting in December and Nigel Spackman was brought in to take charge a few weeks later. The season was a disappointment and they finished in 16th place, but never seemed in danger of relegation. They started the season in a similar vein and it looked like more midtable mediocrity beckoned, but then they fell apart and slid down the table.

A 3-1 away defeat to local rivals Sheffield Wednesday led to the sacking of Spackman in October and Glyn Hodges was placed in caretaker charge. After winning their first under Hodges, they returned to form and lost their next two which prompted Barnsley to move for Rochdale boss Steve Parkin. Parkin took over early November and took the club on a 12-match unbeaten run, moving clear of the relegation zone, but Parkin could not keep the momentum going and they slipped back into the relegation battle. By their final home game of the season they needed a win to stand any chance of avoiding relegation but lost 2-0 to Norwich and ended the season bottom of the league to drop into the third tier.

The drop down to Division 2 coincided with the collapse of ITV Digital, which saw the Football League clubs lose £75m a year in revenue in the new TV rights deal with Sky. According to reports from the time, around 30 of the 72 clubs in the league were facing collapse due to the financial ramifications. Though there was good news for the men in charge of the failed ITV Digital company, the ones who had agreed the huge TV deal that destroyed the company and nearly killed the Football League, as they all received a £1m bonus each as the company folded!

The Tykes were placed in administration, years of profitability wiped away in one fell swoop. Town mayor Peter Doyle stepped in to save the club from liquidation by buying it and Barnsley Council also contributed by buying Oakwell Stadium in 2003, which allowed the club to pay off their creditors. It was then that a new problem emerged as a new duo stepped in to buy the club from Doyle. While one of the two, Patrick Cryne, was a lifelong fan, the other was Peter Ridsdale. Ridsdale was just months away from deserting Leeds United, with a big pay-off to help him buy into Barnsley in partnership with Cryne.

It seems he had learnt nothing from the mess he made of Leeds and he began to spend heavily, in comparison with the rest of the division. It was not long before Ridsdale was forced to sell his share to Cryne or go bankrupt. He later went to Cardiff City and destroyed them financially (the Bluebirds were on the end of no less than 5 winding up orders while he was their chairman and he also misled fans over the use of funds from season ticket sales), got himself disqualified as a company owner after siphoning company funds into his personal accounts and is currently working as an advisor to Preston North End's owner, Trevor Hemmings, after a spell as chairman at Plymouth Argyle. Though his track record does leave you to wonder exactly what Ridsdale would be advising Hemmings about!

All of the off-pitch goings on overshadowed the action on the pitch, where Icelandic manager Gudjon Thordarson had taken charge prior to Cryne and Ridsdale's buy-out. Steve Parkin was sacked in October 2002 and Glyn Hodges had acted in a caretaker role while the club was in administration, right up until the end of June 2003, when Thordarson arrived. He had been appointed because an Icelandic consortium had been on the verge of buying the club, but the deal fell through, leaving the club stuck with an unwanted Thordarson in charge.

While all this was going on, Barnsley finished 19th and then 12th in Division 2 before its name change to League One ahead of the 2004/05 season. Thordarson had been sacked and replaced by Paul Hart in March 2004, who was also sacked exactly a year later to the day in March 2005. Andy Ritchie was given the caretaker role which was made permanent at the end of the season. The start of the 2005/06 was indifferent but Hart turned it around and they went on a 10 match unbeaten run to rise up to 4th in the table. They held on to a play-off place until the end of the season, finishing 5th and faced Huddersfield in the semi-final.

A 1-0 defeat at home saw them facing an unprecedented task, no team had ever overturned a 1-0 deficit after losing at hime, but Barnsley managed the improbable and won through to face Swansea City in the final at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. The final went to penalties after a 2-2 draw and the Tykes went through 4-3 on penalties to return to their 'home' in the second tier. Ritchie was approached by Sheffield Wednesday to become their new manager, but the approach was rejected. However the team was struggling against relegation and gratitude for promotion ran out in November 2006 and Ritchie was sacked.

Simon Davey stepped in as caretaker and a few weeks later his position was made permanent. Davey was able to steer the team out of the relegation places and they finished 20th, in large part thanks to Daniel Nardiello's goals. The following season there was a huge turnover of players, 14 joining the club alone during the year. It helped initially and they started the season well, sitting inside the top 6 after 10 games and managing to hold onto a top half position throughout the first half of the season. Then Derby County recalled Jon Macken and Lewin Nyatanga in December and league form dipped, going 8 games without a win and dropping to 16th.

The league form never recovered despite the January return on Macken on a permanent deal and the return of former hero Daniel Nardiello. Though Nardiello's return was not greeted with enthusiasm from the fans as he had quit the club in the summer to join QPR on a free transfer after rejecting a new contract from the Tykes. Nyatanga also returned on loan with a permanent deal agreed for the summer, but it was not enough to rescue their league form. That could have been due to an amazing FA Cup run that year, despite reserve goalkeeper Nick Colgan leaving in January and first choice Heinz Muller picking up an injury, leading to the arrival of Tony Warner on a month's loan from Fulham.

Unfortunately Warner was cup-tied, so Barnsley had to make the trip to Anfield to face Liverpool in the 5th round in poor form and with emergency loan keeper Luke Steele between the sticks. It was the shock of the round as Steele was in sensational form and won the Man of the Match award and the Player of the Round award in a 2-1 win. It was the first time Barnsley had reached the quarter-finals since 1999 and they were drawn against the current holders Chelsea at home. Once again there was a shock as they won 1-0 to make it to their first semi-final since 1912. Fellow Championship side Cardiff City ended the run at the semi-final stage and league survival was assured on the second to last matchday, but the optimism from the cup run remained, especially when Steele signed a permanent deal.

Ahead of the 2008/9 season the Tykes made their first-ever 7 figure signing when Iain Hume arrived from Leicester for £1.2m, but the start to the season was disrupted when three other new arrivals, Mounir El Haimour, Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Hugo Colace, were unable to get international clearance. The season got off to a poor start, just 2 wins in the first 10 league matches, including a five game run without scoring saw them in a relegation battle from the start, despite Colace eventually getting his work permit in September. Their chances were not helped when an elbow from 'rugged' Sheffield United centre-back Chris Morgan fractured record signing Hume's skull, an injury he never managed to recover from. There was one notable bright spot when Reuben Noble-Lazarus became the youngest-ever player in the English Football League when he faced Ipswich aged just 15 years and 45 days. The end of the season they found themselves in 20th and lived to fight another day in the Championship.

Simon Davey's time came to an end after the Tykes started the new season with 3 losses and a draw, he was sacked on 29th August and Mark Robins took charge just over a week later. Robins was able to avoid relegation and they finished 18th but the following season, with a 17th placed finish, and a new milestone as Barnsley became the first club to win 1,000 games in the second tier in January, Robins was done and quit after a dispute over his transfer budget. Keith Hill arrived from Rochdale to replace him, with David Flitcroft also moving over to assist him.

There was no improvement in the 2011/12 season, though being one of just two Championship clubs to make a profit paid off when Portsmouth were deducted 10 points for going into administration and Barnsley stayed up, finishing 8 points ahead of the relegated Pompey team as a result in 21st place. It was no better next season and Hill was sacked, Flitcroft inheriting the job after Sean O'Driscoll and Terry Butcher rejected offers. Relegation was only avoided on the final day thanks to a point against Huddersfield Town. Despite the return of Danny Wilson in December, the 2013/14 season saw their luck run out and they were relegated back to League One, after years of flirting with the drop.

Their first season back in the third tier was not a success, the loss of hero goalkeeper Luke Steele did not help, and the return of Wilson ended on 12th February 2015, when he left the club. A couple of weeks later Lee Johnson stepped in and they finished 11th. The following February was also one of turmoil, as Lee Johnson left on the 6th and assistant manager Tommy Wright stepped in as caretaker. A week later allegations emerged that Wright had accepted bribes to work as an ambassador for a 3rd party player ownership consortium and he was suspended. Paul Heckingbottom stepped in as caretaker.

Heckingbottom led the Tykes to a 6th place finish and a play-off place, as well as winning the Football League Trophy with a 3-2 win over Oxford United. A 6-1 aggregate win over Walsall in the play-off semi-finals saw them reach Wembley for a second time that season, where they triumphed again, this time 3-1 against Millwall. Unsurprisingly Heckingbottom was given the job on a permanent basis as Barnsley returned to their home in the second tier of English football.

Early in the 2016/17 season Wright's suspension was ended by his sacking in September, but there were little signs of it negatively affecting Barnsley who finished safely ensconced in a midtable 14th position, leaving them to look forward with confidence. It was not to last long though as chairman Maurice Watkins left the role and the board amid a takeover due to owner Patrick Cryne's terminal diagnosis. A month before Cryne succumbed to cancer, the deal to sell 80% of the club to the same consortium that own OGC Nice in the French League, but with one important difference, the addition of Billy Beane of 'Moneyball' fame. The Cryne family held onto 20%.

The ownership consortium had a difficult start as Leeds United stepped in to lure away Heckingbottom in February 2018 and Jose Morais was brought in to replace him. Morais was not a success though and Barnsley ended the season 22nd and headed back to League One once more. Their second choice was along different lines and, following the success of young German coaches, they chose Daniel Stendel, who led them to a second place finish and promotion back to the Championship. He left in October 2019, as the team struggled back in the second tier. In his short period in charge Stendel became so popular amongst Barnsley fans that they threw him a goodbye party in a centre of town pub, which he attended with some of his staff.

A month after Stendel left, Barnsley once again looked to the Bundesliga coaches to recruit Austrian Gerhard Struber as their new head coach. He did enough to keep them in the Championship, with a 21st placed finish just barely enough for survival, but it is enough to attract the attention of Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls, who are trying to negotiate a deal with the Tykes to release him. It seems Struber is doing everything he can to make it happen, publicly hitting out at the board's lack of ambition and asking for more transfer cash just yesterday. One thing that never seems to change in Barnsley is a difficult relationship between the board and the head coach.

Written by Tris Burke October 04 2020 13:13:26


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