A Premier League Barnsley team was a laughable prospect in the early 1990s, but when Danny Wilson took over as player manager, major changes were afoot.
The culmination of hard work and long-term squad building made the Tykes unplayable at times during the 1996/97 season. Exactly a month from now, the red enclave of South Yorkshire will remember the day that their small town finally secured Premier League football twenty years ago.
Bottom by Christmas 1997, the writing was on the wall for Barnsley all season, but the memories will last a lifetime.
Welcome to the Premier League Barnsley
A grey and damp spring day greeted the Oakwell faithful on 26 April 1997, as Wilson’s men prepared to face Yorkshire rivals Bradford knowing a win would be enough. Barnsley’s main promotion rivals, Wolverhampton Wanderers, were involved in a derby of their own against Port Vale at Vale Park.
Goals from Paul Wilkinson and Clint Marcelle secured a 2-0 win for the Tykes, and ensured promotion with a game to spare.
A New Era… Or Not
With a Premier League debut looming, absolutely no time was wasted in breaking the seven figure barrier – on several occasions. With the likes of David Beckham, Dennis Bergkamp and David Ginola coming to town, no expense could be spared for a Premier League Barnsley.
Promotion hero Wilkinson departed, to be replaced by six headline signings as the 1997/98 drew ever closer. These were the men that were supposed to take the humble South Yorkshire club into the stratosphere.
Where are they now…
The six headline signings were to no avail as Barnsley finished 19th with just 35 points. To add more misery, the Tykes had the worst goal difference in the league with -45 recorded for the season; 85 goals conceded. A poor record which their big signings in the summer made the class of ’97s achievements all the more impressive.
Still, the memories of that win at Anfield will last a lifetime; making the season not one of the worst delivered in the Premier League.