I got quite a shock the other day when I found out that Barnsley was in great danger of relegation from Championship to League One in the UK competition. I checked up on”The Oaks” a few weeks before Christmas and they were in their usual middle of the ladder position but it seems that over the last couple of months things have not been going to plan. I can remember a few years ago Barnsley made the Premier League and survived for two years before dropping back to Championship, a brave effort indeed. The Premier League seems to be in the hands of six or seven multi- billionaire clubs that spend whatever it takes to stay on top.
So how does a Tragic Don end up barracking for an English football team situated thousands of kilometres away in south of Yorkshire? The answer dates back to early 1982 on The Trans Siberian Railway and a Yorkshireman named Ken. A small group of us were making our way across the Soviet Union as it was then named, on this legendary train. We were on the train for about twelve days so we got to know each other pretty well, Ken shared the four berth compartment with me and two others and when we reached Moscow we exchanged addresses as you do and said farewell.
I had six months on a Eurail pass, YHA membership and no fixed plans except to get back to Australia just before Christmas. In early December on a ferry from Ireland to England I discovered that the rail line to London passed close to Barnsley, so a telephone call to Ken’s home confirmed a warm welcome in a broad Yorkshire accent. On arrival I was whisked straight away to the Prince William Hotel in the centre of Barnsley to meet some of Ken’s coal mining friends, who promptly christened me Sheep Dip and introduced me to their favourite brew, John Smith Bitter, a drink I got to know very well over the coming days.These tough strong men worked extremely hard on dangerous jobs each day and always dropped in for a “jar”before going home.
The following Saturday Barnsley was playing Carlisle at home. Ken and his mates were all going so naturally I bought a ticket for the game too. I think kick off was at 3.00pm, so we all met at the Prince William for lunch and refreshments, with the emphasis on refreshments. The day was cold, bitterly cold. I was wearing every bit of clothing I had in my back pack without much success. We walked to the ground along icy foot paths, not made any easier with the amount of John Smith I had consumed. Naturally once inside the ground another round or three of John Smith was ordered, just what I needed.
Barnsley were too strong for their Scottish rivals on this day. The small Carlisle crowd which numbered no more than a couple of hundred were in a special enclosure on the other side of the ground. I was warned not to go near them, but they looked quite normal to me. They didn’t have much to cheer about on this bleak day the result was 2. 0. The Barnsley supporters are a hardy lot, a couple of blokes near me just had T shirts on,I couldn’t believe it. I reckon the top temp. that day would have been about 4c. Barnsley had quite a few opportunities on the day on top of the couple of goals and every near miss or good play just about lifted the roof off the grandstand. But it didn’t make the day any warmer. And we kept drinking John Smith just in case we got thirsty.
After the final whistle it was back to the Prince William. Ken’s group had expanded by then, so every time it was my shout I would buy everybody a pint except me, this move may have saved my life! Next day I went to the Barnsley Football Club shop with a gigantic head ache and bought a home strip, which unfortunately bears no resemblance to today’s jumper. Apparently each year clubs have a new home and away strip depending on sponsors, must be confusing for young supporters and expensive for parents.
I went back to Barnsley some five years later, walked into the Prince William without warning to be greeted by one of Ken’s mates with a matter of fact welcome of, Sheep Dip how is it going? Just like I had never left the place.
There are still a few rounds to go before the end of the season, I live in hope for Barnsley.