Ahead of this weekend’s big fixture in the Sky Bet Championship up at Middlesbrough, we decided to get the thoughts of a player who represented both the Reds and Boro with distinction.
Considering the amount of talented players who’ve played for both clubs, we had quite the selection!
And so we were delighted to catch up with legendary Norwegian striker, Jan Aage Fjortoft who gave us his thoughts on the match on Saturday, his time at Oakwell and a message for the Reds supporters.
Fjortoft arrived at Oakwell mid-January of 1998, with the Reds halfway through their debut season in the Premier League.
He told us how that move came about.
“I was actually getting showered,” he explained.
“We’d (Sheffield United) just beaten Bury in the FA Cup, I scored in a 2-1 win and I was showering when the club secretary came in to tell me the club had accepted a bid for me from Barnsley.
“Now, when a club agrees to sell you, you know you aren’t wanted so I looked at it, I was living in Sheffield so it would be an easy commute, my kids were here with me, Barnsley were in the Premier League and at 31-years-old I thought I deserved another crack in the top flight.
“It was an easy move for me really. United sold Brian Deane as well that day, it’s known as ‘Black Thursday’ in Sheffield, they were in a bad way financially at the time and so we were sacrificed I think.”
The former Swindon Town man scored his first Reds goal in a 2-2 draw with Everton at Oakwell and scored another three times as Barnsley won three consecutive fixtures against Wimbledon, Aston Villa and Southampton to give the club hope in the battle to retain their status as a Premier League side.
Jan spoke of his pride in representing the Reds and believes to this day that had Danny Wilson’s side adjusted to the division quicker in the early months of the season, they’d have probably had enough to stay up.
He explained: “It’s always about adjusting for a club who gains promotion. The quicker you can adapt, the better your chances of achieving your goals. Danny Wilson had a way of playing, he wanted us to play football in the right manner, it’s the reason ‘It’s just like watching Brazil’ was our song, because we played good football.
“But I think it took until the second half of the season for the players to get to grips with the division, and maybe if we’d have had a little more luck we’d have stayed up, you know. The Liverpool game at Oakwell is a great example really. It was 11 men against 8 at one stage, and we only just lost that 3-2.
“I was talking to Carra (Jamie Carragher - former Liverpool defender) actually last night, as we covered the Champions League and we talked about that match. It was a crazy afternoon. Passions were high, and the Barnsley fans and the community of Barnsley are really passionate people, it’s a really proud club and they probably felt they were being hard done to.”
The man who was just as famous for his ‘Aeroplane’ goal celebration as he was the goals he scored believes with Barnsley now under the stewardship of a foreign coach and foreign investor group that the club must look to retain it’s heritage whilst of course looking to push on as a club.
Again, Fjortoft spoke of the community and what the club means to the town itself and its people.
“Barnsley is a real community club. It was one of the most striking things about the place during my time there. I mean, I’m from a very, very small place in Norway so I know all about being part of a real close-knit community, and Barnsley is exactly that.
“It’s fantastic that the club have received investment and hopefully it can help push the club further forward, to make things easier, especially financially.
“But don’t forget what you are, I suppose. I look at another of my old clubs in Boro and they’ve a great owner, they’ve really invested over the years, they have a terrific stadium and facilities and the fanbase is there now. You could say they’re a Premier League club really. But they’re still Middlesbrough.”
Which brought us on nicely to the big match on Saturday at the Riverside Stadium.
If there had been a fence available during our conversation with the big man, he’d have been sat firmly on it!
“I always hide at these times!” He laughed.
“Whenever one of my old clubs meets another, I hide away from it. I’m very active on twitter and people who follow me will know that when Barnsley or Boro, Sheffield United or Swindon, whenever they get a good result I tweet about it, it makes me happy to see them all doing well.
“But I think a draw on Saturday would be best! I think the owner at Boro will think they’d have done better this season, but Tony Pulis is an expert in promotion and they’re coming on strong now in the Play-Off positions.
“And of course Barnsley need the points themselves for different reasons, so it’s a big game for sure.”
We reminded Jan of a goal he scored ‘for’ Middlesbrough against the Reds at Oakwell in 1995. It secured a vital point for the Teessiders in their ultimately successful quest for promotion.
“It was a great goal to be honest. It was against Dave Watson, and Oakwell wasn’t the great modern stadium that it is now, it had no stand behind the goal as they were going through the redevelopment of the ground at the time.
“But that was a really important goal for us going for promotion. It’s such a strong league is the Championship. I have played in the Premier League and the Bundesliga, and I’m proud to be able to say that, and I'm proud that I scored my goals at every level too.
“It’s very tough to get promoted out of it so that season with Boro is something I’ll always look back on fondly.”
Another goal that Fjortoft remembers with joy was one he scored for the Reds against another former club in Sheffield United.
It was the goal at Bramall Lane which gained the Reds a point in October of 1998.
It would prove to be his final strike for the club, but it’s one he remembers very well.
He told us: “I still used to use a gym up in Sheffield at the time and there’d be a few of my former United teammates in there, including the ‘keeper at the time which was Simon Tracey.
“Now, he was a big lad was Simon, and we were always joking with him about that. And in the build up to that match he said to me ‘I know all about you and your chips, Jan’, and that he’d be ready for me.
“I told him the only chips he knew about were the ones he kept eating!
“So to then score against him a few days later, with a chip, that was a great memory.”
We ended our chat with the former Norwegian international who now works in football media by asking if he had a message for Barnsley supporters.
He told us it was one of his favourite times in football, being a Red.
Having represented his country in a World Cup and been a regular goalscorer throughout a distinguished 18-year career, he says he will still count Barnsley’s Premier League ‘tour’ as one of his highlights.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Barnsley and the fans who supported us at the time. I still get great messages to this day and it’s nice to think I played my part in a successful time for the club.
“It’s a shame that it ended like it did, but I really enjoyed it at Oakwell. I went from sitting on the bench whilst the manager picked himself, to then playing against Dortmund in front of 60,000 people. So it wasn’t too bad for me!
“Barnsley is a great club, it’s a real traditional English club and it needs to retain that. I hope they can stay up because the fans there are superb. I remember them on tour with us around the country, going to all the Premier League grounds and cheering us on, even when we were losing they’d be telling us it was just like watching Brazil. Sometimes it was!”