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Interviews

Exclusive Interview | Danny Wilson

26 April 2020

On the anniversary of the Reds' spectacular promotion to the Premier League, we spoke with the man who guided us there - the boss, Danny Wilson!

Despite the glory that came some nine months or so down the line, it’s not to be forgotten that there had been plenty of movement in and out of Oakwell in the summer of 1996.

Long-serving players such as Lee Butler, Charlie Bishop, Owen Archdeacon and Brendan O’Connell moved on and the club also lost top goalscorer Andy Payton to local rivals Huddersfield Town.

There were question marks at the time, over the departures and of course, about the quality of those players who came in to replace them.

It was all part of the plan, according to the gaffer, as he explained.

“I think pre-season is pretty similar at most clubs,” Wilson started. “But for us, certainly at that time we knew we needed to freshen the squad up. That was a certainty. No disrespect to the lads who went out, but one or two had been here a bit too long and probably needed a change for their own careers, and the club, it needed a fresh look to the squad.

“And what it does when you bring new faces in, it brings a spark. It gives everyone a new enthusiasm, a lift and then you’re just hoping you get off to a good start. It’s key in any season for me - the start.

“It was a similar mood that summer as it was in most pre-seasons if I’m honest. It was an upbeat environment with the fresh look of the squad but you’ve no idea how it’ll play out.

“Myself and Eric (Winstanley) looked at the fixtures and we had tough games to start off with. You look at it even now - West Brom, Huddersfield, Man City, Reading, Stoke. Some big clubs. So we knew it was going to be tough, but that if we got through that, we’d look good for the season ahead.”

The Reds looked good from the off, with five straight wins against those so-called big clubs.

Danny reckons the momentum that created and the confidence it gave the players helped massively, particularly the new players.

One of the summer’s recruits, a certain Clint Marcelle, he had a superb beginning to his Barnsley career, with four goals in five games, and we’ve a national treasure to thank - in part - for that!

Wilson explained, telling us: “The start couldn’t have been better for us really.

“It gave the lads confidence, I think it helped settle the new boys as well and set the tone for what we wanted to achieve.

“Clint was a terrific free transfer. He’s a player that I don’t think the fans will ever forget if I’m honest, and for a year or so he was probably at the peak of his powers. We were fortunate to get a tip-off really, from Sir Bobby Robson and his right-hand man at the time, Charlie Woods.

“We were speaking about players and they told us to have a look at this lad. He’s not good enough for us - which was FC Porto at the time - but he’s interesting and might be worth a little gamble on.

“They weren’t wrong!”

There was a final piece of the jigsaw missing, however.

After that exceptional start to the season, the Reds won only one of the next eight games and Wilson knew what was needed.

It was late October when finally, the missing piece signed on the dotted line.

“It’s a fair assessment to say it might never have happened for us that season without getting John Hendrie through the door. Because we knew the partnership with Wilko (Paul Wilkinson) and how fruitful it had been for Middlesbrough, we knew that’s what we were lacking.

“Wilko up top was a great target man, he held it up, he could play, but he wasn’t a prolific goalscorer. We needed somebody who could work in and around that. And what better man than John who knew him inside and out, he knew the league and he scored goals for fun.

“Knowing Bryan Robson and Viv (Anderson) very well, we were on the case for many weeks and eventually when it came down to it, John wanted first team football and lo and behold we put the partnership back together and that pushed us on really, results picked back up and we were back to playing how we’d expected to.”

It wasn’t just a season of glory ending in a first-ever promotion to the top flight. It was a campaign in which there were a myriad of magic moments and games to remember with real fondness.

But Danny doesn’t pick out the away win at Sheffield United. He doesn’t refer to the thumping of Charlton or Stoke. His standout fixture was a Winter’s trip to Roots Hall!

“You’ll always look at the big games against the big clubs like Man City and Wolves as a supporter and that’ll be the standout type of performance, or standout result - and it was at the time, when we went to Maine Road because we’re still finding our feet at that stage and we come away with a result.

“But the one that stuck in my mind, which was a big, big result for us in terms of how the rest of the season might go for us, was Southend. Everyone expected us to beat them, we’d just lost against Wolves but Southend were a tough nut to crack and that win really got us back into the promotion hunt, I think we went seven unbeaten in March or something. But people won’t really remember that game.

“But I said to Eric at the time - if we can beat these here, we’ve a mountain of fixtures coming up that could put us right up there. So that was the standout game for me.”

As Barnsley approached the penultimate game of the season, the final game at Oakwell, it was in the Reds’ own hands - win and you’re up. For the first time in the club’s 110-year history.

It’s safe to say that it was a nervy period.

Wilson accepts that and explains the things that he and his number two put in place heading into the Bradford City clash, in order to create an air of calm around Oakwell.

“Prior to the Bradford game we’d just been boshed at Portsmouth!” Danny says, laughing. “We didn’t play well at all, the scoreline (4-2) flattered us if I’m honest. So when we saw the table and realised what we had to do, there was a lot of tension and nerves around.

“Not just the players, but around the whole club.

“In the boardroom, the offices, the whole place was feeling it. People were getting excited, but very stressed as well, you know?

“So myself and Eric sensed all that and made a concerted effort to calm things down a little bit, even in training we had as much fun as we could, we didn’t go on and on about the opposition like we might normally do, we tried to rein things in a little. So we gave the players a couple of extra days off and go home to their wives and families, try and relax and not think too much about the enormity of it all.”

It was enormous alright. With the inclement weather failing to stop the fans turning up en-masse, this was it, the moment everyone had been waiting for.

But City were in a battle of their own; Bradford were in the fight for second tier survival.

And whilst Barnsley were the better side and should perhaps have made an easier job of it than they managed, there were a few second half moments where hearts were certainly in mouths, as Wilson told us.

“I know the lad who missed one of their chances,” Danny states. “John Dryer his name is. I actually played with him at Luton. We knew Bradford had players who could score goals, so it wasn’t a surprise that they created chances in the second half.

“They were no mugs, Bradford. They were fighting for their lives. Sundgot missed two sitters.

“But first half we should have been out of sight, we had chance after chance to get the second which would have killed it I reckon. But we didn’t, and we weren’t.

“Then they’ve those two real chances, the lad hits the post, Dreyer misses, and I turned to Eric and I says to him - ‘this is going to be our day, mate’ - and not long after that, Clint pops up and gets the second goal and the rest is history as they say!”

An historical achievement that hadn’t appeared previously and 23 years and just one near-miss later, it hasn’t happened again either.

The scale of said achievement isn’t lost on Danny Wilson.

“I was very aware of the magnitude of what had been achieved, absolutely. Look, we’d had some tough seasons. We missed the playoffs one year which was a strange one, I think we were a little bit lacking the year prior to this one, so you’re always looking to push on that next step.

“But the town itself, the community was suffering at the time as well. So we knew what a huge achievement it would be. We knew what was at stake, that we’d the chance to be history makers and give the people the Premiership.

“It fills me with an immense amount of pride even thinking about it like that.”

There was plenty to celebrate then, post-match.

Danny recalls the reception he received upon getting back to his local, where a familiar face ensured the night would be long and cheerful!

He said: “We had a few drinks with the players and then the board of directors, we’d done so much media stuff as well which was new for us. I was absolutely knackered if I’m honest!

“So we went home and we went to our local pub, the landlord was a friend who we’d known for many, many years - Len Badger, he used to play himself for Sheffield United back in the day - so we went back to his pub and when we went through the door the whole pub erupted, and I can’t remember getting home from there if I’m honest!”

So how would Danny sum up his time at Oakwell?

Having had two different spells at the club, he knows the place, the town and its people better than most in football.

And he couldn’t be any more appreciative of the days he had the Reds playing like Brazil…

“When you’re in this industry, in football, the job can be erratic especially in terms of being a manager where you can be here one minute and then gone the next, it’s difficult to get a rapport with lots of clubs, because you don’t spend enough time there.

“At Barnsley it was different. I don’t mean that because of the success we had, it’s the fabric of the football club.

“Barnsley FC, the people of the club past and present, the people of the town, it will forever be in my heart. The success we had was special, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the people that make a club and the way I was treated was great and I loved the honesty and realism.

“People there say what they think, what they feel. I love an honest way of approaching things, and people gave us everything. I like to think we gave back, the players and us as staff.

“I will never forget my times there. Both times. It’s some of the happiest memories I will ever have.”


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