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Interviews

Exclusive Interview | Neil Redfearn

26 April 2020

On the 23rd anniversary of promotion to the Premier League, we caught up with the skipper of that glorious side to reminisce about a time when it was 'Just Like Watching Brazil'....

With the Reds just a solitary victory away from a promotion that had been 110 years in the making, the players at that time could have been forgiven for having nerves as we headed into that final home match of the 1996/97 season against Bradford City at Oakwell.

But the captain wasn’t feeling anything like that, such was his confidence and resolve at finishing off nine months of hard graft and carving his and his teammates names into Barnsley FC history.
 
“I think it was just a focus and determination to get the job done,” Redfearn told us. “We knew the magnitude of it, as obviously it had never been done before or since, in the club’s history but to be honest looking back we were light years in front of the rest of the division in regards to ability and quality of football.
   
“But it was just as an important game for Bradford as well because they were in the relegation zone and were desperate for the points. But our game management on the day was first class and I always felt in control of the game.”

There were some murmurings way back in the summer and pre-season of that campaign when established players were moved on, leaving many supporters left scratching their heads.

But Danny Wilson and Eric Winstanley had seen their side look a little stale the previous season and knew that a fresh group of faces would likely reinvigorate the Reds’ squad.

Overseas imports such as Jovo Bosancic and Clint Marcelle soon hit their respective strides with the latter becoming something of a cult hero very quickly.

‘Redders’ believes recruitment was canny, understanding exactly what the coaching staff were trying to implement heading into that infamous Division One season. And up popped the little man from Trinidad at the most opportune of moments on April 26th 1997..

“Clint Marcelle and Martin Bullock were really talented players and like most things that Danny and Eric did, we recruited two players that fit into our way of play superbly well - I've not seen better dribblers at Oakwell since.

“But on that particular day, Clint was mercurial and it was a fantastic bit of composure and finish when we needed it most.

“I also remember the arguments in midfield and the encouragement to go after every tackle/second ball with my partner in crime, Darren Sheridan.

“The level of intensity and will to win, I'll never forget. You respect your teammates so much you're happy to take praise and criticism because it means you care, but I think these are maybe the things that the supporters never hear about but it’s the bonding that makes you winners.”


 
We asked Neil what it was like for him, from his own perspective, to be the leader of the one Barnsley side in history to have reached the promised land of the Premier League.
 
He proudly stated: “I spent the best part of eight years at the club and witnessed the transformation from being a side that was struggling to a side that played, in my opinion, the best football seen at that level ( Championship) for decades...

“As for myself, I felt at home at the club and I was right at the height of my powers as a player but the biggest draw was my closeness to the people of Barnsley and what they stood for.

“I loved leading the lads out as skipper, it was a great honour.”
 
And on that famous day in rainy April, some 23 years ago today, how did ‘Captain Marvel’ and the players celebrate such an historic moment?

“Well let’s just say, the lads celebrated like we'd won the lottery! I'm sure there are some stories that just need to remain amongst the people that were out in town that night.

“I think the game away to Oxford United was testament to the quality of the night out after Bradford.... I'll leave it there.”

Voted some years ago by Barnsley FC supporters as the greatest player to represent the Reds, and voted into the Oakwell Hall Of Fame, it’s safe to say the great man knows how much he’s appreciated by the fans of the club.

But what does he think of Barnsley, of you and will we ever see an Oakwell return?

“I have a picture of me celebrating my goal with the Ponte End versus West Ham (the club’s first game in the top-flight). It was awarded to me and the plaque under the picture is from the supporters who voted me the greatest player in the club’s history. This frame takes pride of place on the wall in my house.

“I have medals for promotions at different clubs and I've played in FA cup semi-finals, but that picture/plaque and what it represents means the absolute world to me and that bond with the people of Barnsley is in my heart.

“I've been close to coming back to the club a number of times and I'd love to come back at some point and help the club back to the promised land for a second time.”


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