Barnsley FC's Biggest Mistake
Ever the optimist (and realist) I appreciate that a club the size of Barnsley FC must have its limits, to that extent I have been fairly satisfied with our last six seasons in championship mid table obscurity, whilst building financial stability. It's also easy as a fan of a typical lower league club to join in the contradictory oneupmanship of 'my teams worse than yours'. As you can guess it was pre 2006 where I think Barnsley's biggest mistakes occurred.
I'm going back a few years to a period of time after Barnsley's relegation from the premier league in 1998, to the sacking of Dave Bassett in 2000. Mistakes were made which nearly ended the clubs existence and almost sent us to the fourth tier of English football. It's surreal to think between 1996 and 2000 Barnsley not only enjoyed promotion and a year in the top tier of English football, but were a top of the table division one side able to attract the best players at that level. Perhaps we were victims of this success, we had tasted premier league football, the board had seen the financial rewards of a sold out Oakwell with plenty of interest around the old mining town.
I'm not suggesting for a moment that Dave Bassett was the saviour, that he was going to lead the club to everlasting success. Rather, with hindsight of the last 13 years, he was doing an admirable job with a 'small club'. The sacking of Dave Bassett, the recruitment of Nigel Spackman, recruiting players we couldn't afford and selling them on soon after. These are the biggest mistakes Barnsley FC have made during my time.
After relegation, the Barnsley board wanted a swift return to the premier league promise land, they paid £800,000 to bring Craig Hignett in to spearhead the push for promotion in 1999 before selling him to Blackburn a year later for £2.2m. This being a big indicator of the financial difficulties around the corner. We had taken a punt, missing out on promotion was not acceptable for the Barnsley board. We got greedy. That thirst for success and promotion led to impatience, Dave Bassett was sacked after 19 months in charge despite leading the reds to a play-off final in 1999/2000 after a third place finish. Nigel Spackman replaced Bassett to carry the promotion baton. The reds were relegated in 2002 to the third tier of English league football.
The ramifications of those mistakes starting in 1998 lead the reds to a watershed moment in 2002. In that season Barnsley entered administration and were on the cusp of liquidation, in a league one relegation battle. Thankfully a deal was agreed to keep the club in business, and the reds survived back to back relegations by the skin of their teeth.
Barnsley FC's biggest mistake wasn't showing ambition, it was trying to gain quick success and results without the right foundations in place. After this time Barnsley have rebuilt on the field and in the purse strings, to a stage where we can learn from the mistakes of the past and perhaps push on for more successful times in the future.