When it comes to the manager's job, clubs are rarely in doubt whether they should, as Ron Atkinson would say, stick or twist. But would it make sense to hold their nerve when things go wrong? Neil Turton gives his opinion on Barnsley
April 26, 1997 – Barnsley were Premier League, in the Promised Land. And Danny Wilson had taken us there. Five years on seems like a lifetime. We are more or less back where we began, flirting with relegation from the First Division, only with a smartly developed stadium, a wage bill which has trebled for the experience and perhaps a bit of an inflated sense of ourselves. And we have had five managers in as many years.
The Barnsley chairman John Dennis wouldn’t be many people’s idea of a Caligula in the boardroom. An affable fruit and veg merchant and lifelong fan, whose father was chairman before him, the main gripe for most of my 30 years watching the Reds was an alleged lack of ambition as season after season petered out. “They don’t want to go up,” was the usual moan.
Danny Wilson was worshipped in Barnsley. In Mark Hodkinson’s account of the Premiership season, Life at the Top, he recounts a fan’s letter to the Barnsley Chronicle: “God bless you Danny for all the things you have given us.” This was written after relegation from the Premiership. But when Wilson walked out to join Sheffield Wednesday after relegation, the board failed to find the right person to succeed him. Since then John Hendrie, Dave Bassett and Nigel Spackman have all bitten the Oakwell dust. No one can say now that we don’t want to go up, but the rapid turnover of managers has hardly contributed to getting us back to the top.
Hendrie was appointed the same day Wilson left. It seems obvious now that it was all far too quick. A fans’ favourite and one of the lads in the dressing-room, Hendrie struggled to make the transition to manager. The fluid pass-and-move foot- ball associated with the Wilson years was thrown away almost overnight. We had thought we were Brazil and the slide back into mediocrity was hard to take.
Quite strangely, Dave Bassett was brought in to improve things, enjoying an Indian summer before defeat in a glorious play-off final against Ipswich in 1999 signalled the break up of the side. The next season, as at Nottingham Forest before and Leicester since, Bassett found it hard to break a losing run. Nigel Spackman, fresh from Sky TV, also failed, and in a quite spectacular manner. Strange decisions were made both in selection and in the transfer market. In October 2001, after a shambles of a defeat at Sheffield Wednesday of all places and a slump to 23rd position, Spackman was sacked. No one argued.
We now have Steve Parkin. Morale has improved hugely and things are looking up. Most importantly, the club has its feet back on the ground. Parkin seems a wise appointment, having worked miracles with no resources at Rochdale and Mansfield. Pressure both from fans and from increased costs had contributed to an almost frantic desire to get back where we felt we belonged. Naive ambition took hold and the board made some poor choices, though in their defence only two of the four recent departures were sackings.
Now it seems a sense of perspective has returned and a new side is being developed through the excellent academy structure. We may not get back to the Premiership next year but at least we understand our place in the grand scheme of things. I can wait. I hope the board can too.
From WSC 181 March 2002. What was happening this month