Walking the half mile from the Barnsley Interchange station up and down a steep hill, Oakwell Stadium comes into view, the home of The Tykes. I first came there 40 years or so ago to watch them play a couple of times during a famous F.A.Cup run. Their most famous ever player, and one of my all time favourites, was Danny Blanchflower. By then he had moved on to fame, if not fortune, at Aston Villa and Spurs, and was an inspirational captain of Northern Ireland during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, and later a talented journalist.
The visitors today were Plymouth Argyle from Devon, who are in danger of relegation from The Championship, and have lost the last 5 matches. They are now coached by Paul Mariner, a striker for England at World Cup 1982 in Spain who had suddenly left the MLS New England club during the play-offs, to return home and right the ship in this maritime port city.
The most interesting player on show was The Duke of Wellington, Rory Fallon, who had scored the £5 million goal last November in the New Zealand capital, Wellington. It was the second leg of an inter-continental World Cup play off against Bahrain. After a 0-0 stalemate in Manama, the Westpac Stadium was a cauldron for the return leg with a record NZ crowd of 35,000. Fallon said afterwards how, as a born again christian, he had prayed in his room, during a walk on the beach and during the warm up. He had shared a room with goalkeeper Mark Paston, and his dad Kevin and the rest of the 1982 World Cup squad were paraded prior to kick-off.
As you may know, Fallon scored with a textbook header off a corner kick from Leo Bertos on half-time and his room mate saved a penalty as the All-Whites made it to South Africa 2110. His first English club had been Barnsley F C.
Today, Barnsley opened the scoring just before half time with an opportunist goal from Hugo Colace. The Tykes have a United Nations look about them. Read the official programme and you will see Filipe Teixeira, Daniel Bogdanovic, Emil Hallfredsson, Anderson De Silva, Reuben Noble-Lazarus., Mounir El Haimour..... www.barnsleyfc.co.uk.
Whatever Paul Mariner said at half-time certainly steadied the ship, because they came out fighting, and shooting at every opportunity from near and far. Napolean could have done with such a spirit at Waterloo. Carl Fletcher after 64 ans Jamie Mackie ten minutes later gave The Pilgrims the lead, but it was Fallon's 35 yard volley 7 minutes from time that sent their small band of 256 fans in the North Stand, which seats 6,000, into delirious joy. He had been unlucky earlier with superb headers saved by Luke Steele, in the Barnsley goal. It was an amazing fight back, and USA striker Kenny Cooper Jr, on loan from TSV 1860 Munich was never called upon, despite warming up on the side.
Whether Argyle can stay up is another matter as they have been in the relegation zone for ages, but the long trip back was probably a happy one for the team and their fans.