clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Oppo: Barnsley

Quick and fast they come, and the Royals head north once again to South Yorkshire to take on one of the early season pacesetters, Barnsley.

Barnsley v Northampton Town - EFL Cup Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Head to Head

The sides have met on 64 occasions in the league so far in their histories, dating back to the brief spell in Division 2 in 1926 whereupon the sides met on ten occasions, but of course because of the Division 3 North/South split after first Reading’s relegation in 1931 and then Barnsley’s later on the clubs didn’t meet again until 1959 when the regional Division 3 was nationalised. Since then, however, the clubs have met frequently with 44 matches between 1959 and 1997 sharing leagues on average just less than every two seasons. The longest period between league matches stands at 11 years and of course spans the move from Elm Park to the Madejski where Barnsley possess a very respectable record.

Look through the history of matches between the sides and there are plenty of high-scoring matches and there have been 191 goals in the 64 matches (one more goal and the average would be exactly three goals a game), helped very much by the 19 matches in which there have been five or more goals scored, however Elm Park was a bit of a graveyard for Barnsley having only ever won once there (including on their last appearance there, more on that below). They have fared much better at the Madejski with two wins from five, one of which was the immensely frustrating match in which the Royals were awarded three penalties but only scored one in August 2011.

Memorable Match

1996/97 is a memorable year for Barnsley fans. Danny Wilson’s men, perennially mid-table in prior seasons, found the consistency formula required to mount a promotion charge and they were second when they arrived in Berkshire on 31 March 1997.

Reading, on the other hand, were struggling somewhat to keep their heads above the drop zone despite possessing one of the strongest home records in the division.

The match was barely two minutes old when the first goal was scored courtesy of a horrible error from Paul Holsgrove. Clint Marcelle worked his way to the right of goal inside the area and put in a low cross-shot that Steve Mautone appeared to have covered. Holsgrove, however, inexplicably tried to control the ball on the line and only succeeded in miscuing into the net.

The gift settled the Yorkshiremen and, with Neil Redfearn pulling the strings in midfield, they dictated play and deservedly scored a second after a build up down the right flank saw Clint Marcelle heavily involved again, putting in another low cross. John Hendrie received the ball and quickly played in Andy Liddell completely free on the Barnsley left who made no mistake from 15 yards.

With the Royals shellshocked, Barnsley looked to turn the screw but out of the blue Reading found a way back into the game after a dubious penalty decision. Lee Nogan picked the ball up 30 yards from goal and went on a typically jinking run into the area. The striker was met by a seemingly fair challenge from Adie Moses. Nogan went down, but the referee pointed without hesitation to the penalty spot. After much (justified) chagrin from Barnsley’s players Trevor Morley stepped up and slammed home with customary aplomb. 27 minutes on the clock, and game on we thought, but despite controlling possession and territory the Tykes eased themselves through to full time with just one chance conceded towards the end, Stuart Lovell forcing a fine point blank save from Dave Watson.

Barnsley went on to gain promotion at the expense of Wolves in May, aided in no small way by the Royals victory over Wolves less than two weeks later. The Wolves match also secured Reading’s status for one more season, and having gained 46 points at home we ended the season with the second best home record in the division. Unfortunately just two wins and five draws away saw the Royals struggle at the wrong end of the table. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if we had achieved just 10-15 more points away from home, we would have been competing for a playoff spot ourselves...

They Played For Both Teams

Who was the first player Alan Pardew ever signed as a manager? Some may be able to guess straight away, but if you’re still guessing at this point I’ll put you out of your misery – it was goalkeeper Phil Whitehead.

A bit of a journeyman all told was Whitehead, who commenced his career at Halifax Town where he became the Shaymen’s youngest ever player at the time of his debut. He went on to make 52 appearances in total at The Shay before a £60,000 transfer to Barnsley, all the more remarkable given Whitehead is alleged to have had a broken arm when he signed for the Tykes! The injury may go a little way to explaining why he made just 16 appearances in three years at Oakwell, while he also made a further 39 on loan back at Halifax, on two separate occasions at Scunthorpe and a further loan at Bradford.

It was the next port of call that Whitehead really made his name as a solid and reliable performer, as Oxford United signed the Yorkshireman for £75,000 in 1993 and the stopper became a firm favourite at the Manor Ground during his five years there. An almost ever present, Whitehead was the clear number 1 as 238 appearances in all competitions over the five years testifies, and Whitehead undoubtedly would have played a longer part of the U’s history had he not had knee surgery in 1998.

However, it wasn’t long after former Oxford manager Denis Smith took him to West Brom after knocking on the U’s door with a £250,000 cheque. With Oxford still in the midsts of their financial woes, they had little option but to accept and Whitehead made the move to be reunited with his former boss.

Less than a year later though, Smith had been sacked at The Hawthorns and the keeper had continuing issues with his knee and lost his place after just 28 appearances. However, a way out was at hand as Alan Pardew, who had just been appointed Caretaker Manager at Reading, signed the player for Reading for £250,000 in October 1999. Whitehead was thrust immediately between the sticks but after just 11 appearances Whitehead’s knee gave out once more in the 1-1 draw against Scunthorpe. He would make just two further appearances at the end of 1999/2000 as Howie showed magnificent character after a horrible display at Wycombe to put in some excellent performances.

Whitehead was number 1 though, and was ever present as the Royals finished third in 2001 and lost out in the playoffs, but then in 2001/02, having been ever present until the beginning of December, the keeper was struck down with his recurring knee injury again. Pardew utilised the loan market twice in his absence, and the first loan really set the seeds for the future of Whitehead at the club as Pardew signed a relatively unknown American for a month - Marcus Hahnemann. Ben Roberts also took over for a six match spell, but Whitehead returned for the final 13 matches which eventually saw the Royals edge over the line with 10 draws from those games! Promotion was secured, but just four appearances later at the higher level Pardew’s ruthless streak played out when he re-signed Hahnemann permanently and immediately installed the American as his number 1.

Whitehead made his 108th and final appearance for Reading in a 2-1 defeat at Leicester City in August 2002 and after spending short loan spells at Tranmere Rovers and York City, he was released upon expiry of his contract and joined Tamworth on semi-pro terms where his career would come to a painful end after failing to recover from a ripped groin muscle.

Grudge Moment

A twist to this edition, as a mutual grudge is covered in this instance. Barnsley supporters are no lover of Mark McGhee after some controversial comments during their battle for supremacy in 1996/97, as McGhee is quoted as saying that clubs like Barnsley should not be in the Premier League, obviously neglecting to realise that the English league system is a meritocracy. Barnsley seized on the words and used it as motivation, while Reading helpfully aided the Tykes to promotion by losing twice to Barnsley and taking six points off Wolves. The Royals results against both clubs were the difference, as Barnsley were promoted and Wolves lost out to Crystal Palace in the playoff semi finals.

Fact, Interesting or Otherwise

Having joined the Football League in 1898, Barnsley have since spent more seasons than any other in the second tier of English football, and it took the club 99 years to secure promotion to the top division. However, top flight status was denied much earlier after the Football League decided to expand the top division from 20 to 22 clubs in 1919.

Tottenham were relegated from Division 1 having finished bottom in the last season before World War I suspended competition in 1915, however Chelsea retained their place in Division 1 despite finishing in the relegation zone in 19th. Derby County and Preston North End were promoted having finished in the top two spots of Division 2 which left just one more Division 1 space to fill. Logic dictates that the final promotion place should have been automatically filled by the third place team in Division 2, however in a twist of events the Football League chose to ballot all league clubs to decide the promoted club. Fairness did not prevail, fifth placed Arsenal were elected to Division 1 at the expense of the third placed club – Barnsley.

Arsenal have never been punished for the underhand tactics that were admitted in later years. Arsenal’s owner, Henry Norris, had moved Woolwich Arsenal to Highbury only recently. In order to attract crowds they needed 1st Division football, and Norris later admitted to bribing Football League clubs to support their elevation. The irony here is that, since their elevation, Arsenal have never been relegated, while it took Barnsley another 80 years to reach the pinnacle of English football. Who knows how football history would have played out had fairness prevailed.