Looking Back At: Barnsley 1979

I did a piece earlier reminiscing about how we rarely play at Oakwell.

In fact, we’ve been there twice times in my lifetime, drawing in August 1999 2-2, but heading out on aggregate. We’d lost 4-2 in the first leg at Sincil Bank, and despite leading 2-0 at their place with 16 minutes to go, we crumbled and ended up sharing the spoils. That wasn’t a bad result; they were a Division One side (now the Championship) and had only dropped out of the Premier League a couple of years before. They went on to finish fourth in the second tier and lost the play-off final on penalties to Ipswich Town. It was David Poppleton’s first senior start, and their manager Dave Bassett claimed they’d been ‘sloppy’ and expected they just needed to turn up to win.

Cunningham during the home leg win

Back in the 1979/80 season, covered here by Malcolm Johnson, it was City who needed to hold out in the second leg. The League Cup First Round First Leg had been played on the first Saturday of the season, and goals from Tony Cunningham and Trevor Peake had given us a 2-1 lead against Allan Clarke’s Barnsley side. It was a big win for the Imps; we’d been relegated in the summer of 79, whilst Barnsley had taken our place in the Third Division, now League One. Just 1577 had turned up for our final home league game of the previous season, but there was 6733 in the Bank for the Barnsley game; a bumper crowd and a great start to the season.

Then, as now, Barnsley were a well-supported side a bit bigger than us, and the second leg attracted 11,914 supporters at Oakwell. They needed to win by two clear goals or a single goal to take the game to penalties. City lined up Grotier, Guest, Carr, Watson, Saunders, Peake, Hobson, Cockerill, Harford, Cunnigham and Fleming, with Sunley on the bench. It turned out to be John Fleming’s last game for the Imps, and John Saunders was playing only his second game for the club, having won promotion with the Oakwell outfit the year before. On the opposition team there were a few faces we’d come to know very well;  Allan Clarke as player-manager and he recalled himself for the game, whilst Norman Hunter was injured after playing the first leg. Derek Bell also played up top for Barnsley; within a season Colin Murphy would pay £34,000 to bring him to the Bank.

There was a strong wind blowing in the host’s favour in the first half, but Peake, partnered by Saunders, stood firm. The first chance of the game fell to Mick Harford; his effort was saved by Pierce, whilst Brendan Guest was forced to clear off the line shortly afterwards. The home side took the lead on 20 minutes. A huge punt upfield by Pierce caught the wind and just evaded Peake, who was caught flat-footed as Bell nipped in to stroke the ball home. It wasn’t a Derek Bell goal Imps fans could celebrate, although the 20 he netted the following season more than made up for it.

The scores were now level, and Barnsley had the advantage of the home support. They didn’t make the most of the wind though, and in the second half that favoured the Imps, who levelled on the night soon afterwards. Cunningham, who went on to play for Manchester City and Newcastle, robbed 31-year-old Graham Pugh of the ball, shook off two tough tackles and fired past Pierce into the net. It lit the touchpaper, and soon after hometown boy Mick McCarthy (yes, that Mick McCarthy) saw a header tipped onto the bar by Grotier.

As the game wound down, Tykes’ fans started streaming out of the ground, having witnessed some stoic Imps defending, but there was another sting in the tail. Harford was slow to get out of defence deep into injury time, meaning the offside trap failed for the first time of the evening. His tired legs allowed Alan Little to launch a cross into the area, where substitute Tommy Graham volleyed home with aplomb. Oakwell erupted, then went silent as everyone realised they would be another half hour before they could get off home! Doubtless, in the streets around the ground, fans tried to get back into the game – those who did not might have been amongst the hooligans reported to have thrown coins at the supporter’s bus as it departed later that evening.

Extra time brought no thrills and spills, so it was left to a penalty shoot-out. The Imps had already been eliminated from the League Cup on penalties by a Yorkshire side in the seventies, losing to Doncaster in 1976/77, and it happened once again. Derek Bell saw his effort saved by Grotier, but Ronnie Glavin, John Collins, Tommy Graham and Allan Clarke all scored. City saw Watson, Guest and Grotier all succeed, but Tony Cunnigham missed his after being ordered to retake, whilst Gordon Hobson’s shot was ‘a tame one’ according to Maurice Burton, and it sent the Imps out of the competition.

Doubtless, Colin Murphy will have been kicking himself afterwards; had his team held on, West Ham would have been the visitors. As it was, we’d have to wait a little longer for them; they came to the Bank a couple of years later as we embarked on a cup run. The bulk of the defeated Imps side went on a run towards possible Division Two (Championship) football in the same season. As for Barnsley, they had a strong campaign, finishing 11th before hearing promotion a season later. The gate recipes were around £20,000, a more lucrative double-header than the Barrow and Doncaster ties no doubt.