Football: Fan's Eye View: Butler's silver service: No. 64: Barnsley

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The Independent Online
I LOVED Micky Butler. I loved him like no one else could. Not in any Conservative 'Back to Basics' way, you understand. But I loved him none the less. He epitomised everything that was important to a 14-year-old in 1973. A shock of straggly blond hair, a wispy moustache, legs like pipe-cleaners, a rough, sinewy body and the only person in a desperately dull side to be able to score twice in one afternoon.

Prior to Micky's arrival, we were languishing in mid-table obscurity in the old Football League Fourth Division. Endless seasons spent watching interminable 0-0 draws against Aldershot or Halifax were brightened only by the arrival once a season of the Yorkshire TV cameras, who were contractually obliged to show every team in their catchment area at least once.

At least then Jimmy Woodruff and I knew we would have something different to talk about on the bus back home - it was usually the stuffing we had received at the hands of opponents even more inept than us. The rot first started when we lost 3-0 to Rochdale (yes, Rochdale), who were then, as now, perennial re-election candidates.

Sunday afternoons were never the same. Usually, your mother managed to time the Sunday dinner to start just as the theme tune to the Big Match began. You just knew that this time, dinner would be delayed, and you would have to listen to Keith Macklin burbling on about a major Fourth Division upset. Not to me it wasn't. I knew Barnsley could never win before the TV cameras. You just accepted it.

Like every team, we also had our villains as well as our heroes. Some time after Micky Butler upped and left for Huddersfield we found ourselves saddled with Les Harris, the stereotypical awful substitute. He was the sort of player who made Perry Groves look like, well, Micky Butler, I suppose.

We did eventually go on to bigger and better things, through the defensively cynical Don Revie-style era of Allan Clarke's management, to the breathtaking attacking beauty of Norman Hunter's better sides.

The nightmare journey across a fogbound Pennines to catch the last 15 minutes of a 0-0 draw against Liverpool, who were then champions of Europe, stands out as probably the most uplifting moment of my life.

One of the pains of being a Barnsley fan now living outside Yorkshire, is the inevitable response of the perpetually dimwitted-but-think they-are-ever-so-cosmopolitan

crowd who usually ask: 'Does Skinner Normanton still play for Barnsley, then?'

Whenever I get to see them, usually at away grounds in the south, I go with the same awful thought that 0-0 is God's way of saying to me: 'You should have taken more care of that rabbit'. At twenty to five, I accept that he is right. Do the current crop compare with memories of days gone by? Well, after a fashion, I suppose. I've read in various match reports that Viv Anderson, our current 'best manager since Johnny Steele', has introduced a new system of play called 'the diamond midfield'. It was first unveiled at an away match at Tranmere and to Viv's credit resulted in a spectacular win, catapulting us into the giddy heights of play-off land.

It was lapped up by the local press and drew the comment from our chairman that this was the best Barnsley side he had ever seen. As soon as I read these comments, I was engulfed in that old feeling of deja vu. Everybody could see it coming.

Just like we all know that Barnsley cannot win in front of the TV cameras, all Barnsley fans knew we had as much chance of promotion as Margaret Thatcher has of being elected to Barnsley council.

We are in the First Division and that is just not the place we should be. If we are going to play awful football, then do it properly and get back into the bottom League where we can hoof the ball upfield and get everybody to pile after it. A 0-0 draw at home to Lincoln is infinitely more preferable to 0-0 away to Charlton. It's more honest.