Halfway between Leeds and Sheffield, the former coal-mining hub of Barnsley typifies the much-parodied image of Yorkshire. Still home to the National Union of Mineworkers, known for its brass bands, Barnsley and surrounding pit villages produced comedian Charlie Williams, the voice of Tetley Tea Brian Glover and, of course, former NUM leader Arthur Scargill.
The local football team, Barnsley FC, also sum up this no-nonsense image. Charlie Williams, once a centre-back at Doncaster who scored his only goal at Barnsley’s long-term home of Oakwell, summed up his footballing life before taking to the stage: ‘I was never a fancy player but I could stop them buggers that were’.
Barnsley’s favourite son, chat-show king, journalist and author Michael Parkinson, based much of his writings on childhood visits to Barnsley FC to watch his hero, the wonderfully named ‘Skinner’ Normanton. ‘Spectemur agendo’, ‘Let us be judged by our acts’, runs the BFC club motto, beneath a crest depicting a pick-wielding miner and a glassblower. Sure, enough, Skinner Normanton spent his entire career chopping forwards down to size.
Eternal second-flighters, Barnsley FC have spent one season, and one season only, with the elite. To coincide with the club’s big entrance onto the Premier League stage in 1997, a reprint appeared of Andrew Ward and Ian Alister’s seminal samizdat social history, ‘Barnsley: A Study in Football 1953-59’.
Inspired by and covering the period when Ward’s father was manager – and when Normanton was terrorising the opposition and entertaining Parkinson on the terraces – it comprises hundreds of interviews with everyone involved in the club at the time, fans, players, coach drivers and tea ladies. The sense of community is palpable. Behind Oakwell rose the pithead of Barnsley Main Colliery, whose football club was where Normanton made his debut.
Putting Normanton on the cover, Ward and Alister self-published their illuminating work shortly before the Scargill-led Miners’ Strike of 1984 that culminated in the decimation of the coal industry. Although the club, under a string of firm ex-Leeds players as managers – Allan Clarke, Norman Hunter, Bobby Collins – maintained its Second Division status, the community around it withered.
By the time ex-Tykes midfielder Danny Wilson led Barnsley to a first-ever promotion to the top flight in 110 years, a match-day experience at Oakwell was completely different to the one described in Ward and Alister’s book. All four stands had been redeveloped, the club had just spent a record transfer fee on a little-known Macedonian and digital terrestrial television was just being set up in the UK.
Barnsley’s solitary season in the Premier League, 1997-98, culminated in relegation for all three promoted clubs. With the subsequent collapse of ITV Digital in 2002, the club faced near ruin – parachute payments from the Premier League were yet to come.
The mayor of Barnsley saved the day, ownership of Oakwell passed to the City Council and the club lived to fight another day – emerging from League One in 2006 and ten years later in 2016.
Looking around the town today, more than two decades after the last pit closure, attempts to diversify have had varied results. One or two ghost-like former mining villages are now modern-day business parks. And, with derby games lined up against Leeds, Huddersfield and Rotherham in 2016-17, bumper crowds will be passing through the Barnsley Interchange transport hub a short walk from Oakwell.
Barnsley is around 40km (25 miles) from Doncaster-Sheffield airport. First South Yorkshire bus X4 runs to Doncaster Interchange (Mon-Sat every 30min, Sun every hr, journey time 20min, £3), from where Stagecoach bus X19 runs to Barnsley Interchange (Mon-Sat every 30min, Sun every hr, journey time 40min, £3.90).
Alternatively, a regular train from Doncaster (£5, 50min journey time) requires a change at Meadowhall.
Barnsley Interchange for trains and buses is beside the city centre, a 10min walk from Oakwell.
Several local bus companies serve Barnsley – see Travel South Yorkshire for details. A Stagecoach Dayrider pass is £3.30.
A1 Ace Taxis (01226 288 888) are a long-established local firm, quoting £35 from Doncaster-Sheffield and £45 from Leeds-Bradford airports.
There aren’t that many in town itself. The nearest to the ground is the local Premier Inn, on the other side of the city centre, a 15min walk away. It has its own restaurant and pay-for parking.
Also fairly close but on the other side of the stadium from town, the Hoyle Mill Inn on Pontefract Road is a modest B&B overlooking a wooded valley, with a restaurant known for its Sunday dinners.
A handy choice for accommodation is nearby Dodworth, a short, cheap, hourly train journey from Barnsley station walking distance to the ground. Close to Dodworth station, The Fairway is an affordable hotel with a carvery restaurant. Also close is the somewhat dowdy (and prosaically named) Holiday Inn Barnsley M1, Jct 37, with its own pool and gym.
If you’ve just missed a Dodworth train, Stagecoach bus Nos.20 and 21 run to Barnsley Interchange.
About 3km north of Barnsley in a residential area of South Athersley, Aunty Betty’s (40 Wingfield Road, 07989 427 309) is a friendly, family-run five-room B&B run from a private house. Arriva bus Nos.193 and 194 run from nearby Laithes Lane into Barnsley every hour or it shouldn’t be much more than £5 in a taxi.
South-east of town on the Doncaster Road – served by regular bus X19 – the Travelodge Barnsley is set in an uninspiring cluster of edge-of-town stores and chain eateries. A cheapish hop in a taxi to/from the ground, though.
To lodge in comfort, Tankersley Manor in Tankersley is an impressive four-star in its own grounds, a popular choice for weekend breaks and weddings. By junction 36 of the M1, with conference and meeting rooms, and a spa, it’s also handy for business stays too. Several buses, including the regular No.66, run into Barnsley from the other side of Tankersley Roundabout a 10min walk away, but the kind of people who stay here are usually doing so on account.
In town, Market Hill is dotted with bars. There, the Old No.7 is as decent a place to start as any, with cask ales such as Barnsley Gold, Barnsley Bitter and Yorkshire Pride from the Acorn Brewery in Wombwell. Occasional live music, too.
Alongside, The Joseph Bramah is the main Wetherspoons in town, named after a famous lock-maker and the man we have to thank for modern flush toilets.
Annie Murray’s opened in 2015 where the equally Irish Durty O’Dwyer’s used to be, with live sport, live music and snugs at the back.
For football-watching, the main place in town is the Corner Pin, drinks deals encouraging wanton imbibery.
Just out of the centre, the Keel Inn on Canal Street, now under new management, is a strange find: a traditional spot dating back to 1825 with rustic beams – and attached to a local health centre. Big-screen TV sport and local guest ales the attraction here. Closed Monday daytimes.
Also traditional, the Commercial (74 Summer Lane), just behind the Premier Inn a short walk from the town centre is a CAMRA favourite with a games area. Open from mid-afternoon weekdays. Diagonally opposite, the Moulders Arms is a little more down-to-earth, with TV football, half-time snacks and nibbles laid on for big games.
The same distance outside town, south-west of the centre on Racecommon Road, the Shaw Inn is a lovely, large Yorkshire boozer with TV football, friendly staff and chatty customers.
South-east at Wombwell, the Angler’s Rest is a noted real-ale haunt, owned and run by the local family Geeves Brewery, opened in Barnsley in 2011. It’s also in a cricket stronghold – hence Sunday opening at 2pm, 5pm the rest of the week. Right next door, Last Orders (60 Park Street) is happy to serve when the neighbours don’t. Each is about 1km from Wombwell station, with a half-hourly service into town 5min away.
For a real rustic experience, the Cock Inn in Birdwell is close enough to the four-star Tankersley Manor to walk. Though close to the M1, it’s tucked away in a wooded spot, offering fine ales and notably good food. Nearby on Sheffield Road, regular bus No.66 heads into Barnsley.