Barnsley away 1981 – How it was, when it was

It is 17th October 1981 and another trip to South Yorkshire, this time it is Barnsley at Oakwell.

The day started for me at the offy where cans were purchased, four of us were going in my mate’s brown and rust coloured Morris Marina, oh how the girls loved that car…..not!

Canned up we set off and it is quite a short drive down the A1, the amount of vehicles passing us with Black and White in view, told us it was going to be a huge following from NE1.

It was the first time I had seen furniture vans packed full of p.ssed up fans, or transit vans also rammed to the hilt. However, it was a hearse that really caught the eye as the Union flag with NUFC was plain to see along with a couple of contorted bodies (no pun intended) in the back supping beer.

The lay-bys and hard shoulders were packed with fans relieving the pressure on their excessively full bladders and it was a sight that I found to be the norm as I started to go to more and more games.

Anyway leaving the A1, the road into Barnsley seemed that every pub along the route was besieged with Newcastle fans, us being young and inexperienced, decided to head straight into Barnsley just to try and get parked and it was very easy (getting parked) indeed. Oakwell had a bit of field behind the home end and for a quid we were parked up and off for a wander.

Now my memory is a little blurred for some of this but we wandered into a pub quite near a railway arch and settled down for a couple of beers, probably numbered around eight Newcastle fans in total in the pub at that point.

It was possibly about 11.30 am when several Barnsley fans came in, one with a noticeable BFC tattoo on his forehead, they were quite chatty and seemingly friendly. However, one of them did offer some advice ‘if I were you lads I would not stay in this place as it is a home pub only’, it was friendly advice given with no malice, so we thought best thing is to finish the drinks and go for a wander.

However, moments later a much larger group of Newcastle fans came in and they were older and louder, one of my mates said ’these won’t take any sh.t from anyone’…….he was right!

The landlord at this point was a little nervous and he asked us and them (Newcastle fans) if we would leave, as he did not want bother. As I say, we were ready to go, but within minutes more Newcastle fans had arrived and the lads from Barnsley who had been quite chatty, were now not so.

About 12.30 now and the place was busy, the locals had started to arrive also, it is amazing that even without the internet and mobile phones, word spreads fast.

The atmosphere very quickly went from calm to edgy, to threatening, on both sides. The landlord appealed for folk to be adult and not get involved but the locals were far from happy and they initiated what followed.

Firstly, an argument about a game of pool escalated, as both sets of fans used pool balls and cues as weapons (thank god the darts were behind the bar) and a full on bar brawl broke out that lasted a full 15 minutes. Windows were put out, one or two were hurt by flying objects, as the pub became a battle ground. The four of us were agog with a mixture of excitement and fear but thought it best we leave, so we upped it and left by a side door.

Many police duly arrived and the groups were separated, but it was not the end as outside the fighting continued, the police vans were filling up. Meanwhile more locals and indeed fans of NUFC arrived and the police totally lost control, I had not seen anything like this before! Eventually, with yet more police and dogs in attendance, the groups were separated and pushed in differing directions.

The large group of Newcastle fans were escorted up to the ground but all the way facing a barrage of bricks and bottles and one or two took quite serious hits, not that it showed, as it has to be said they were more than equally game…we just spent the whole walk dodging whatever was thrown.

Near the ground the police forced Newcastle fans one way and the Barnsley fans the other, this is a ground where you could not walk right around the outside, we then went down the alley that led to the three or four open away turnstiles where a serious crush was happening (Check out the YouTube video at the end of this article and you will see this alley).

Barnsley v Newcastle United 17 October 1981 Programme

Now Oakwell was a tightly packed ground with a main stand where the tunnel was, a covered home end and an uncovered visitors end. The opposite side from the tunnel was a long terrace covered in with a roof and this is where their ‘lot’ stood and it has to be said, created quite a noise. Looking to my left, I could clearly see the lads who we had chatted to earlier at the front of the Barnsley section and it has to be said they were amongst the worst, as they managed to launch whatever was available into our section. So to be fair it was kind of them advising us to leave the pub before it got busy, whatever was launched however became a two way thing for virtually the whole of the game.

The ground was full and I reckon somewhere in the region of 7,000 Newcastle fans were in attendance. The match however is a bit of a blur, except I know we lost 1-0 and there was trouble throughout the 90 minutes all over the ground, plenty Newcastle fans were in the home sections which did not go down well at all.

At full time it was an almighty crush to get out as you had to exit via the same alley, there was chaotic mayhem everywhere. This time we managed to avoid most of it as we skulked back to the car and the hour long wait to get out the car park. A golden rule to observe when parking is normally first in is last out and it was nigh on 6 pm before we left.

A pretty uneventful journey home it has to be said and once back we quickly got changed and headed into town to go to Tiffany’s, where just like NUFC we all also failed to score. Although I don’t think the ladies were impressed with our new romantic bleached blonde wedge haircuts as we tried to cut it on the dance floor (it was my -post punk look I have to add).

On chucking out time at 2am, as always the taxi rank had a queue bigger than the Fulwell End, so we wandered down to the central station where you could get the early editions of the Sunday Papers. Of course the front page headline had paid disgraced homage to the goings on at Barnsley as it led with “Yorkshire shame as United fans involved in Wild West Bar brawl in Barnsley”, the police and landlord had supplied ample quotes blaming the animals that follow NUFC, of course there was no blame at all for the locals.

I have said before I was always on the periphery of all that went on, but that day was up there with the worst of what I saw and looking back, it is a blessing nobody was seriously hurt…but as I have also said, it is how it was, when it was.

As a footnote.

Months later, I was in a pub in Blackpool. When in walks the very Barnsley fan who had BFC tattooed on his forehead, and before you know it, we are all sat together laughing and drinking together and a great night was had by all.

Fast forward to our last visit there in the promotion season and what a friendly place Barnsley is, fans mixing and laughing together without any edge at all, but over the years I went to Barnsley (and Rotherham) quite a few times and in ’those’ days it has to be said they were not the friendliest of places. Far less accommodating than their so called bigger neighbours in Sheffield…and I didn’t see him with the tattoo ever again.

***As a bonus I found some footage on YouTube which will shows you young uns what it was like visiting South Yorkshire.

If you go to 1.18 on the video below,  you can see how well Newcastle United supporters were treat outside the ground by South Yorkshire’s finest, I can confirm there is nothing quite like getting stamped on by a horse.

As you will see, Newcastle fans tightly packed down a back alley outside the ground, navigating the aggressive constabulary on their horses only 15 minutes before kick off.

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