THAT SAME unmistakable whiff of optimism which Jason McCarthy detected by the Solent several years ago is now just as pungent close to the banks of the Dearne.
As a schoolboy chasing his footballing dream at hometown club Southampton, the Barnsley defender can still vividly remember the feel-good factor which followed Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr’s takeover of Saints in the late noughties and the reservoir of goodwill which followed it.
It was the catalyst for a remarkable rise up the divisions, with the Saints reclaiming their place at the top-flight table which they graced for the best part of three decades until an abrupt fall from grace.
While smart enough not to put his head on the chopping block and instantly predict a golden era for Barnsley following this week’s takeover led by Chinese-American billionaire investor Chien Lee and Pacific Media Group co-founder and US film financier Paul Conway, McCarthy believes that the new owners are blessed with natural advantages just as Liebherr once was when he took over at St Mary’s.
On the similarities, McCarthy said: “I remember at Southampton where it was Rupert Lowe at the time and he was just coming out and (Markus) Liebherr was coming in and we used the momentum of it and it spiralled into a really good time around the club.
“We then had Nigel Adkins in charge, an English manager with an English core through the team and it is similar here as well. We have got that in place here to do that.
“It was really good times at Southampton and I remember that vividly. It is all about environment and putting the right things in place to push on and achieving what the club is maximised to do. It seems like the club (Barnsley) are taking all the steps to do that.”
As McCarthy has astutely alluded to, a happy, go-ahead club often makes for a successful one.
After the goodwill of this week, it is now entrusted to Paul Heckingbottom and his Reds players to continue the positive vibe on the pitch – starting at Fulham this afternoon as the visitors seek to end a positive seven days in fitting fashion.
McCarthy, part of a Barnsley line-up who ended their recent downturn with an encouraging goalless draw just down the road from Fulham at Brentford last weekend, added: “It is welcome news for everyone at the club and something that has been simmering for a while now.
“It is exciting times. If you ask any fan, it is a good thing.
“If you look at the club’s success over the past couple of years, it has been gradual and a good, steady plan and by the sounds of it, they are just going to carry that on and add to it. That is a good, promising sign for the club.
“New ownership will add a new positive vibe about the place and it is exciting for everyone involved.”
Something that also will not have been lost upon Reds supporters, even amid their justifiable excitement this week, is the following consequential fact that the new broom have been quick to point out.
Namely, that Barnsley’s proud status of being a family club at the heart of its community and standard-bearers for their town will be enhanced and not diluted by this week’s developments.
International expertise may arrive in certain fields to maximise the Reds’ commercial potential, but listen to Lee and Conway and the desire for Barnsley to retain their core values is self-evident, with a hometown boy in Paul Heckingbottom at the epicentre of it.
On the Heckingbottom factor, McCarthy said: “I would imagine that for any new owners, it is a draw.
“Barnsley is really unique and they have a great manager who has been here for ages and played for the club and was born here as well. You do not really get stuff like that at many clubs.
“When I turned up, you could not help but get that community club feel – when you were walking through the door.
“Then there is the West Stand, which represents a really old-school club, which is unique with real core values.
“The more you have been here, you realise that and think: ‘he has been here for years and he’s been here for years.’ I like that.
“It was similar down at Southampton in League One and we had those core English players in the team and I had known people like the security lady since I was eight. It is very similar here, with similar values and that is why I have settled in really easily.”