Barnsley prepare to welcome back fans for final push to the Premier League

BETWEEN ‘four and five thousand’ Barnsley supporters could be present in the Reds’ Championship play-off semi-final home leg at Oakwell next month.

Oakwell: A general view outside the ground. Picture: PA

With two games of the regular season to go, Barnsley’s qualification for the play-offs was confirmed after rivals Reading failed to beat Swansea on Sunday.

Barnsley will compete with Swansea City, Bournemouth and Brentford in the end-of-season lottery, with Norwich City and Watford filling the two automatic promotion slots.

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After the Reds’ final game of the regular season, at home to Norwich on May 8, attention will switch towards the club’s first play-off campaign at second-tier level since 1999-2000.

Making plans: Dane Murphy, chief executive.

The first leg of the semi-finals will be held on Monday, May 17 with the second legs taking place five days later ahead of the Wembley final on Saturday, May 29.

The first legs kick off at 6pm and 8.15pm, with the return games at 12.30pm and 5.30pm. Teams finishing fifth and sixth in the table will be at home first against the sides in fourth and third, respectively.

May 17 is the date which has been earmarked for some fans to return to stadiums.

Clubs could be permitted to host as many as 10,000 supporters – or 25 per cent of capacity – under the Government’s roadmap lifting Covid-19 restrictions.

In charge: Valerien Ismael.

Two test events ahead of the return of fans have already taken place at Wembley.

Manchester City’s Carabao Cup final success over Tottenham was watched by 8,000 spectators on Sunday, while a crowd of 4,000 attended Leicester City’s FA Cup semi-final win against Southampton in another pilot event.

On the prospect of welcoming fans back, Barnsley chief executive officer Dane Murphy told The Yorkshire Post: “We are currently preparing for the eventuality of fans being able to come to the play-off leg at Oakwell and we are working with our security officer and the town’s authorities to make sure that if we are told by the Government and the powers that be that we are allowed to have fans, we are ready to do so.

“For us, I do not want to give an exact number, but it will be between four and five thousand – if we are allowed to have fans in. Obviously, there would be no away fans allowed in.”

Waiting for the fans: Oakwell Stadium.

Premier League officials have already visited all the grounds of those teams fighting for promotion, including Barnsley, with all sides having to fulfil specific stadium criteria in all manner of areas in order to compete in the Premier League.

Should Barnsley go on to achieve promotion to the top flight for just the second time in their history – with the first occasion arriving in 1996-97 – and win the self-styled ‘richest game in football’, it is estimated it would be worth close to £200m.

It is a game-changing amount and already Barnsley, seeking to follow in the footsteps of Huddersfield Town and Hull City – the last Yorkshire sides to win the Championship play-offs in 2016-17 and 2015-16 – are noticing a positive spin-off in terms of the club’s profile at home and abroad.

In a season when the club’s outstanding on-pitch achievements have certainly been no fluke, a new goal of promotion in a year which started out with hopes of consolidation after last term’s relegation near-miss is being viewed as achievable by those involved in what has been a special story under Valerien Ismael.

Murphy continued: “You want to achieve and get to the highest levels of the game and that is why you are a competitor. You want to see if you can win everything in front of you – and that’s everyone at this club. We know we have a team and staff capable of pushing us to the heights and we fully believe in it.

“I cannot say there is one member of this club who believes we cannot finish this out. We stand united and will keep together.

“The interest is at its highest point since I have been here. It is a story everyone wants to hear and follow and who knows what it looks like at the back end of this year when fans are allowed back in. I suspect we’ll have a strong following in our fans who never left us and have been behind us in this entire time.”

Interest is such that Barnsley have already sold around 7,000 season tickets for 2021-22 regardless of what division they are in.

It is well up on usual levels at this stage of the year, but is remarkable in the fact that these are no ordinary times, with supporters having been absent from grounds for almost 14 months.

Barnsley’s last game in front of fans at Oakwell was staged on March 7, 2020.

Murphy added: “We are all above it at this rate and I think seven will turn to eight and so on and it is trending in a positive direction for us and hopefully that continues. I am astounded by the amount of support we are getting.

“You talk about the pandemic and global economy and even in the most perfect times, it is a lot of money. For the amount of people in our community and town who are putting in money which is serious to anyone is unbelievable. It kind of galvanises everyone and inspires me to work harder.”

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