Barnsley’s Titanic achievement in taking the FA Cup back to Oakwell

One of the greatest years in the history of Barnsley Football Club will forever by synonymous with one of the most famous tragedies in Britain’s rich tapestry.

For 1912 is the year of the Titanic, the great ocean liner that was sunk on its tragic maiden voyage.

It was also the year of Barnsley’s one and only FA Cup triumph and as the Reds of today prepare to entertain Swansea on Saturday as they embark on their journey in this season’s competition, the line about it being the 100-year anniversary of their victory and the sinking of the Titanic will be trotted out time and again.

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When they reached the semi-final four seasons ago – accounting for the Premier League royalty of Liverpool and Chelsea along the way – the story of the Titanic was inevitably brought up.

Barnsley are again underdogs against Premier League Swansea on Saturday and a raising of the Titanic line is unlikely beyond the 90 minutes.

One hundred years ago it was different.

Barnsley entered the 1911-12 FA Cup campaign having been reprieved by the Football League by re-election after a poor season in which they had failed to build on the exploits of the 1909-10 campaign, when they reached the FA Cup final.

Newcastle were the victors by two goals to nil in the replay at Goodison Park, Liverpool on Thursday, April 28, 1910.

Hopes had been high of similar success the following year but with injury striking down many of their stars of the previous campaign, Barnsley not only failed to mount a sustained promotion challenge, but they also finished 19th in Division Two.

The decision by the League’s annual general meeting to throw them a lifeline just weeks after the season ended was fully vindicated in the 1911-12 campaign.

They finished sixth in Division Two and famously won the Cup.

Barnsley needed 12 matches to win the most famous competition in the world, including three replays against holders Bradford City in the quarter-final.

The semi-final against Swindon Town also went to a replay, as did the final against West Bromwich Albion, which was replayed just down the road from Barnsley, at Sheffield’s Bramall Lane.

An attendance of 54,556 watched the final at Crystal Palace on Saturday, April 20, 1912. The game ended goalless, although reports in the subsequent Barnsley Independent – as published in the chronicle of Barnsley’s 1910-1912 era, ‘Lifting the Cup: The story of Battling Barnsley’, by Mark Metcalf and David Wood – suggest it was a far more entertaining game than the scoreline depicts.

The replay at Bramall Lane on Wednesday, April 24, was attended by 38,555 fans and decided in the 118th minute by a fine individual goal from Harry Tufnell.

The match report in the Barnsley Independent, written by a journalist who used the moniker ‘Centre-Forward’, was published in Lifting the Cup and read: “The fight is over.

“Barnsley have won the English Cup.

“So well matched were the heroes of Oakwell and the Albion of West Bromwich, both at the Crystal Palace on Saturday and again at Bramall Lane yesterday that not until they had struggled strenuously against each other for 90 minutes at Sydenham and 118 minutes at Sheffield was either team able to score a goal. Then, when we were all becoming resigned to a third meeting at Everton, next Tuesday, suddenly came the one thing being desired – a goal. Tufnell, Barnsley’s inside right, was the hero.

“Getting the ball in midfield, he made for the Albion citadel with promptitude and alacrity by the nearest route.

“Distancing Pennington and Cook, the Albion backs, who made a vain effort to check his career, Tufnell kept complete control of the ball, and when Pearson advanced to lessen his space for shooting, he directed it deftly, skilfully, and accurately into the far corner of the net.

“By that goal, scored two minutes from time, Barnsley won the cup and great was the rejoicing thereafter.”

The report continues: “By dour defence, indomitable pluck, dashing attack, and a fair share of that good luck without which the English Cup was never yet won, the Barnsley team have kept the Cup, which Bradford City won a year ago, in Yorkshire.

“For a Second Division league club to remove from their path such powerful foes as Barnsley have done, and won the blue ribbon of football is indeed a great achievement.

“The heroic Oakwell brigade deserve all the congratulations and commendations that will be showered upon them.”

The names of Barnsley’s 1912 Cup heroes are etched into the club’s folklore: manager Arthur Fairclough, trainer Bill Norman, and the players, Wilf Bartrop, Phil Bratley, Jackie Cooper, Dickie Downs, Bob Glendenning, Jimmy Moore, Archie Taylor, George Travers, Harry Tufnell, George Utley (who each played in every game of the competition), and George Lillycrop (an ever present and the top scorer with six goals).

Bert Leavey played seven games en route to the final.

One hundred years have passed since Barnsley’s one and only FA Cup victory. The similarities with today are uncanny; a second tier team who escaped relegation last season. They go into Saturday’s third round full of dreams and who is to say that a century on, they will not be realised?