Big interview: Danny Wilson's football journey - the highs & lows with Barnsley FC, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United

DANNY WILSON can count himself among a select band of Lancastrians to have won the hard-earned respect of those from the other side of the Roses sporting divide.

He finds himself in good company alongside the likes of Kevin Sinfield and Michael Vaughan.

As humble and down-to-earth as they come, Wilson, despite his considerable achievements in football both as a player and manager, has never been one to boast.

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That said, he did afford himself one brief but wholly justified pat on the back right at the end of his very readable and typically honest autobiography.

Danny Wilson, in his first stint as Barnsley manager (Picture: Dean Atkins)Danny Wilson, in his first stint as Barnsley manager (Picture: Dean Atkins)
Danny Wilson, in his first stint as Barnsley manager (Picture: Dean Atkins)

"I did all right for a little lad from Wigan' was the wonderfully unassuming sign-off line. Indeed he did, although he did more than all right.

The full title of Wilson's book 'I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again' is taken from the classic hit song Tubthumping by rock band Chumbawamba, whose spiritual roots were in Yorkshire.

Wilson learned to get up again after bruising endings to his time as manager at Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United in particular, alongside his second unsatisfying spell at Barnsley, which contrasted markedly with his first joyous stint at Oakwell.

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He sets the record straight in that regard with candour, but not rancour.

Danny WilsonDanny Wilson
Danny Wilson

Wilson addresses the hurt of his time as manager at Hillsborough for instance when four Wednesday supporting Labour MP's in David Blunkett, Clive Betts, Bill Minchie and Joe Ashton publicly called for him to be sacked in 1999-2000 - and he received a phone call of apology from Alastair Campbell, official spokesperson of then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The sales of Paolo Di Canio and Benito Carbone are touched upon, while he also opens up on his time across the city at Bramall Lane - his controversial appointment, sudden exit and the Ched Evans affair.

That he retains the respect of Wednesdayites, Unitedites and Reds fans alike today speaks volumes about Wilson's standing in the game.

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He said: "When I leave football clubs, I am not one of those people who go bleating around and put things in papers.

Danny Wilson managing Barnsley at Sheffield United (Picture: Martyn Harrison)Danny Wilson managing Barnsley at Sheffield United (Picture: Martyn Harrison)
Danny Wilson managing Barnsley at Sheffield United (Picture: Martyn Harrison)

"But there were one or two things that people got out of context (at Sheffield Wednesday) and I just thought I'd put the record straight with some things that happened and say 'this is the truth of what happened.' End of. Without it being nasty and vindictive.

"When people see something happening, they have got an opinion and often don't understand it. It puts it all to bed now and you get on with it.

"There's lots of things people will have a little look at and maybe think: 'Oh, I didn't really realise that.'

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On his time at United, he continued: "We had a great chance (of promotion in 2011-12) and what happened to Ched knocked everybody for six and not necessarily just on the football pitch, but everybody around the club generally.

Danny Wilson towards the end of his second spell with Barnsley in 2014 (Picture: Tony Johnson)Danny Wilson towards the end of his second spell with Barnsley in 2014 (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Danny Wilson towards the end of his second spell with Barnsley in 2014 (Picture: Tony Johnson)

"It stunned everybody and we found it difficult to recover. It was difficult to bring everybody psychologically together again.

"When you then lose players and are not able to replace them, the dynamic of the whole side changes and you have to find another way to get the team to win again.

"It is difficult when you have not got the players. To bring players in who were a lot younger and didn't have the experience in some cases, you have got to expect a little bit of time for them."

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Wilson's finest hour, certainly in the dug-out, undoubtedly came in his first spell at Barnsley.

From a pit area himself in Wigan, Wilson did not just put the Reds on the football map, but did his bit to help Barnsley - the nation's unofficial ‘capital of coal’ – restore its sense of pride and self-confidence following the painful demise of the mining industry.

That special time which saw Barnsley rise to the Premier League in 1996-97 was one of the sporting stories of the Noughties. It later inspired a soul-enhancing film entitled Daydream Believers.

Danny Wilson back in the dugout at Oakwell most recently with Chesterfield (Picture: James Williamson)Danny Wilson back in the dugout at Oakwell most recently with Chesterfield (Picture: James Williamson)
Danny Wilson back in the dugout at Oakwell most recently with Chesterfield (Picture: James Williamson)

Wilson commented: "It was a great story and unique in the fact that the town itself was really under pressure with unemployment.

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"The club itself with the Taylor Report were also under pressure to revamp the stadium and put in seating which came at a cost. To do what we did was remarkable and people came together which was absolutely fantastic for the football club.

"We couldn't do one without the other and it just all came together in a magical way. Everybody should take the credit for it. The fans were absolutely wonderful and the board of directors were understanding, even though they were under pressure.

"It was everybody; the girls who made the tea; everybody. It was one of those times where everything felt into place and it was such a happy environment.

"We left a bit of a legacy. Without the money of going into the Premier League, I don't think the stadium would be what it is now."

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'Torn between two lovers' as he put it, Wilson would leave for Sheffield Wednesday in 1998.

He later returned for a second spell at Oakwell a decade and a half later and he found a club much changed, with player recruitment using a 'Moneyball' statistics-based approach formula being largely employed at the expense of utilising the wisdom of coaches and scouts.

It's something that is becoming popular at many clubs nowadays.

Wilson continued: "There's no doubt in my mind that you can tie them both together. I don't think it’s enough to drive a transfer through just by data. You need that experienced pair of eyes as you don't know if they (players) have got a passion for the game and are committed. You don't know what they are like if they are 3-0 down and how they react.

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"Do they like big crowds, can they perform on a regular basis in front of a big fanbase? There's a lot of things to take on board when you look at a player. That's my argument. I don't think you can do it solely on stats.

"It was frustrating (second spell at Barnsley). But as I said on many occasions in the book, it is not my money, it’s the prerogative of the owners. If they want to do it that way, it’s completely in their hands.

"Sometimes, things were put in place that I was not aware of, which was frustrating."

At 62, Wilson is still comparatively young. But after over two decades in management at seven clubs, he has no great hankering to get back in.

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His latter experiences with the Reds and Chesterfield and an episode which saw Doncaster Rovers offer him the manager's job, but later renege and appoint someone else without telling him, have understandably made him reticent.

Spending quality time with his wife Karen, who made sacrifices as a 'footballer’s wife' to bring up a young family in the south of England away from her Derbyshire roots, and their beloved two young grandchildren is keeping him occupied.

He added: "They make massive sacrifices. When you have a young family growing up, it is not easy. It is hard work and if you are on your own - unfortunately Karen was when we moved house to the other side of the country - and the family is not there, it is very difficult. They just soldier on and don't complain and in my situation, I had a lot of respect.

"I got a little bit disillusioned with it (management) at the end and you have got to go and enjoy and love the job that you are doing.

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"That's what I had over the years - a real passion for it. I still have to a certain degree, but I think it is becoming more difficult now.

"The change with managers is younger lads coming through academies who are untried and untested. It makes it difficult for the older ones and I feel sorry for a lot of people out of jobs as they still have so much to offer with all their experience. It’s the way football is at the moment.

"I still do a little bit for one or two people and look at players for them. But in general, it is about enjoying watching games - no matter at what level. I have been to Premier League, Northern Counties League, National League North and National League games.

"That's where I started and you get your grounding when you are growing up from your mum and dad.”

Danny Wilson. A salt-of-the-earth football man.

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Danny Wilson's 'I Get Knocked Down' autobiography, written alongside author Matthew Mann, is available from publishers Morgan Lawrence. The onlink link is

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