BARNSLEY’S last brush with the Football League Trophy was a joyous one.
Not only did the Reds become just the third Yorkshire side to triumph in the competition that was then the sole preserve of clubs who reside in Leagues One and Two.
But the carnival atmosphere generated on a sun-kissed afternoon at Wembley – who can forget the Oxford United fans having to pick their way past two lines of Barnsley folk, complete with flat caps, while being serenaded with the ditty ‘You only sing when you’re rowing’? – meant that magical day in April, 2016, will forever live on in the memory.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side were back at the national stadium the following month, competing in the League One play-off final against Millwall.
Another victory under the Arch meant Barnsley bid farewell to not only the third tier but also the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, hoping not to see either again for a long time.
The football fates, however, had other ideas and relegation last May means the south Yorkshire club will return to Trophy action tonight at Oldham Athletic. And what a dog’s dinner of a competition the Reds will be reunited with after 884 days away.
Sure, the final is still a day out to savour for supporters with more than 40,000 watching Lincoln City get the better of Shrewsbury Town in last season’s Wembley showpiece. The 2017 final between Coventry City and Oxford also drew a crowd of almost 75,000.
The rest of the competition, however, is a mess with a ridiculously elongated first round now stretching into the depths of winter and 16 Premier League and Championship Under-21s teams taking part.
None of these Academy sides can play at home, while an extra point is awarded to the side who wins the penalty shoot-out that must now follow all drawn games in the group stage.
Supporters voted with their feet from the moment the changes came in two years ago and the signs are those stayaways won’t be returning any time soon.
These matches are not very important, but still good for us in being able to play our squad players and it will be useful for us.Barnsley assistatn coach, Andreas Winkler.
That much will be evident across the country tonight as the first round of group games take place.
Barnsley’s trip to Oldham Athletic may prove one of the bigger draws but it will still be a surprise to see the 2,000 barrier broken, not least because the Latics’ home ties last term drew crowds of just 1,429 and 1,107.
Head coach Daniel Stendel seems certain to make changes with one eye on Saturday’s League One clash with Walsall as third tackles fifth at Oakwell.
Despite that, Reds assistant Andreas Winkler insists the 2016 winners are determined to do well again in the Trophy.
“We have to win it again and we will try to,” he said. “We have many players who are substitutes sitting on the bench and in a couple of weeks, we might have five players sitting in the stands.
“These matches are not very important, but still good for us in being able to play our squad players and it will be useful for us.
“We will be happy to come in and show that they are in good shape.”
Just how many fans will be lured through the Boundary Park turnstiles remains to be seen.
But at least Barnsley fans will have been able to plan for tonight’s trip to Lancashire without suffering the disruption faced by their counterparts at Bradford City.
As recently as last Friday, both the Bantams’ official website and other media outlets had the Valley Parade clash with Everton Under-21s in Group F listed as taking place tonight.
Then, though, Bradford released a statement saying the date was “still to be officially ratified”.
It added: “The club has made dates available, though is awaiting clarification from EFL and Everton officials as to when the fixture can take place.”
Everton’s preference for another date is understood to be behind the delay and the game will now take place on October 16.
Such confusion – some posters on internet message boards were still asking yesterday if the Everton match was on after it was listed in the morning’s national newspapers – is hardly conducive to luring back the stayaway fans.
Nor, it should be said, is giving Bradford home ties in the Trophy on back-to-back Tuesdays next month with Oldham due at Valley Parade on October 9.
Doncaster Rovers, who along with Barnsley and Rotherham make up Yorkshire’s trio of past winners, host Newcastle United Under-21s tonight at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Grant McCann’s side will go into the tie without a recognised left back after Danny Andrew suffered a injury to his foot during the weekend draw at Peterborough to join Danny Amos on the sidelines.
Joe Wright will also be missing with the ankle injury that kept him out at London Road but he could return against Luton Town this weekend. Ben Whiteman, Danny Andrew, Niall Mason and James Coppinger will all be rested.