Sing-along-a-Barnsley! Howard ready to go down in history

BARNSLEY captain Brian Howard says victory in this weekend's FA Cup semi-final will turn the club's players into Oakwell legends.

For the first time in 96 years, Barnsley have a golden opportunity to reach the final of the world's greatest cup competition and Howard, who will lead the side out at Wembley, is determined to make history.

It is now a decade since the club's one and only season in the top flight of English football and, that apart, Barnsley have done little else to make waves in the game since lifting the FA Cup in 1912.

But now, with the Premier League big guns sent crashing, only Championship rivals Cardiff City stand in Barnsley's path while, in the other semi-final, Premier League side Portsmouth take on West Bromwich Albion.

Howard said: "Whoever lifts the FA Cup will become a living legend at their club. At the start of this season, with hands on hearts, none of this season's semi-finalists thought they had a chance of winning it, not even Portsmouth. We have a chance to make history now and its up to each player to make the most of this moment."

By Howard's own admission, the club's success in this season's FA Cup – which has included victories over Liverpool and Chelsea – has made it hard to keep focused on the league.

Barnsley have won only three of the last 20 league games and slipped to within one point of the relegation zone after last weekend's defeat at Burnley yet manager Simon Davey believes his players are too good to go down.

Howard also had to walk a 'disciplinary tightrope' in the last three games knowing that a yellow card would result in suspension for the FA Cup semi-final.

To his great relief, Howard avoided the ban and is now looking forward to the biggest game of his professional career.

"It has been very hard to keep our feet on the ground but I don't really think any of the lads will appreciate what we have done until the end of the season," he said. "When we are on holiday it would be nice to be sat on the beach with an FA Cup winners medal."

Adding extra spice to this weekend's game is the fact that Cardiff are captained by Stephen McPhail, one of Howard's former team-mates at Oakwell, and still one of his close friends.

The midfielders played together in the Barnsley side that won promotion to the Championship via a play-off final two years ago, but McPhail quit a few weeks later to join former Barnsley chairman Peter Ridsdale at Ninian Park.

Howard said: "I still talk to 'Macca' quite a bit but I lost my mobile phone a few weeks ago and with it his number. It may end up being me and him leading the teams out and that will be a great occasion. Everyone knows we had a great partnership and we are still good mates.

"We will have a bit of banter about things but, come Sunday, we will both be looking to get the better of each other.

"It will be extremely tough because we know that Cardiff are a good side with players of the calibre of McPhail and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who have Champions League experience," he added.

"Hopefully, they will buckle under the pressure.

"Personally, I will relish it because I regard myself as a big-game player and I have produced the goods in all the big games."

Howard has never played at the new Wembley but was a spectactor for the American football game between New York Giants and Miami Dolphins five months ago.

On his only appearance at the 'old' Wembley stadium, Howard scored for the England Under-16 side in a 2-1 victory over Argentina, and joked: "It would be nice to keep up my 100 per cent record!"

Howard was nominated for the FA Cup Player of the Round for his performance in the quarter-final victory over Chelsea but lost out on the award to striker Kayode Odejayi, who scored the winning goal.

Odejayi is now guaranteed a VIP ticket for the final and will also receive 500 worth of football equipment to donate to a local school.