- Sander Kolsloot
Oakwell – Barnsley FC
Photos by Sander Kolsloot, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Oakwell Grove St Barnsley, England S71 1ET
Year Opened: 1887
Barnsley is a place that seems not to have changed for a while, or at least that’s the impression you get when you arrive at the main railway station before the game. A rather sleepy former coalmining and glassmaking town, Barnsley rests easily aside the beautiful Peak District in South Yorkshire. The industrial heritage is still there and the locals still take pride in the Brass Bands that were formed as part of the industrial nature of the city. Barnsley itself is most famous in England for the ‘Barnsley Chop,’ which is a bigger cut of the lambs leg.
Football has been a mainstay here, as Barnsley FC was established back in 1887, making it one of the older clubs in English professional football. The team itself has gone through various times of promotion and relegation. After the first World War, the team was in the Second Division of English football and had high hopes of gaining First Division status. As was the case at that time, Arsenal F.C. had a very influential owner with some deep pockets, who needed to get attention and crowds to his Highbury club. Some wheeling and dealing, a ballot vote and nailbiting later, Arsenal gained a spot in the First Division and Barnsley was sentenced to another 80 (!) years of second tier football.
Although Barnsley came close on various occasions to gaining promotion in the early decades of the last century – notably missing promotion in 1922 on a -1 goal difference- the team somehow stayed alive in the Third and Fourth Divisions, being relegated twice to the latter and gaining promotion as many times. In the end, the 1980s provided a spark for the squad and Barnsley managed to settle themselves in the Second Division. Even with the introduction of the play-off system, they never managed to get to the First Division.
In the 1990s, with the creation of the Premier League, they vied for promotion and eventually, after 99 years of trying, succeeded in the 1996-97 season. It didn’t last long, as they were relegated the year after.
The 21st century saw Barnsley in big trouble, both on and off the field. The ITV crisis hurt the club very much financially and only a last minute save from the mayor kept the club alive. On the field, the club was relegated to League One, got up again halfway in the 2000s, were relegated again in 2014 before returning to the second tier once again last summer (2016).
The site and stadium of Oakwell dates back to 1888, the year after the founding of the club. The original field belonged to another club, but the owner at the time, Reverend Preedy, succeeded in persuading the Oakwell owner to let his Reds play there, on the condition ‘that they behaved themselves.’
Ever since then, Barnsley has called Oakwell its home and in the early 1900s the signs of a true stadium came across, mainly with the construction of the Hayselden West Stand. The west stand is the part where Oakwell comes to life. It’s the original west stand dating back to 1904. Some of the seating is still original, but parts have been converted from terracing to seating back in 1995 as a result of the ruling after the Hillsborough disaster. This part of the stadium has always housed the dressing rooms, ticket office, and nowadays the club shop and managers office too.
The stadium was originally part seating, part terracing but in the 1990s it was turned into an all-seater. First, a new East Stand got built in 1993. This was the first stand in Yorkshire to incorporate VIP seating. A couple years later, a new South Stand followed, which was completed in 1995. Works were completed on a new North Stand in 1999.
The north stand, which houses the away fans, was developed at the turn of the millennium from an open-end seated stand of around 2,000. It now holds more than 6,000 spectators and boasts state-of-the art academy facilities in its bowels. The cost of this stand have been part of a huge debate, as its £4.5 million final cost has never seemed to give a viable investment return. It must be said that the stand was built around a time the club had just been relegated to the Championship.
Food & Beverage 3
The food and beverage section in the stadium is somewhat standard and in a general sense more limited than the options at a Premier League venue. Please note that if you fancy an alcoholic beverage, you are only allowed to enjoy it on the concourse, with no view of the pitch. They cater for the need to watch the game with screens, but if you like watching the game on the telly, you’d be better off heading to a bar.
The selection of food is rather limited with some crisps and chips that can be had for £2. They have a bigger selection of pies (steak, meat & potato, cheese-onion, chicken balti) for a decent £3.20.
Alcoholic beverages include Carling, Worthingtons and Magners cider. The beers are on tap, with half a pint for £1,90 and a pint for £3,80 not likely to break the bank. Soft drinks go for £2 a bottle. Coffee and tea are the same. Meal deals (a pie with a drink) are just £5. It’s all very reasonable, but of limited choice.
Although the club has only just been promoted, expect a decent amount of people to attend the game. This adds to the atmosphere, as fans will be singing and shouting before and during the game. There’s a vast group of fanatical followers that will support the team no matter what. It’s an old venue, especially with the old main stand, so a lot of the noise will fade away in between the stands. The Spion Kop, Barnsley’s south stand, houses the most fanatical part.
Barnsley in itself is a relatively sleepy town in between Sheffield and Leeds. Its city centre, only a 15-20 min walk up the hill, houses some good pubs and a couple of nice restaurants. The area around the stadium though is a typical British working class neighbourhood. Not a lot to fancy and the stadium is tucked in between houses and some industrial space. The view onto the stadium on top of a small hill is indeed one to savour.
So if you’re interested in grabbing a traditional pre match drink, head to the White Bear or The Old No. 7 downtown. If you fancy some good grub, the Grill Pit will more than meet your needs. Plates are filled with loads of good meat at very reasonable prices. Tap beer varies in sort and price, but all premium drinks are on offer.
A more local experience is just a stone’s throw from the railway station, at The Court House. This is a classic English pub which the locals frequent. It’s the closest one to the ground if you’re in the city centre. Somewhat closer is a nice gem called the Old Mill Brewery – The Dove Inn, which offers local brews and a great pre-game atmosphere. It’s one of the best options if you fancy a pre-match pint.
If you are at a Barnsley game, you will mostly find people who either fell in love with the ground and its historic stand or have somehow become attached to the club. As there are multiple options in the area (most notably Leeds, both Sheffield clubs and even Huddersfield, Doncaster and Manchester’s giants further down the road) you will encounter people who love the club to death.
Getting to the ground is fairly easy. If you arrive by train, the stadium is just a quick 10 min walk away. Trains go regularly in the direction of Leeds/Huddersfield or Sheffield and leave till around midnight.
If you happen to be in Barnsley, walking is your main option, although UBER taxi service will get you almost anywhere for a fiver. There is also a bus stop nearby, where the 26, 27 and 28 lines are the main ones going to and from the central railway station and city centre. For the less abled among us, there’s a dedicated South Side corner stand, build in 2014, that provides more than 70 disability spots.
Return on Investment 3
While Barnsley might not be on top of your to-do list, it is indeed one to consider. For the true Stadium Journeyman, the oldest main stand in England is one to consider. It hasn’t got the flair of Fulham, or the ooze of Anfield. It’s a historical landmark, but without the buzz. Tickets aren’t cheap though, as a £20 note will not get you in. On matchdays, a £2 increase can be found on the original ticket price. Compared to Fulham for example, which is in London, has better seating and is in a somewhat nicer place, the return on investment isn’t one to die for. Tickets go from £23 for games against lower tier clubs to as high as £36 for higher tier clubs. Occasionally they try to lure in supporters with sale prices, but this will only be for, say, Friday games. Most recently, the game against Forest in November 2016 was priced at £15 per ticket.
There’s a fan shop and it has a fair amount of memorabilia for its size. The aforementioned original home stand is indeed special, but isn’t something extra. Furthermore, there are no additional tours, statues or things to mention. The place is therefore just a good old English football ground.
Oakwell has a long and storied history as a venue, but if you are looking for much beyond the sport itself it is not an essential tourist destination on the groundhopper’s list. If, however, you are tired of sterile, modern grounds that have no character, Barnsley FC’s home offers an alternative that allows you to indulge a passion for classic English stadia.