Simply the 37th best

ANYONE artistic or creative will tell you this: As soon as you make your work public, you lose ownership of it – as people will always attach their own meanings to it.

For instance, when Mike Chapman and Holly Knight wrote ‘Simply The Best’ – Tina Turner’s ode to overstatement – in the late 1980s, they probably never imagined that it would one day be blared out over a public address system during Barnsley’s player of the year awards.

But it was. And so, as injured centre-back Steve Foster limped to the Oakwell centre circle to receive a nice shiny trophy ahead of this afternoon’s game against Charlton, Turner could quite clearly be heard belting on about how each time you leave her, she starts losing control.

It wasn’t made clear why Turner could not be present at Oakwell to sing the song in person; my guess is that she was watching Leicester versus Sheffield Wednesday instead.

Perhaps there was something in Barnsley’s use of such bombast, though. Statistically, they have been the 37th best side in English football this season, and yet in many ways, they have been the team of the season.

Manchester United apart, they are the only team to have beaten both Liverpool and Chelsea this season. Portsmouth and Cardiff may be the FA Cup finalists, but Barnsley were the stars of this season’s competition. (I defy to watch this clip from Sky’s Soccer Saturday without smiling. Even if you’re a Liverpool fan.)

Given that Barnsley were capable of such astonishing feats, it’s a puzzle as to why they were still in danger of relegation from the Championship before they faced Charlton this afternoon. It’s not as if they can’t live with the Championship’s best either – they’ve beaten West Brom and Watford since Christmas.

Generally, Barnsley’s players have performed on the big occasion; it’s the run-of-the-mill games that have tripped them up. But it seems churlish to criticise a club when they have managed to beat two of the Champions League semi-finalists in reaching an FA Cup semi-final for the first time in 96 years.

Oakwell has been modernised over the past 15 years, but still feels like a proper, old-fashioned football ground. Coming up over the hill on Belgrave Road, the first thing you see is a floodlight, and the adjoining corners of two modern stands.

Inside, it’s old-fashioned too; which makes for a good atmosphere, although there are drawbacks for us hacks. There’s no electricity in the press box. I knew about this in advance, and came with a fully-charged laptop.

But some of those who were at Oakwell for the FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea last month weren’t so lucky. A few ended up leaving their seats in the main stand and heading to the press room – a cabin next to a wall behind the stand – and watching the closing moments on television, just so they could get somewhere to plug their computer in.

Only one team had anything to play for today – Charlton’s play-off hopes were finally extinguished last weekend – and it showed. The visitors weren’t playing at full pelt, and Barnsley took advantage.

Eleven minutes in, Jamal Campbell-Ryce belted a cross-shot into the far corner after his first effort had been blocked. Campbell-Ryce started his career at Charlton, but only made five substitute appearances before being released. He celebrated his goal by running the length of the pitch at a speed that would have had Asafa Powell looking over his shoulder, then whipped off his shirt – for which he was promptly booked.

He’s a curious one, Campbell-Ryce. I remember one of his first games, nearly six years ago, when he was on loan at Leyton Orient in the Third Division, and spent 45 minutes tearing Macclesfield’s defence to shreds at Brisbane Road. I worked for the Macclesfield Express then, and several Macc officials were blown away by this young winger, predicting big things for him. He’s still only 25, but he’s already on his eighth club, if you count loan moves. Campbell-Ryce is definitely a talent, but perhaps an unfulfilled one.

Jonjo Shelvey, on the other hand, has his whole career ahead of him. At 16 years and 59 days, he became Charlton’s youngest-ever first-teamer today, and didn’t look out of place. One volley forced a good save out of Luke Steele.

“His schoolteacher rang me today and asked where he was,” Charlton boss Alan Pardew said. “I said he was about to make his big entrance. And I hope it will be a big entrance.

“We need to make sure we protect him. There’s no way he’s going to play all season next year, but I feel even at a tender age, he might have a big part to play for us.”

Shelvey’s team-mates, though, were less impressive. Centre-back Madjid Bougherra had an excuse for a distracted performance – his wife is about to give birth. I’m not sure what his team-mates were playing at.

Lewin Nyatanga scored Barnsley’s second from close range after 34 minutes as Charlton’s defence dozed, at that was that, really.

The second half was notable for a superb Bobby Hassell free kick which hit the post as Charlton keeper Nicky Weaver stood and admired it, a horrendous stomach-high challenge by Barnsley’s Dutch defender Marciano van Homoet – which left Luke Varney doubled up in agony – and a late goal from Jon Macken that sealed a comfortable 3-0 win.

“We never believed that we would go down,” said Barnsley manager Simon Davey. “We’re far too good a side to be leaving it until the penultimate game of the season to get safe.”

I don’t think Tina Turner could have put it better.


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