The 1989-90 season hit both great heights and demoralising lows, but fortunately for City fans they didn’t occur in that order. Though the Stan Ternent area would end bitterly, and the effect of it would be felt for years to come, the belligerent bark who became the Tigers manager was, in the very short term, good for the club.
His arrival in November 1989 was required urgently, as City had not yet won during what had hitherto been a truly hideous Second Division campaign. Don Robinson’s sentimental re-appointment of Colin Appleton had spectacularly failed and, after a boardroom reshuffle, the new chairman in Richard Chetham was handing the beleaguered City boss his cards and seeking a replacement before the ink on the agenda had dried.
Ternent, assistant at the time to Steve Coppell at Crystal Palace, was appointed. A full, frank and unabashed assessment of what he did and didn’t do for the Tigers can be found here; what we can say on this page, however, is that without him we would have gone down a whole year earlier than we actually did.
City’s squad, left behind by the introverted Eddie Gray and, in a repeat of his actions upon first appointment in 1982, almost wholly untouched by Appleton, had talent but little motivation. The experienced players were, one by one, beginning to lose their influence, too many were underperforming and a few were regularly linked with big moves away. In the short term, Ternent needed to get them winning, and he did.
Famously, his first game was the team’s first win, with the Tigers coming from 2-1 down at Bradford City to win 3-2 thanks to a double substitution by the new manager, with Andy Payton and Ian McParland each coming on to get a goal. “Little Hull” was how that condescending chump Elton Welsby labelled us on the ITV teatime results service as he announced our first win of the season. We could take the patronising, however, as finally there was a win on the board to go with the ten draws. It wasn’t instantly plain sailing afterwards, though Ternent engineered a good run of four straight wins – Wolves and Plymouth away sandwiched by Port Vale and Sunderland at home – over the Christmas and New Year period, prior to a fine 2-1 success at West Ham United.
City fans then went through the ecstasy and agony associated with taking a 3-2 lead at Leeds and ending up with nothing, prior to visiting Barnsley at the end of February 1990. By now, Ternent had made it clear he wanted proper cash to spend on players, and had managed to add Dave Bamber to his squad, a player with a notably good record of both scoring goals, and of scoring goals against the Tigers. More ageing and expensive players would follow.
Ternent talked good football but, as the footage of the visit to Oakwell shows, scoring chances were not always created with great frequency. This was from YTV’s Goals On Sunday service, narrated in this instance by Nick Powell, and it’s evident that Barnsley, themselves a bottom half of the table team, were the more progressive side on show.
What’s enjoyably notable is the presence of Wayne Jacobs. Two textbook pieces of defending are featured here, both testament to the young left back’s positioning, reading of the game and tenacity, especially the second example, in which he is the evident second favourite to get to the ball as Lee Glover’s cross beats Iain Hesford and reaches full back Gerry Taggart at the far post, but still gets the block in just a yard from the goalline.
By this time, City were already a goal down, courtesy of a diving header by Steve Cooper from a Mark Robinson corner, leading to Hesford complaining about the marking. We can be grateful we didn’t get footage of Cooper doing his trademark somersault routine in celebration.
Running the Barnsley midfield at the time was Steve Agnew, the current assistant manager at City. Two long-range shots from him are included, one of which was too high, the other saved low by Hesford. Only then was there something carved out by the Tigers deemed noteworthy enough to include in these brief highlights, with Garreth Roberts’ breakaway offering a crossing opportunity to Ken DeMange, which was easily caught by Clive Baker.
City then, remarkably, equalised. Payton put a steeple-high cross into the box, Baker (erroneously called “Hesford” by Powell, which could have bordered on slanderous) punched it out and Jacobs, up with the attack, looped a freakish header back which Steve Lowndes should have kept out on the line, but didn’t. He’d have been far better off handling it and giving away the penalty.
So, while the Tigers didn’t impress, they showed at Oakwell that day how Ternent had drilled them into a tough-to-beat team, with just one set-piece proving their undoing while Jacobs performed some minor heroics at the back and then, as an unexpected bonus, got the equaliser too. City maintained their steady progress up the table and were beaten just once in the next five, and then ended the campaign quite stylishly, winning seven of the last eight, with the only defeat coming at Watford on the final day when safety – and a 14th place in the table – had been assured.
Ternent let club legends Billy Whitehurst and, soon after this game, Billy Askew leave while spending serious wages on Bamber, Malcolm Shotton (mentioned here by Powell after Barnsley had cancelled his contract, following a bit of a spat), Leigh Palin and Gwyn Thomas before the season’s end and bought a number of other high-earners in the summer, none of whom were in the first flush of footballing youth. Though not all of these recruits failed – Shotton, Palin, Russ Wilcox, David Mail and David Hockaday made variable but viable contributions – Ternent’s mistake in indulging older players who wanted big salaries soon came back to haunt him as the team spirit evaporated and the 1990-91 campaign consequently proved a grotesque experience. Ternent lost his job on New Years Day 1991 after a battering at Portsmouth. Befitting of his brusque persona, which has now become something of a national brand after various other jobs and high-profile spats, he remains bitter about how he was treated by the Tigers to this day and, despite some protest correspondence to the Hull Daily Mail about his dismissal, and a rough 50/50 success to failure ratio in his 14 months with the club, is now regarded unanimously as a villain.
His side at Barnsley was essentially Gray’s. Only Bamber had come under Ternent’s watch, playing just his fourth game of a notoriously abysmal spell at Boothferry Park, while combative midfielder Steve Doyle was Appleton’s sole addition to the playing staff during his abortive period at the helm. Hesford, still not yet completely disliked by the City faithful but clearly rated lowly in comparison to Tony Norman, the man he replaced, was protected by a sturdy-looking back four of Jacobs, Richard Jobson, Neil Buckley and Nicky Brown, just as he was when the Tigers had faced Liverpool a year and six days earlier.
Doyle anchored the midfield alongside the limited DeMange and the ever-willing but now injury-prone Roberts, who had been in the side for 10 seasons now but would retire before 1990 was up. Askew, also now injury-prone but still with a fine left foot, left the field with a knock and was replaced by Graeme Atkinson, a nippy young winger from the ranks. Also on as a sub, providing genuine novelty value, was Herry Ngata, the teenage Kiwi forward who had come through the YTS scheme and been talked about and pointed at with the same wide-eyed intrigue usually reserved for exotic animals in zoo cages. He was barely seen again, only ever started one game, and went back home the following summer. At Oakwell he came on for Doyle as Ternent looked to give Payton and Bamber more support up front.
Barnsley, managed by Mel Machin and winners at Boothferry Park earlier in the season, struggled through the rest of the campaign and ended it in 19th place, six clear of the drop. Agnew’s craft was eventually taken on for big money by Blackburn Rovers; Taggart made his Northern Ireland debut and stayed in the national side for 13 years, while Glover returned to parent club Nottingham Forest and ended up in their FA Cup final side a year later. In 1994, Danny Wilson left the playing ranks at Oakwell to become their manager and led them, inexplicably but to the delight of just about everyone in football, to the Premier League in 1997, with Shotton on his coaching staff. The Tykes only lasted a year there and have not been back since but it remains one of the most talked-about promotions to the top flight in modern times.
Currently the teams are exactly equal in terms of achievement against one another; in the league they have each attained 38 wins, with 21 draws on top. The FA Cup stats, thanks to Barnsley’s win in the fourth round of this season’s competition at the Circle, are also tied at one win, one draw and one defeat each. The best results for each side of reasonably recent vintage were the Tykes’ 5-0 hammering of Mike Smith’s wretched team of 1980-81, and City putting four past Barnsley on New Years Day 1986, including the last goal in the truncated Tigers career of Bobby Doyle.
At Oakwell, City’s recent record is okay, with famous wins in 2004-05 (late Michael Keane winner) and 2007-08 (Dean Windass scores with his first touch as a sub) very fresh in the memory, though Barnsley haven’t lost to City on their patch since the Tigers came back down to the Championship, with a 1-1 draw and a 2-1 home win the last two results there.
And then there’s this weekend’s visit, and all it could bring with it…