Talking Heads once posed the conundrum of “and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”. The moment when you’re rattling along on a Northern Rail service to Barnsley is when you fully appreciate that your team is now in the Championship.
Days of travelling to the sexy streets of Manchester, Liverpool and Bournemouth are consigned to the history books and travelling past names such as Wakefield and Bolton-upon-Dearne now become the norm. You’re not a Premier League team anymore, you’re not really even a big fish in a little pond anymore. You’re a second-tier football team and today is going to hammer that point home.
Sunderland’s start to the season had almost been an easing in to life in the Championship. Trips to Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday and home tests against Derby County and Leeds was like visiting old pals. We’d met them all before in a higher division when we all dreamed of grasping that brass ring and acting the goat in some cosmopolitan city. Alas none of us would be doing that anytime soon.
Barnsley is something that brings it all crashing home but while we’re here we might as well have a good time. Surrounded by the major cities of Sheffield and Leeds, this former mining town has got somewhat of an unfair rep when it comes to soaking up the delights of an awayday.
“Don’t go there,” they say. “There’s nowt there”, they’ll quip. Well the naysayers can sufficiently do one as Barnsley is a tour de force when it comes to oiling up the matchday experience. Where else on planet earth could you wander into an Irish bar in a Victorian arcade and be confronted with a bottle of Buckfast on the optics next to a framed, signed picture of Mick McCarthy? Nowhere.
The sun continued to beat down as the pints of Barnsley Gold slid down the hatch and the Sunderland contingent kept singing that song about Aiden McGeady which no-one actually sings when they get on the terraces. And off to Oakwell it was.
Weaving our way through the numerous buses and cars towards this ultimate throwback of a stadium, we were quite unaware that this was to be the highlight of our day. We all made a racket for half an hour and then in time honoured tradition, Sunderland took the wind out of our sails and succumbed to a more committed opponent.
Once the first goal was bundled in, you knew the second wasn’t far behind and so it proved. While the Leeds game was put down to “one of those matches that happen”, this was a different gravy. This was the type of game we thought (as supporters) we could turn up to, take the piss and be safe in the knowledge that would be rolling home with three points in the bag.
And that was just the first half.
Barnsley overran us in the second period and as the third was effortlessly walloped in, all I could be thankful for was that I chose to switch out of the sundrenched seats and into the shade. I’m not getting sunburnt in Barnsley for this.
We trudged away slightly bewildered at what we’d just witnessed. Ah, this is the reality of the Championship if you’re not very good. Thankfully, craft beer costs £2.70 a pint in Barnsley so that softened the blow immensely. So glad to have a fortnight off from watching this.
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