After chats with Darren Barnard and Nicky Eaden, I tracked down another star from the promotion and Premier League campaigns to discuss his time at the club.
Andy Liddell came through the ranks at Barnsley, making his debut for the club against Portsmouth way back in 1992, the first of 198 appearances for the Tykes. Undoubtedly a popular figure among the fans (and even more-so with my mum), Andy will go down in Tykes history as one of our finest.
I spoke to him about our time in the top flight, the Bradford City match, and everything that happened once we had finally lost our battle to stay in the top flight. Thanks to the quality of the interview that Andy provided, I’m going to split this into two parts again, with the second coming tomorrow, so be sure to come back for that, but, for now, here’s me and Andy..
Dan: Hi Andy, thanks for talking to me. Let’s start with the one that no-one will ever forget. The Bradford City game, what are your memories of that day, and how did it feel to be a part of it all?
Andy: “If I remember rightly, I don’t think I’d actually played the couple of games before it, so I probably thought that I wouldn’t actually be playing in it. As soon as John (Hendrie) arrived from Middlesbrough, he kind of took my place in the team. I was playing up front with Paul (Wilkinson) and I was a bit put out about that. I had started the season well, and was scoring quite a few goals, but the signing meant that I was in and out of the team a lot. I did feature in a lot of the games, but didn’t start as many as I wanted to, so on that day, I was quite surprised to be starting.
I just remember the atmosphere really, I’m pretty sure that it was absolutely chucking it down, and Bradford needed points to stay up, so it was a big game for them too. I remember us scoring, when Wilko put us in front, then it was just a really tight match. From what I can remember, Bradford then went down the left and their lad ended up missing one of the easiest chances you’ll ever see in your life and he hit the post with an open goal. It was one of those chances that an idiot could have put in the net – no offence – but he somehow contrived to miss, and I thought to myself: ‘that’s it, we’re not going to lose this game’. I think Clint came on for me then, but I definitely wasn’t on the pitch when we got our second. I just knew, as soon as their lad hit the post, that was it.
The atmosphere is what will stay with me, and the euphoria of the fans sprinting on to the pitch, it was electric, and it’s a game that I’ll always remember.”
Approaching the new season, going into the top flight for the first time in our history, did you think that we had what it took to compete?
“I didn’t know, I’d no idea to be honest. A lot of us were going in to the unknown, and none of us were established Premier League players. We had a couple of players that had played there, but none of us younger ones that had come through at Barnsley had experienced it before, so we had no idea if we were going to be good enough to stay up or not. I knew that we had some decent players, and that we’d added players too, but until you’re actually in there among the big boys then you never know. Ultimately, it was proven that we weren’t actually good enough, but at the start of the season, I couldn’t have told you how we would have done. The players you’re coming up against in that league are fantastic, especially the top four or five teams, and we didn’t disgrace ourselves, but you can only hope that you’re good enough to match them.”
And what was the atmosphere like in the dressing room ahead of the West Ham game?
“It was the same as what had been happening in the town all summer I think, we were excited. All summer, everyone in Barnsley had been talking about the start of the new season, and I lived in the town, so didn’t miss out on any of that, and the players were too. When you start pre-season, the first game always seems a long way away, but I remember that it actually came around pretty quickly. One of the pre-season games we played was against the Brazilian team Santos at Oakwell, and we got a right hammering. We were all thinking: ‘Oh my god, if they’re all like this, we’re going to get battered every week’.
The West Ham game was all about atmosphere too. It was a red-hot day. I don’t think I started, I was on the bench, but we scored first and it was like a carnival in the ground, like there was a huge party going on. Obviously we got beat in the end, but it was still like a huge party that day.”
Out of the season as whole, which matches do you look back on most fondly?
“From the team point of view, it would have to be the game that we won at Anfield. To go to a place like that, to play a team like that, and to beat them one-nil was fantastic, and the atmosphere in the changing room after that was absolutely brilliant. Obviously, no-one had given us a prayer because we’d had a few hammerings and were going to play one of the biggest teams in Europe, but although we were under the cosh for a lot of the game, we actually played alright and played some decent football. The goal might have come because of a mistake, but that’s the game, from the team point of view, that I’ll remember, purely because of the result and who it was.”
I must admit that I missed the goal on that day as I was too busy appealing for a penalty. Did you think that you were fouled by David James?
“The thing is, he actually touched the ball. A few of us that had come through the youth team and had been coached by Eric (Winstanley) had always been taught that if it’s a penalty, it’s a penalty, but if you have a chance to get up and get the ball, then jump up and get it. That was the reason that I didn’t stay down. You know, I wasn’t a diver, I wasn’t a cheating sort of player, so after he touched the ball I thought: ‘He’s got a touch on that, the ref might not give it’. My reactions told me to get up and cross it, and then they made a cock-up and Ashley stuck it in the net. If it was now, they’d probably give a penalty for it, you get one if someone breathes on you these days, but in that game James touched the ball so I just wanted to get up. It wasn’t a very good cross at all, but it turned out to be when it mattered.”
And which do you think was your best performance?
“The best game that I personally had was the Leeds United game at home, ironically, as I’m a big Leeds fan. I was looking forward to that game as soon as the fixtures came out. We got beat 3-2, but that was a great game for me. I scored, I had one cleared off the line and I just played really well in that game. It was an added bonus that it was against my boyhood team, the team that I supported, and I’ve got a lot of family and friends who are also Leeds fans, and I used to go and watch them as a kid, so that made it double special for me.”
Because you were such an important part of the promotion team, and as you said, were disappointed when John signed, were you then unhappy not to play more games in the Premier League?
“I was yeah, and I actually handed a transfer request in during the summer. When we got promoted, I handed a request in to Danny because I could see what was coming. I wasn’t the most experienced at the time, but I knew that we’d signed John, and it was clear that more players would be coming too. I had confidence in my own ability that I had what it took to be in the team, but any promoted side will sign players, and I thought: ‘I’m not going to get a game here’. I knew there would be other teams interested in me, as I was a decent player and I’d just been involved in the promotion team, which looks good on your CV. I was confident that I could find another team, while also being disappointed. If I was playing for Barnsley, and thought I’d be getting games, then I wouldn’t have ever wanted to leave. But I wasn’t, so I handed in the request, but Danny turned it down and said “No, you’re staying, we want to offer you a new contract.”
Now, I got offered a new contract, but it was loads and loads less than any of the other players that had been offered new deals, and that kind of told me a story, really. I was and am still big mates with Nicky Eaden, and he’d been offered one too. He’d told me what he’d got before I went to see Danny, so I was kind of expecting to get the same but, no, mine was no-where near it, not even half. So, obviously, I got the hump and thought – the club are saying they want to keep me, but at the end of the day, money is money, and you want to be earning the same as players that are of a similar stature to yourself. I can’t lie, I was really annoyed about that, and with the new players coming in too, but what can you do? My transfer request had been turned down, so I just had to get my head down and get on with it. Although it did feel to me that the other players had been rewarded for helping the club get promotion, but I hadn’t really. It didn’t seem fair to me, and I told the club what I felt, but it wasn’t a case of me throwing my toys out of the pram, like I said, I just got on with it.
With the new players coming in I kind of read the script that I wasn’t going to be playing much, on top of the contract offer that I had no real choice but to sign, but I would have really liked to have played more.”
I hope you enjoyed part one of the chat. Be sure to come back tomorrow for part two, including Gary Neville’s ‘tackle’, Liverpool at home, Danny Wilson leaving, and more…