There are a couple of parallels between the FA Cup exploits of Cardiff City and Bansley. Both have won the FA Cup just the once, having lost the final two years previously. For Barnsley supporters, though the wait has been an even longer one – their one and only FA Cup win came in 1912. The two seasons prior to their win had been fairly tumultuous ones. In 1910, they had made the FA Cup final for the first time, losing 2-0 in a replay to Newcastle United after a 1-1 draw as a Second Division side. Their form collapsed the following season and, with the League only having two divisions at the time, they were forced to apply for re-election.
The 1911/12 FA Cup run was a marathon one for them. They required a replay to beat Birmingham City in the First Round, and then having seen of Leicester Fosse and Bolton Wanderers, needed three replays to see off Yorkshire rivals Bradford City to set up a semi-final against Swindon Town. The semi-final, which was described by the Manchester Guardian as “brutal” also went to a replay, before a 1-0 win sent them to Crystal Palace for the final. Their opposition, West Bromwich Albion, had a somewhat smoother route to the final, beating Tottenham Hotspur, Leeds City, Sunderland and Fulham before beating Blackburn Rovers after a replay at Hillsborough.
Details of what happened in the final itself are understandably sketchy, though possibly the most exciting thing to happen all afternoon was an abortive attempt by West Bromich Albion supporters to launch a blue and white striped hot air balloon before the match, which collapsed back to the ground in flames in what must have looked like a strange precreation of the Hindenburg disaster. West Bromich Albion hit the post towards the end of the match, but this was the highlight of a dull 0-0 draw. The replay was held at Bramall Lane in front of a crowd of 38,000, and a collection before the match in aid of the Titanic Disaster Fund collected over £49 – a tidy sum in 1912. The match itself, however, was not much of an improvement on the first match, and went into extra time with the scores still locked at 0-0. However, with two minutes of extra-time to play (and FA officials probably sweating about how they were going to put on a second replay – the penalty shootout hadn’t been invented in 1912), the Barnsley right-half Tufnell broke from the halfway line, ran through on goal and scored the winner.
As at Cardiff, the club failed to build on their success. Barnsley took until 1997 to reach the top flight of English football, and were relegated after just one season. Since then, they have had spells in the Championship and League One and been threatened with closure. This season, they currently sit just two places and one point above the League One relegation places, and the worry for their supporters is that the distraction of the FA Cup might lead to their relegation. My personal conviction is that they shouldn’t worry about it. Barnsley have played in all four divisions of the Football League, and relegation simply isn’t the disaster that the media likes to portray it as. The opportunity to win the FA Cup, however is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and Barnsley will never have a better chance to do it than this season. If they need any further proof of this, they need only look back to the false dawn of 1912.