Like so many other Barnsley FC supporters, I made my way down to Wembley on Sunday to support the Reds and see their fantastic cup win.
The team – from the owner, chairman, chief executive, manager and players through to the backroom staff – deserve our praise and thanks. They did our town proud in a 3-2 triumph against Oxford United.
It was a thrilling match, in front of 60,000 fans – who also made headlines with their good humour and banter. The BBC news website ran footage of Reds fans sitting rowing on the pavement outside the ground, complete with flat caps whilst chanting: “You only sing when you’re rowing”. The Oxford fans took it in the spirit in which it was intended, all contributing to an excellent atmosphere in the ground.
Barnsley’s reputation shone over the weekend. The win, the behaviour of the fans and the subsequent publicity all add value to Barnsley – showing what a warm and welcoming place it can be. This is on top of the value sport already brings to our communities.
I believe Barnsley FC is a fundamentally important part of our town. The fact that thousands of committed fans descend upon Oakwell week in, week out, come rain or shine, through thick and thin, not only shows the level of interest and affection for our club, but also the power that sport has to bring people together in the interest of a common cause.
I’ve always believed that football, and sport more generally, are important to our communities and I’m passionate about the way they can be a positive force for good in people’s lives – particularly young people. I’ve seen the benefits with my own children, and the sense of enjoyment and achievement they get from taking part in local cricket training and the Barnsley Park Run in Locke Park at weekends.
Sport, especially team sports like football, rugby and hockey, whether they be played inside or outside of school, provide young people with the opportunity to come together to learn, forge friendships and develop their ability to work within a team. Sport can develop communication skills and encourage self-confidence; all whilst helping to maintain a basic level of fitness, which helps people stay healthy and improve their overall wellbeing. That is on top of the positive messages sport can send to the world about the communities it represents.
With just seven games left for Barnsley FC this season, each one is a cup final in its own right if we are going to make it back to Wembley for the play-offs. There are four home games: against Chesterfield on Saturday 9th April; Oldham on Tuesday 12th April; Peterborough on Tuesday 19th April; and Colchester on Saturday 30th April.
Oakwell sits at the heart of my Barnsley Central constituency and I will be doing everything I can to get behind Paul Heckingbottom and the team. I urge everyone in the town to do the same, by calling on that strong sense of pride that runs through Barnsley, so that we can collectively give them the backing they deserve in these crucial final games of the season.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 8 April 2016.