Twenty years ago this week, Bruce Dyer delivered the performance that would book Barnsley a place at Wembley for the first time and prove a turning point in him becoming their greatest goal-scorer of the 21st century and making the town his home. 

Dyer netted twice as a substitute in the Reds’ 4-0 success at Birmingham City in the first leg of their Division One play-off first leg on May 13, 2000. They won the tie 5-2 then made their only visit to the old national stadium for its last ever club match. 

“I can’t believe it’s 20 years ago,” Dyer told the Chronicle. “To help the club to Wembley for the first time and the way we did it, I will never ever forget that. It was very, very, very special. You don’t usually go away in the play-offs and win 4-0, especially at a tough place like St Andrew’s. It’s up there with my favourite games.”

Dave Bassett’s Reds had finished fourth in Division One with a points tally of 82 which was a club record – until last season’s promotion from League One –  and five ahead of fifth-placed City. Birmingham were ideal opposition for Dyer who had made his professional debut as a teenager at St Andrew’s for Watford seven years earlier then scored his first career hat-trick against them for Crystal Palace in 1996. 

But, going into the play-offs, he was yet to justify the £700,000 transfer fee Barnsley paid to Palace in 1998. After netting seven goals in 28 league games in his first Oakwell season, he had started just 13 times under Dave Bassett in the 1999/2000 campaign, which had brought him six goals in 31 league appearances. He had netted four in three games in January, including a brace in a 5-1 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers, but then went on a ten-game goalless run across four injury-plagued months. 

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Dyer said: “It had been a tricky season for me. Dave Bassett wanted to sell me to Gillingham but it fell through and I didn’t want to leave. It was obvious he didn’t see me in his plans. I think he was wrong but that’s only my opinion, although I would like to think I proved that when it really mattered. The difficulties I had had that season just made what happened even more special.”

For the trip to Birmingham, Dyer was on the bench but, after 30 minutes, he was brought on for the injured Geoff Thomas who had been an early substitute for Robin van der Laan who was hurt within seconds of the start. He said: “I remember sitting on the bench thinking ‘come on gaffer, surely you are going to put me on.’ It was as if he was forced to put me on by the injuries, then I produced when it mattered. As soon as I got on the pitch, I just knew it was my day and it was destined that I would score and we would win. It couldn’t have gone any better.  The team was fantastic and I managed to take those two chances.”

Dyer had to do most of the running up front as Neil Shipperley – who had opened the scoring with a superb 12th-minute strike – picked up a dead leg at the end of the first half.  He was up against one of the toughest defences in English football as the Blues had conceded just 16 goals on their own turf in 23 league games that season.  But, in an excellent display, he doubled the lead three minutes after the restart then made it 3-0 after an hour. Both goals saw him latch onto long passes by Chris Morgan and Eric Tinkler respectively then run past defenders before firing in. 

Dyer headed in what looked to be a hat-trick goal, but it was ruled out for offside, then he assisted Craig Hignett to complete the rout.  Dyer also netted in the second leg, which ended in a 2-1 defeat, and – although he was devastated to lose the final to Ipswich Town – he admits that game at Birmingham was crucial for his Barnsley career which lasted five years and brought 70 goals in 206 games. 

“That game really set me up to have the career I had at Barnsley.  I always believed that I could be successful there but it was definitely a turning point for me. I call Barnsley home now. I’m settled here, the people have been great to me. Most of the work I do is in Barnsley. It’s a special place to me. When I moved up here, I had just become a born-again Christian and it’s where I began to rebuild my life. It will always have a special place in my heart. I found out who I was as a person here and it has been a real blessing.” 

Dyer, now 45, works with various charities as well as coaching in schools, but can no longer do that due to the coronavirus lockdown.  He joked: “The Lord’s work never stops.

“My church work still goes forward. I do pop-up prayer sessions at 7.30am and 10pm online which has been really good. “But a lot of the community stuff has stopped.  Going onto the streets with the homeless and going into schools is all on pause. 

“There are a lot of people that have been struggling during the lockdown. For me, I think some good can come out of this terrible situation if we can all use it to spend time with our families that we wouldn’t have normally had or learn something new maybe with an online course. I could easily stay like this because I am staying in with the people who I love the most.”

But Bruce admits he does miss playing and watching football, while hoping Barnsley are not relegated from the Championship this season. He said: “I posted on Facebook recently that I fancy a five-a-side, but obviously we can’t do that at the moment. It would be nice to watch a game of football. It will be interesting to see how they finish the season. I wouldn’t want to call it. I am just praying that it works in Barnsley’s favour and they can stay up.”