A half-time ‘rollicking’ from Barnsley chairman John Dennis proved a turning point in Gerry Taggart’s career. 

The Northern Irishman is considered by many to have been one of the Reds’ best centre-backs of recent decades and was a huge favourite with the supporters who would chant ‘ooh Gerry, Gerry.’ But he admits he was struggling with off-the-field issues in his early 20s, telling the Chronicle: “I had a bit of a break midway through my time at Barnsley.  I wasn’t doing the right things off the pitch.  It was hard for me to concentrate on football, when there were other distractions.  “I couldn’t sleep and I remember going to the doctors and asking for some sleeping tablets. 

“On the pitch, I was playing awful football. John Dennis gave me a bit of a rollicking at half-time in a game. I thank him for that.  I needed to get on top of a few things and I managed to do it. I knew I had to knuckle down and be more professional. That’s exactly what I did and then things started to turn for me in a positive way.”

Taggart eventually played 247 games for Barnsley, who he joined as a teenager midway through the 1989/90 season from Manchester City.  He said: “Some of the best years of my football career, on and off the pitch, were at Barnsley.  It was the place where I learned a lot after being thrown in at the deep end at 19.  Barring one or two hiccups, I never looked back and it was a great grounding for me. Without going to Barnsley, I wouldn’t have gained the experience I needed to get to the level I eventually got to.  I made my international debut while I was there and I played about 30 times for Northern Ireland when I was a Barnsley player.” 

Asked for his Oakwell highlights, Taggart said: “I scored on my debut against Brighton within about ten minutes of coming on as a sub. That sort of set the stage for my relationship with the fans.  We were second-bottom of the league so it was a real relegation battle. The win at Elland Road that season against Leeds was massive because we needed to win to make sure we would stay up.

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“The game against West Ham in the FA Cup (a 4-1 victory in 1993) stands out because it was a big occasion and we got a big win.  “We had a very tough game against Bromsgove in the FA Cup the next season. It was a massive game for us, because we were really struggling at that time and the fans were starting to turn on us then we managed to turn it round.”

Taggart was signed by Mel Machin, who was the manager for the majority of his Oakwell stint which ended with one season each under Viv Anderson and Danny Wilson. He said: “I was very fond of all the managers I played under. I was Mel’s first signing. He came with big expectations but, sadly for him, he just couldn’t pull it off.  Viv was a great bloke but I don’t think he was cut out for being a manager.  Danny was the most well-rounded manager.  He took to it like a duck to water.  He was really good with the players but had a fiery side as well. He won Player of the Season as manager and I was a bit disappointed I didn’t win it myself but, in fairness, he deserved it. That was a really good season and we nearly got in the play-offs.”

After that 1994/95 campaign, Taggart moved to Premier League Bolton Wanderers for a reported £1.5million.  He said: “The time was right to leave. It wasn’t a case of wanting to leave, it was having to leave because I thought I had got to the level where I needed to move on at 24 years old having been at Oakwell for five years.  Clubs were wanting to spend money on me and Barnsley were a selling club.  There was no malice between me and the management.”

Bolton were relegated from the Premier League a year later but, the following season, got back there along with Wilson’s Reds. He said: “I was a little bit envious when Barnsley got to the Premiership because I tried for five years to get them up.  When the lads did it, I was over the moon for them and, in a way, it was perfect because we went up with Bolton as well. But there was a tinge of envy because I wasn’t there when Barnsley got to the Premiership.  “I had a lot of time for Danny and Eric Winstanley and I knew a lot of the players.” 

Taggart eventually moved on to Leicester City where he is now club ambassador for, a full-time role.