Former Barnsley captain Chris Morgan regularly returns to Oakwell in his role as an agent representing Cauley Woodrow and Conor Chaplin – and says he gets a generally positive reaction from fans. 

The Penistone man came through the youth system at his hometown club then played 215 Reds games between 1997 and 2003, including in the Premiership and a Wembley play-off final, before leaving for Sheffield United. After spells as a coach with the Blades, Chesterfield and Port Vale, he joined Stellar Football agency in 2018 as their Yorkshire representative. Stellar’s two clients at Oakwell happen to be Barnsley’s top-scorers this season, with Woodrow netting 15 goals and Chaplin 12 despite playing for the Championship’s bottom club. 

Although Woodrow is contracted until 2022 and Chaplin the year after, they are expected to attract interest from other clubs when the transfer window re-opens following the coronavirus lockdown.  In a wide-ranging interview covering his Barnsley career as well as his current work, Morgan told the Chronicle: “I look after the players Stellar represents in Yorkshire which includes Cauley and Conor.

"They are both having excellent seasons, even though both of them have had to change positions. Conor came in as a number ten or wide man and he’s actually playing as an out and out centre forward. Cauley arrived as a striker but he’s playing as a number ten or at the tip of a midfield diamond.  They have made a huge impact and it’s great they are doing really well. 

“I am sure there will be interest in them. In any market, people always want goal-scorers first and foremost. We will have to see what happens when the window opens. At the moment, they are focused on playing for Barnsley. I speak regularly with Dane Murphy (Barnsley’s chief executive). 

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“I know that Barnsley is a great club for any young player to be at.  They have a system in place of developing players and selling them on, which is frustrating for supporters because their best players move on quite regularly. But it’s the model that is keeping the club alive and flourishing.” 

Morgan was once a young player at Oakwell himself. The defender made his debut for his hometown club under Danny Wilson in a 6-0 loss at West Ham United in the Premiership in January 1998. He said: “I signed as an apprentice aged 16, after being attached to the football club since I was ten. So it was amazing for a lad to come through from Barnsley Boys and the club’s youth teams then play in the Premiership.

“We had great coaches like Eric Winstanley, Colin Walker and Malcolm Shotton bringing players through. I followed people like Dave Watson, Nicky Eaden, Andy Liddell, Scott Jones and Adi Moses. It was a fantastic conveyer belt of good local lads.  It was special to make my debut even though we took a real good thumping.  My highlight from that first season is the 1-0 win at Villa Park. Of the back six, including the goalkeeper, five of us had come through the youth system. That’s amazing. 

“I remember playing at Newcastle in the FA Cup which was an amazing atmosphere. I swapped shirts with Alan Shearer and I have it framed in my office at home. There were the Manchester United games in the FA Cup as well, which were special. In the end, we just didn’t do enough to stay up but it was a special time for everyone who was privileged to play for Barnsley in the top flight.”

After being in and out of the side under Wilson’s replacement John Hendrie, Morgan was a regular for Dave Bassett in the 1999/2000 season which saw him win Player of the Year for a side that lost the play-off final to Ipswich Town at Wembley.  Morgan was also part of the team that went down to the third tier in 2002 then moved to Bramall Lane from the cash-strapped Reds on a free transfer a year later.  He said: “The club went into administration and there were quite a few managers after Dave Bassett left. There was a big break-up of the squad. The club under John Dennis was really well run but they had the time in the Premiership then tried to fund a team to get back there and that led to the money troubles and the relegation. 

“I think back to that season in League One and we really struggled. It was the start of a down period for the club. You have peaks and troughs. We had had the real good times but then the club went in the other direction for a few years.  “I think some people think I shouldn’t have left for a local rival when the club was in that position. But it was time for me to leave.”

Morgan was involved in an incident when United played at Oakwell in November 2008.  Barnsley striker Iain Hume was left with a fractured skull after an aerial challenge with Morgan, who says the pair have never met or spoken since. He said: “It was not just in local press but in the national press as well. It was a big story.  It was a testing time for me and my family and, on the other side, I am sure it was not a pleasant time for Iain and his family. “It was a situation that had to be dealt with, outside of football. 

“I go back to Oakwell quite often and generally get a very warm welcome from the fans and the staff. I find it a very friendly environment.  There will always be a certain element of supporters who aren’t as welcoming to me but they are only a few individuals. They are entitled to their opinions.”

Overall, Morgan holds the Reds in very high regard. He said: “I’m ridiculously proud of my time at Barnsley. I achieved what I dreamed of as a boy, which was playing for Barnsley at the highest level.  “I have great memories, not just of games, but of sweeping the old away end and cleaning boots or wiping showers down as an academy player.  We would have to clean bird muck off seats before our youth team games. It was a big learning point for me and those sort of times carried me through my career.”    

See next week’s Chronicle for a comprehensive look back at the 1999/2000 season and play-off final – including interviews with most of the team as well as manager Dave Bassett and chairman John Dennis.