ERIC Tinkler’s day at Wembley began with him fulfilling a childhood dream and ended with a ‘horrible’ bus journey back to Barnsley.

The South African midfielder started the play-off final at a stadium he had always wanted to play at.

Tinkler told the Chronicle: “I remember the final very well. My dream as a young boy was to get a chance of playing at the iconic Wembley Stadium and here I was doing just that.

“We had a great season, beating Charlton Athletic, Manchester City, Birmingham City – all teams that were favourites to gain promotion.

“The only team we struggled against in the league was Ipswich, losing heavily against them in the beginning of the season and then losing again at home against them.

“Obviously it was a massive disappointment losing the final, especially after starting the game well and taking the lead. We should have ended the first half 2-1 up but we missed the penalty. The atmosphere at the stadium was incredible and I believe that only in England could you see two rather small clubs – and that is with no disrespect to Ipswich or Barnsley – filling a massive stadium like Wembley.”

After signing from Cagliari in 1997 when Barnsley were in the Premiership, Tinkler played 121 games and scored nine goals before leaving when the club was in administration in 2002. He said: “I have fond memories of my time at Barnsley.

“I played there for five seasons and obviously the highlight was reaching the play-off final. I wish we had gained promotion that year but unfortunately that was not the case. The bus drive back to Barnsley after the final was horrible to say the least.”

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Tinkler is head coach of Maritzburg United in the South African top flight. He said: “I started my coaching qualifications when I was playing for Barnsley and I am passionate about coaching. Hopefully, one day, I will get the opportunity to coach Barnsley.”