BARNSLEY legends have paid tribute to former Reds captain and coach Eric Winstanley who died last week at the age of 76.
Winstanley played 461 games for his hometown club before enjoying great success as a youth coach and assistant manager as the Reds reached the Premier League in 1997. A shirt bearing his name was in the Barnsley dugout in their play-off game on Saturday while the players also wore black armbands.
Eric’s son Andrew said: “My dad was a down to Earth Barnsley bloke and a proper family man. It’s a really, really sad loss for us as a family.
“After he died, I contacted a lot of his former team-mates and players he coached and they were all very emotional. Towards the end, my dad felt his time had gone and no one wanted to know about him anymore, so he would have been shocked to see the reaction.
“The club have been outstanding.
“To see the shirt in the dugout in Swansea was an amazing gesture.
“I’d like to thank the fans for their reaction which has got us through a difficult time.”
Danny Wilson, to whom Eric was assistant manager when Barnsley reached the top flight, led the tributes.
Wilson told the Chronicle: “I am devastated and heart-broken, especially for his family. It came as a complete surprise.
“He was a great friend as well as a colleague. He was a terrific guy who was very wise and taught me so many things about myself and about football.
“He will leave a big, big void. It’s just so sad. My wife and kids all knew him and we’ll all miss him a lot.
“Sadly Norman Rimmington passed away a couple of years ago and he and Eric are type of stalwarts who devote their lives to a club which doesn’t happen as much now. He was totally dedicated to the Barnsley people and the club, which was his life. He should be remembered with great fondness.”
Pat Howard, his centre-back partner in the 1967/68 promotion team, went on to play in the top flight for Newcastle United and Arsenal.
Howard said: “Eric was a tremendous person, and I couldn’t fault him in anyway. He helped me a lot in my career.
“I was a bit younger than Eric and I used to watch him in the first team as a Barnsley fan. He influenced and inspired me a lot. I owe him a lot.
“At first I was an apprentice and he gave me a quid to clean his boots every week. Then we played together.
“We all looked up to him as captain and we could never doubt him.
“He was as good a centre-back as anyone I played with or against, and I’m including a lot of top players in that.
“If he hadn’t got his knee injury, I am sure he would have gone to the top level.
“He was more than good enough to do as well as I did. He was definitely the best centre-backs at attacking corners and free-kicks that I’ve ever seen.
“In these days that operation would have been pretty straight forward but back then it held him back.”
Barry Murphy, Barnsley’s leading appearance-maker, added: “When I first came to Barnsley in 1962, Eric was one of the first friends I made and we spent a lot of time together.
“I used to go his parents’ house for fish and chips every Friday.
“Eric wasn’t the best of trainers.
“He used to have a go at me because I would always be way out in front when we were running. But in games he was magnificent. He was the best player I ever played with, by far. If he hadn’t had the knee injury, he would have played for England.
“He was a lovely lad, from a working class family and his dad was a miner.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard he had died. He was no age but life is cruel sometimes. I will miss him a lot.”
John Dennis’ father Ernest was chairman when Eric was a player then John was chairman in the 1990s when Winstanley helped secure promotion to the top flight.
John said: “He was one of my all-time favourite Barnsley players.
“I’ve lost a hero and a friend, and his family have lost a father, grandfather and husband.
“He was a top bloke, a legend as a player and his contribution in developing players was crucial.
“We owe him a great debt of gratitude. I have known him a long time and it was a terrible shock.”
Neil Redfearn was captain of Barnsley in the 1990s and later took Winstanley to Scarborough and the Leeds United academy. He said: “It hit me hard because I was very close to Eric. He was a fantastic coach and very innovative.
“The type of football we played, with the ‘just like watching Brazil’ style, was all Eric’s concept and Danny backed him.
“The amount of young players who came through and played in the Premier League was unbelievable. There were games in the top flight when we started six players Eric had brought through from the youth team.
“I remember he used to shout to me to tell Darren Sheridan to play further forward. I was the go-between. Eric would shout to me ‘get that little ****** up the pitch’ and Shez would say ‘tell him to **** off.’ But there was a mutual respect and love from player to staff and staff to player. There are a lot of players who never experience that in their careers.
“Everyone respected Eric. I took him to Scarborough and Leeds with me because of his knowledge and coaching ability. He was a joy to be around him. I would ring him up for a chat about football that would go on for hours.”
Wilson credits Winstanley for a large part of Barnsley’s 1990s success.
“It was a dual thing, it wasn’t just me. Together we gelled very, very well.
“He knew the young players at the club, I trusted his judgement totally and if Eric said that a player was worth bringing into the squad then I never hesitated. He was fantastic for their development.”
Nicky Eaden added: “My dad died a week before our Premiership season started but losing Eric has been a bit like losing my dad again. In football you make a lot of acquaintances but not many friends – but Eric was definitely one of them. I had spoken to him the week before he died.
“He was tough with us, there was a fear factor and a few teapots went flying, but you always knew he was just trying to make us better.
“If Eric had told me to run through a brick wall, I’d have done it twice.
“Mel Machin wanted to release me but Eric fought to keep me and persuaded Viv Anderson and Danny to give me a chance. Eric’s ideas on the game were ahead of their time. I thought everyone was like that but it wasn’t until I left Barnsley that I realised how good he was. He was a mentor to me. I would meet up with him whenever I could.”
Adi Moses said: “I was very upset and it took me aback. We had been hoping to arrange a surprise meet-up for Eric with some of his old players, and it’s gutting that will never happen. It’s so sad to think that we’ll never see him again.
“I wouldn’t have made it as a pro if it hadn’t been for Eric. He meant a lot to me. He converted me to a centre-back and did so much work with me as a coach. When the club was deciding whether to give me a pro contract, I was picked for a reserves game at Newcastle United at St James’ Park which was basically a trial for me. But there was a mix-up and I wasn’t told until that morning. It was too late for me to get there on the bus from my parents’ house, so Eric dropped everything, picked me up, got me on the team bus and I played pretty well then got the contract.
“We knew we could never let our standards slip in the youth team. I remember we beat Hartlepool 7-0, but Eric was furious because he thought we didn’t play well. He made us go out and do a proper cross country run at the back of the stadium. The Hartlepool players were looking at us in amazement as we walked out with our chins on the floor even though we had won 7-0. I think those standards are why so many of his players got into the first team.”