HEROES from Barnsley’s only team to reach the top flight were delighted to see the Reds challenging for the Premier League again this season and hope it is the start of another successful era.

Valerien Ismael guided the Oakwell club to fifth in the Championship – the first time they finished above 15th since 2000 – but they lost the play-off semi-final to Swansea City.

That meant they fell two games short of repeating the promotion achieved 24 years ago by Danny Wilson’s side.

Neil Redfearn, the captain from the 1996/97 season, told the Chronicle: “The beauty of having a successful story is that it is always there to be beaten and surpassed.

“I know quite a few players like Alex Mowatt and Clarke Oduor from my time at Leeds.

“They have been absolutely brilliant, to go from fighting off relegation to making the play-offs is an unbelievable feat.

“I took in a few games for TalkSport.

“You could compare them to our team in 1996/97 with their positivity and their front foot closing down mentality to put teams under pressure. That’s the way to play.

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“Ismael has got to take real credit for that, and the owners and everyone at the club. The players have done themselves proud.

“Everyone is talking about being unlucky, but this needs to be the start of something. It took us three years under Danny to get promoted. They are bang on the right lines to do the same.

“It is so heart-warming for me. It’s my club and I just want them to succeed.

“Barnsley is such a fantastic place with salt of the Earth people and the football club is the centre of it. What they have done this season is very similar to what we did in terms of galvanising the people in Barnsley – it’s a joy to behold.”

Wilson had hoped Ismael would emulate him in taking Barnsley to the top flight. He said: “I have watched all the games I could watch on TV and I think they have done fantastic. Ismael has brought the club together, found a style that gets the best out of the players and they have all enjoyed it.

“Some of the players have had terrific seasons and I am sure there will be a few clubs knocking on the door for them.

“It’s always disappointing when you don’t quite manage to finish it off, and I had my fingers crossed for them against Swansea but unfortunately they didn’t quite manage to do it.

“But it’s been a great season.

“Maybe if the fans had been there, it might have been even better because I remember, when we were trying to get promoted, the fans gave us a big lift.

“I am sure next season they will want to replicate that and the fans will enjoy it.”

Wilson was manager the second time when Barnsley started their policy of mainly signing young players from the lower leagues.

“They have a certain philosophy of how they recruit which has served them very very well. To get to where they have got with that approach is brilliant.

“All clubs would like to do that but you need time and patience from everyone from the owners down to the supporters.

“I think most fans understand that is the road they are going down and hopefully get behind them.”

Adi Moses, who played every game for Barnsley in the Premier League season, has a season ticket with his two sons so has watched most of Barnsley’s games on iFollow this season.

He said: “One of the big positives in lockdown, when it was tough and the kids were off school, was that the games were something to look forward to.

“Because Barnsley have been a bit of yoyo club recently, you expect them to be near the bottom of the Championship.

“It’s been a phenomenal achievement after staying up last season. The manager has obviously done an incredible job, and they’ve broken a lot of records.

“It’s not just about comparing to what we did, what they have achieved has been phenomenal and put the club back on the map. Hopefully they can kick on.

“They might lose players but hopefully it will be a more attractive club to come to after this season.

“Oakwell will be buzzing next season when the fans can go back.

“I honestly thought they were going to go up but they fell just short.”

Nicky Eaden, from Darfield, played every game in the 1996/97 season and is now working at an academy in Jamaica.

He said: “I’ve followed it as much as I could out here.

“I think the big difference this time is how much positivity there has been surrounding the club which we didn’t have as much of because it was expected that we would be up there.

“We had been in the promotion picture for a few years, but this time it is a big surprise. They went full circle from last season when there were rumblings about the owners and the model they were using.

“You could call it a stroke of luck with Wigan’s points deduction, but they have been on an unbelievable run.

“If they had gone up, it would have given the town a massive lift coming out of lockdown.

“But you pretty much end up with what you deserve at the end of a season.”