TWO LONG-EXPECTED events took place this week in the world of Barnsley FC.
The Reds finally sank to the bottom of the Championship, and their chief executive spoke publicly to supporters.
Khaled El-Ahmad, the CEO, spent almost all of Tuesday afternoon on a video call with supporters’ trust members Ben Lockwood and Paul Gallagher who impressively and passionately grilled him on a wide range of issues with questions submitted by supporters. No reporters were permitted to ask questions, with a possible press conference taking place in the near future.
It is the first time El-Ahmad has spoken in public since early November, just after the sacking of Markus Schopp and the appointment of Poya Asbaghi whose side is last, eight points from safety, with two wins from 24 games. The issues discussed ranged from new grills at the concession stands to the transfer policy, January window plans, West Stand closure, possible move from Oakwell and the owners’ future at the club.
El-Ahmad should get some credit for fronting up and talking to supporters – which some CEOs never do – and he at least gave thorough explanations for some of the decisions he was involved in such as the loan extension of Herbie Kane, the stand closure and the club’s general commitment to youth over experience. Many supporters may not like those answers or agree with them but at least they are out in the public domain.
But, as he evaded various topics and simply could not answer other questions, it was clear that the real man in the hotsteat at some point must be co-chairman and owner Paul Conway.
The Reds are clearly being run much better financially than the likes of Derby County.
But issues such as discussions with other clubs over a groundshare and the three quarters of a million pounds instalment for the sale of the club paid by the club rather than Conway’s company are gnawing away at many of the supporters and, until they are resolved, there will be a chasm between the boardroom and increasingly-empty terraces. As El-Ahmad himself acknowledged, out of more than 400 questions, none of them were ‘positive’ in the sense of complimenting the club or wanting to discuss something he or the owners had done well. That is not surprising and shows the mood around the town and the fans.
That meeting took place three days after Barnsley – who did not play this week due to a Covid-19 outbreak – sank to the bottom of the Championship due to Derby’s win over Sheffield United. It is obviously totally humiliating to be below a side who were docked 21 points, at pretty much the halfway point in the season.
But it is also telling Derby have done this after signing only very experienced free agents last summer – something Barnsley refuse to do, instead making seven signings last summer who have had little impact so far.
The Rams seem like a unified side giving everything for the cause that the fans can get behind, whereas the Reds are struggling to inspire their supporters after a series of poor performances.
Derby are in continued financial problems, and there have been some reports that they may not complete the season. But, even if that is the case, the Reds will have to reel in two more teams.
This time last year Barnsley were just about to start a remarkable run of results which would catapult them into the play-offs.
With another packed spring schedule ahead, they need something at least remotely similar this time to stay up, as about half of the 66 remaining points must be taken while they will need roughly ten wins in the second of the season after only two in the first half.
Usually if a side were eight points off their objective, with two games in hand on the teams above them, and 22 matches left, you would say it is still all to play for. But this dismal campaign so far offers little cause for optimism, with a season-changing victory needed this week.
Sides to be relegated from the second tier the season after making the play-offs are Wigan Athletic in 2015, Leeds United in 2007, Cambridge United in 1993 and Brighton and Hove Albion in 1992. No club has ever finished last in the second tier the year after reaching the second tier play-offs. That is one of a series of unwanted records the Reds are on the precipice of breaking.
There may well be some very rough months ahead. But the owners have brought it on themselves with a series of decisions over the last eight months which range from mistakes to negligence to catastrophe.