MONDAY’S play-off final will take place almost a year to the day since Barnsley’s newly-assembled board met with the press in Patrick’s Lounge at Oakwell to discuss their vision for the club.
There was tentative talk of an immediate promotion challenge by the likes of new chairman Neerav Parekh but the main focus was on healing the wounds opened by his predecessor Paul Conway and Chien Lee and dealing with the financial and morale-sapping consequences of finishing last in the Championship with six wins from 46 games.
That was the first step in a long journey from misery to possible glory on Monday, with the other crucial ingredients being the appointment of inspirational head coach Michael Duff, good recruitment and the superb work of a talented and committed group of players. The efforts of a much more engaged board have also helped to bring most of the fans back on side after the grim Conway years.
Launching a professional women’s team and bringing the local Sunday League finals back to Wembley are important steps for the community – while the academy continues to thrive with the under 18s completing the double this week.
But ultimately most supporters care most about the fortunes of the first team.
They especially care about promotion.
And they care very much about beating Sheffield Wednesday.
All of which can be achieved in the League One play-off final on Monday.
Duff played once at the old Wembley and once at the new stadium.
He won the FA Trophy with Cheltenham – then a non-league club – in 1998, with a 1-0 victory over Southport whose player/manager was Reds legend Paul Futcher.
That was near the start of a club career which arguably reached its peak 11 years later when Duff played in Burnley’s win over Sheffield United 1-0 to reach the Premier League.
Martin Paterson, the Reds assistant, also played for Burnley that day and the duo will now plot the downfall of the other club from the Steel City.
It is his first Wembley visit as a manager, after his Cheltenham side lost a 2-0 lead by going down 3-0 at home to Northampton in the League Two semi-final second leg in 2020.
Were he to win promotion with Barnsley in his first season it would be, in many ways, ahead of schedule.
Most expected a transitional, rebuild season and those behind the scenes have been keen to point out the wagebill of the current squad at Oakwell would not put them in League One’s top ten.
But, now they are there, it is a massive opportunity to bounce immediately back to the second tier.
Players are likely to be sold in the summer either way, but the scale of the departures – including some loan stars – and the ability to replace them well will be very different depending on the division the Reds are in.
The chances of keeping Duff for longer will also increase as clubs are bound to be interested in him.
While chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad told the Chronicle last week the Reds can cope financially with another year in the third tier, an extra £8million would be a Godsend for a club helped out by equity injections from the board this season.
Whatever happens, there has been huge progress made over the last 12 months and the club is in a far better place but Monday is a massive opportunity to achieve something truly special.