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In 1982, an army of 17,000 was mobilized over the mist-clad Pennine mountains to be deployed in Anfield, home of the mighty Liverpool Football Club. The fans of Barnsley FC were rewarded with a gutsy 0-0 draw.

Fifteen years later, Barnsley had reached the top level of English football for the first time in their history. The home and away games with Liverpool that season were both momentous occasions for the South Yorkshire side, who had caught the nation’s affections as they did weekly battle with the big guns of the English soccer aristocracy.

Astonishingly, Barnsley caused a major upset by beating Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield, despite remaining under siege for much of the match. The game at Oakwell early in 1998 was an altogether different affair.

After languishing at the foot of the table for several months, Barnsley staged a revival in February and March of 1998.

Fans began to believe that their team’s  samba-style football and their shamelessly optimistic theme song “It’s just like watching Brazil” (to the tune of “Blue Moon”) might just be enough to ensure survival for one more season.

They had not bargained for the home game with Liverpool and match referee Gary Willard.

Much has been written about this game. For Barnsley fans, it is difficult to discuss the afternoon’s events without foaming at the mouth.

Needless to say, Barnsley lost the game. At 1-1, the referee sent off two Barnsley players. Liverpool went ahead 2-1. Unbelievably, the nine men levelled the scores at 2-2. Mr. Willard then sent off a third Barnsley player.

In the last minute, Liverpool grabbed the winner. A darker mood was never witnessed at Oakwell. Mr. Willard required a police escort from the pitch. The team’s league form never recovered from this game, and they were relegated before the end of the season.

Barnsley’s tilt at the Premiership is documented by Mark Hodkinson in the book ‘Life at the Top’. He is not a Barnsley fan, and therefore offers a more balanced view of that afternoon’s events. Here is an excerpt from the book:

Willard chose precisely the wrong place to stage his three-card trick. Barnsley does not suffer fools and it has a historical mistrust of authority. While, like most clubs, Barnsley has undergone what sociologists call “embourgoisement” – you know, serviettes supplied with the pies, toilets that flush, fans that applaud David Seaman because he is the England goalkeeper, etc… – there remains a mass of support based on fierce parochialism. They are ex-miners, and sons of ex-miners, once the aristocracy of the working class, now left with too much time on their hands to ponder Barnsley’s next match.

Back in the 1970s, they saw through the smoke and mirrors and detected that the National Coal Board had a secret agenda. They were patronised, told that too much time underground had made them over-fond of baseless conspiracy theories. In the 1980s the pits duly closed and their frustration was played out against lines of policemen.

The resentment, institutionalised now, still exists in Barnsley. The football club has become a focus for regional pride and naked passion; a two-fingered wave back to a country that they believe has consigned them to afternoon television and twice-weekly trips to the job club. Their nemesis arrived last weekend in the shape of a divorced father-of-two civil servant with a Saturday job as a football referee. There are “honest” fouls in football – a clip of the heel, a shift of weight to slow up an opponent’s run – and there are dishonest ones, too. Willard permitted the cynical, the puerile and the snide but gleefully punished the trivial.

After this injustice had been reinforced beyond the point of tolerance, ill-feeling spread through Oakwell like a malignant Mexican wave.

For a longer excerpt, see here.

Tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. GMT, the FA Cup fifth round match between Liverpool and Barnsley will kick off at Anfield.

Barnsley are now a mid-table Championship club. Getting a result at Premiership Liverpool tomorrow would be touted as a giant-killing. Realistically, the best most of us hope for is a draw or a hard-fought defeat with predictably sympathetic “Battling Barnsley” headlines.

But tonight, hope remains. At 10:00 in the morning, with five feet snow banks lining our driveway, our family will settle on the sofa to watch the game live on Fox Sports World Canada. Ritualistically, my sons and I will don our replica Barnsley shirts and, as the game kicks off, let optimism soar.

I will ask them to scan the hordes of Barnsley fans. And try to spot Grandad.

The distance between home and abroad, past and present, hope and reality, their childhood and mine, will shrink.

By half-time, the game may well be as good as over.

And, should Barnsley lose, they will handle the pain of defeat less well than me. And part of me will feel guilty for having subjected them to this. Even though they can’t wait to watch.

But I also know that they will always remember this game.

And that’s important as well.

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Addendum: Guess what. Score level with 30 seconds to go, then this happens.

Brian Howard’s glory strike in Arabic.

Or in French:

Cue household delirium.

They will definitely remember this game.

Full match report here.

And this is how the shocked pundits saw it unfold:

Match of the Day highlights:

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 In most marriages and long-term cohabitations, each partner’s approach to domestication can cause friction.

Typically, flashpoints will include the build-up of dryer lint, toast crumb accumulation, misuse of shower curtain, or failure to replenish fresh cat litter.

Over time, reactions to these domestic flashpoints can develop in a number of ways. In fact, the continued success of the relationship may depend upon the nature of this development. Here are three possible scenarios:

In scenario one, the flashpoints assume nuclear proportions. As a result, other areas of irritation can mushroom at an alarming rate. New flashpoints may involve flagrant margarine melting, sock clutter, and a cavalier approach to toothpaste caps. Relationship meltdown can rapidly ensue.

Scenario two is far more idyllic. Idiosyncratic domestic habits become warm and familiar reminders of your uniquely adorable partner. Just strolling around the house witnessing the spray of evidence becomes pure pleasure.  

“Ah bless, the bathroom floor is dripping through to the lounge ceiling again.”

“Aw look, see how the light of my life leaves eighteen pairs of shoes tossed about the hallway.”

“My sweet love has once again left last week’s pool of cat vomit in the basement, despite promising to clean it up – mmm.”

 Idyllic, yes, but there’s something unnerving about this mental shift.

Scenario three is, I suspect, the most typical. Yes, it’s that sigh of acceptance. It’s those raised eyebrows of resignation, the bowed back of domestic martyrdom. The years ahead can look like a long and dusty road.

As usual, nature has provided the perfect solution. At least for many.

The solution is mind-blowingly simple.

Pay the natural offspring. Just pay the kids to mop up after the aberrant habits. Just give each kid a list of five chores. The solution assumes an average of two kids per couple.

In the solution, each partner is allowed to choose five chores which will address the annoying habit consequences of the other. Also, each partner is then allowed to carry on with their shamefully uncivilised habits.

 If there are more than five habits, you’ll simply have to make (or adopt) more children.

For the cash outlay, the North American term of “allowance” is perfect. “Pocket money” doesn’t quite cover it here.

Upshot: Both partners get to keep their worst habits, both partners are happy that they won’t have to deal with the fallout, and the kids get cold hard cash (plus happy parents). Domestic bliss ensues.

Interestingly, when we compiled our post-nuptial allowance lists, my sheet of paper listing my wife’s annoying habits remained absolutely blank. Idyllic or what?

The kids seem busy with the other list, though.

Anyone got a list to share?

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