Neil Redfearn certainly has had an illustrious career in the game. Whether he’d be running the midfield as a player for some big clubs, to shouting tactics from the dugout as a manager, football runs deep throughout his body and has done so his whole life.
Representing the likes of Lincoln City, Bradford City and Barnsley in a playing career that lasted for 26 years, Redfearm would later step into the world of management, going on to take caretaker charge of Halifax Town and Leeds United several times, as well as stepping into the Women’s game more recently, taking charge of the likes of Liverpool Women and Sheffield United Women.
In an exclusive interview with The Real EFL, Redfearn touched on some of his greatest achievements and stories from his long career in the game, starting off when he signed for his first club, Bolton Wanderers.
“Before I signed (for Bolton Wanderers), I met the manager there, who at the time was George Mullen. My dad, who has been a big influence on my career, he met George with me at Cleckheaton golf club of all the glamorous places to outline what it would mean to sign for Bolton.
“We then got down to the contract and the money and because my dad was a pro himself for 15 years, he basically said to George: ‘What if he gets in your first team? What about appearance money?’ George then went: ‘Well, he’s only seventeen. I’ve seen your first team and he’ll get in it.’
“Two or three months after that, I made my debut in a match against Rotherham at seventeen and I made another 35 appearances for Bolton before moving on.”
In a career full of highs, one of Redfearm’s darkest and most unforgettable days in football came back in 1985: the year of the Bradford City fire, which sadly claimed the lives of 56 people at Valley Parade.
Redfearn, who was playing for Lincoln City at Valley Parade on the day, remembers the day well with the midfielder being involved in the game, as well as having family attend the fixture in what proved to be Bradford’s darkest day on what should have been a special occasion for the Bantams.
“It was a celebration for Bradford City because they actually won the Third Division Championship and they got promoted. We kicked off five minutes after 3PM so they could parade the trophy around Valley Parade.
“We still needed points to stay up, but what unfolded after that was surreal. It will live with me forever. It was just a horrific event. There was such bravery from firemen and policemen, stewards at the club. It was just a sad day when it should’ve been a celebration of Bradford getting promoted.
“It was difficult to calculate and when that time comes around every year, it brings back those memories. My dad was in the stand, my father-in-law, and my dad’s friends because being a Bradford lad, it was a big game despite the fact I was playing for Lincoln City.
“I played for Bradford City years after when they were in the Premier League. I can remember every time I turned out on the pitch and look at the main stand, it still comes back. A really tragic set of events.”
Leaving the Imps in 1986, Redfearm went on to have spells at the likes of Doncaster Rovers, Crystal Palace, Watford and Oldham Athletic, before eventually making the move back to Yorkshire to sign for Barnsley in 1991.
In a spell at seven-year spell at Oakwell in which he rarely missed a game for the club, Redfearn went on to make 292 appearances for the Tykes, scoring 72 goals from midfield as he obtained club legend status from their supporters.
When he first joined Barnsley, the former midfielder explained how he felt right at home straight away following an unsettling few years in which he moved from club to club.
“I’ve been a bit of a journeyman. I’ve always been quite level-headed. For me, if I got picked, great. If I didn’t, I wanted to go. I’ve had run-ins with managers.
“I arrived at Barnsley and there was something about Barnsley which just felt right. I knew I had to settle down as a player. I was at the height of my abilities.
“I’m a Yorkshire fellow, and you can’t get any more Yorkshire than Barnsley. It was just a perfect match. For me, it was a time when I was right at the height of my powers. I was playing well, scoring goals, getting double figures every season. I just really enjoyed my time there.”
Nowadays, Barnsley are gearing up ahead of another season in League One after losing the Playoff Final at Wembley in heart-breaking fashion, conceding in the 123rd minute to Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday for the Owls to claim victory and seal a return to the Championship.
In a summer that has seen boss Michael Duff depart for Swansea City, Barnsley have turned to Neill Collins as the man that will hopefully reinstate their Championship status: an appointment that Redfearm is approving of after encountering with him whilst at Leeds United.
“I remember Neill (Collins) at Leeds as he was one of Simon Grayson’s signings. He played in the side that got promoted.
“He’s been successful in America and what Barnsley are excellent at is that they’re very shrewd with their data. They seem to pick them out and they do well. I can see Neill doing well.
“He’s an upcoming manager who also has some good ideas. he’s got Jon Stead with him, who had a long and successful football career. They’re both young so I’d say that’s a good appointment for me.”
Towards the back end of his playing career, Redfearn always had that passion to keep playing, dropping down to the lower leagues to play for the likes of Bradford Park Avenue, Stockbridge Park Steels, Frickley Athletic, Bridlington Town and Emley, before ending his illustrious career at the lower league side Salford City.
It was at Bradford Park Avenue in which Redfearn made his 1000th appearance in football, in what the former midfielder called a “proud moment” but alongside that, he went on to express his desire of just wanting to keep playing.
He had an obsession with scoring goals: something that he would echo to the youth players when he was at Leeds United to get in the habit of doing.
“I remember my 1000th first-class game and that was for Bradford Park Avenue, which was one of my dad’s former clubs. He was there and that was a proud moment, to get a shirt with the number 1000 on it.
“There weren’t really any targets in terms of games. I just wanted to keep playing, to be honest. I loved scoring goals. I was obsessed with scoring goals. For me, my experience tells me if you want to be any good at something, you’ve got to be obsessed. You’ve got to live it.
“I used to say it to the young players at Leeds United. I used to say to the strikers ‘When you wake up in the morning, think goals. Before you go to bed, think goals.’ You’ve got to get obsessed with it. If you’re obsessed with it, you’ll find a way to get them.”
After ending his playing career, Redfearm would make the move into management, having spells as caretaker charge of Halifax Town and Leeds United, before recently taking steps into the women’s game, with his last job being with Sheffield United Women between 2020 and 2022.
When asked for advice of former players stepping into the world of management, some of Redfearn’s top tips is by being as genuine as you can be, being upbeat and embracing the job at hand and respecting the people who you manage on a daily basis.
When asked for management advice, Redfearn stated: “I’d definitely be genuine. Be yourself because if for whatever reason you’re there for however how long and you come to look at it in the cold light of day, you want to have the feeling that you’ve gone in there and you’ve been yourself.
“Listen to everything. Trust the people around you. You’ve got to give responsibility and you’ve got to empower people. You can’t do the job on your own and it’s how you embrace that and how you include the staff, the owners and the directors, is so important. You need to talk to people. You can’t isolate yourself.
“You also need to have that enthusiasm as you’re at the top of it. If you’re not enthusiastic, how can your players be enthusiastic? You’ve got to come in with a smile on your face if you got beat. If you get beat, you go again and win the next game.”
Click the link below to listen to Neil Redfearm’s interview in full…