"He just shrank.." Ex-Barnsley skipper recalls when Sheffield Wednesday boss Darren Moore faced down Manchester United legend Roy Keane in Oakwell scuffle
Like on the arrival of a villain in spaghetti western saloon bar, the clatter of studs stopped dead and all fell silent in the Oakwell tunnel as Darren Moore turned slowly towards Roy Keane with the look of a man confused.
Barnsley had just beaten Ipswich Town 2-1 courtesy of a late goal by Jonathan Macken. And Keane, who was experiencing a testing start to his time as manager of the bottom-placed visiting side, was predictably unhappy with how things had gone.
Moore, a man mountain centre half entering the twilight of his career, had won a foul in the build-up to the winning goal. And as the triumphant Barnsley players clapped their supporters and made their way off the field that October 2009 afternoon, few noticed the Ipswich boss crashing down the touchline having said his piece to the referee.
“Going into the tunnel, Keane barged in and muttered something under his breath as Mooro was walking past,” remembered then-Tykes captain and Moore’s centre-half partner Stephen Foster, speaking to The Star.
“Mooro gave him a chance to change his mind. He stopped dead and asked him to repeat himself. Roy said ‘You go down easy for a big man, don't you?’ Well, Mooro's face. He didn't say a thing, he just turned around, squared up to him and just stood there, looking down on him.”
Foster recalls half a moment of silence as those present wondered how this clash of the titans would play out. Former teammates of Moore recall what is apparently known in football circles as ‘The Brow’, a signal of danger that sees the big man lower his head, narrow his eyes and raise his eyebrows to inform you he is unimpressed.
Few continue with their behaviour when The Brow is enacted. Known as one of football’s great gentlemen, Moore the player had a seldom-flicked switch you didn’t want to play with.
“Keane just shrank in Mooro’s shadow,” Foster remembered, laughing.
“It was the first and only time I'd seen or heard of Roy looking that way, he’s obviously a tough bloke. There was a little bit of a scuffle, no real fighting. But Roy certainly regretted muttering those words to Mooro as he walked past.”
Darren Moore joined Barnsley in 2008 at the age of 34. Coming off the back of two years with Derby County – the second of which was that season in which they collected just 11 Premier League points – he felt he still had something to prove to the game.
The fact was that the signing was something of a coup for the Tykes, who under Simon Davey were putting together an ambitious squad featuring players from Brazil, Peru and Holland.
And Foster, who says it has been of absolutely no surprise Moore has gone on to become manager of a club the size of Sheffield Wednesday, looks back on a calming presence as his initial impression.
Moore, he says, immediately struck him and everyone at the club as a born leader.
He said: “I was captain and to be fair I remember thinking I wouldn't have turned my nose up if the captaincy had been passed on to Mooro, he'd been captain of clubs in the past before he came to Barnsley.
“He's the type of character that leads by example, vocal in the dressing room and vocal on the pitch. I remember thinking he had that presence from the very start, both on and off the field. At the same time he was a calming voice, you knew he was alongside you in the team and was a great influence for us.
“Straight away it was clear he obviously absolutely loved the game. He wasn't one to speak out or take over meetings, he wasn’t one of those really over-vocal captain types.
“But he'd always have his say and if he didn't agree with what was going on he'd voice that opinion, but it was always respectful for the management and players. He was a gentleman.
“That said, if he felt one of the lads had stepped out of line and he felt that level of respect was broken by a player, he'd be the first to question that with the player involved.”
Some 13 years on, Moore has built himself a solid reputation in coaching and on Saturday heads back to Barnsley for a South Yorkshire derby lite – a preseason friendly with his Owls side most likely to be played at the Tykes training facility.
It was against at promotion-chasing Barnsley that he collected his first win back in March and he will hope to build a similar momentum as they forge on in their preparations for the 2021/22 season back in League One.
His is a challenge Foster knows his old partner-in-crime will be facing head on, building a culture at Wednesday in which players will fight harder than before.
“He's a tough bloke, Darren, but he’s also a real gentleman,” he said. “If you're playing under him and you're putting it in week-in, week-out, you won't have too much of an issue, he respects that and loves a good pro.
“Mooro has a minimum expectation of people putting in as much effort as he does and he works very hard. Off the pitch he got on with everyone, nobody really had a problem with him, he was up for the banter and having the mick taken out of him.
“The fact is that if you go into war, you want Darren Moore in the trenches with you. When you were losing a game or you were under pressure, he was one you'd be looking for and you could guarantee he'd stand up and fight with you. He’ll be the same as a coach.”
Beware ‘The Brow’ then, Wednesday players. It sounds like Roy Keane wishes he had.