A rough guide to... Barnet

Cod Almighty | Article

by Miles Moss

2 September 2021

There's no place like home, but Edgware is nowhere like home to Bees fans. Miles brings us up to date on Saturdday's opponents Barnet

How are you?

Relieved to be reprieved, desperately seeking stability. In the four seasons since we last played Barnet, they have had eight different managers (26 managerial changes in the last 10 years, including four of Martin Allen's five stints) and they've been at either end of the non-League table.

It's been a weird couple of years, so Bees fans might be looking for a bit more normality this season. I suppose we all are.

Long time, no see?

We last played each other in the fourth division towards the end of 2017-18. Barnet were 2-1 up through Weston and Akpa-Akpro goals, before Mitch Rose-Pen made it 2-2 with eight minutes left. These, their only points dropped in their last five games, proved costly, as they were subsequently relegated on goal difference on the last day, Morecambe's draw at Coventry just keeping them out of reach. Sorry chaps.

Martin Allen resigned from his fifth stint as manager, and Barnet turned to another ex, John Still, giving him a decent budget with ambitions of a swift return to the League. The early optimism soon fizzled out however; Still retired at Christmas and was replaced by his assistant (and ex-Barnet player) Darren Currie.

Bees fans tell me they were impressed by Currie's choice of players and attacking style of play, helping them to upper-mid table and the fourth round of the FA Cup, having beaten Sheffield United in the third. Things were looking up once again until the global pandemic stuck a spanner in the works and the season ground to a halt with Barnet in 11th... untiiiiil the table was rejigged on a points-per-game basis; four teams had amassed more points than Barnet, but crucially the Bees finished a gnat’s fag paper of 0.05 PPG above Stockport, putting them in the play-offs. Notts County beat them in the semi-final.

This a fine old 'fortunately/unfortunately' story, isn’t it. And here comes the next 'unfortunately', courtesy of Michael from the onlyBarnet forum:

"Covid uncertainty was rife that close season, the Hive was not generating money and the chairman decided to cut back spending on the squad in the belief relegation would be scrapped. Currie could not agree a new contract, much to the disappointment of a lot of fans so the club parted ways. What followed was the worst league finish for the club since the 1970s, a string of failed managerial appointments and some truly awful football. Some might say the Chairman's gamble paid off but unrest amongst the fans grew massively."

That "truly awful football" left them 22nd in the table, and they only finished the season with two teams below them because Macclesfield had folded, and Dover's results had been expunged after they refused to play due to a lack of funding. Barnet, along with King's Lynn, were saved from relegation because... well because there was no relegation to the mothballed Nationals North and South this year.

The season started with some promise, four wins from their first seven fixtures; but the following 27 matches resulted in one win, three draws and 21 league defeats, FA Trophy defeat to Dorking Wanderers, and FA Cup exit at the hands of a team who don't even exist. Chesterfield put six goals past them; Eastleigh, Wealdstone, King's Lynn and Halifax all helped themselves to five; Notts County, Woking, Yeovil, and Notts County again, four. The 686 who were there for the last game of the season, a 2-0 victory over champions Sutton, deserve medals.

How are you feeling?

Four managers in less than twelve months. Their lowest finish in over 50 years. Only eight players under contract, and three more offered new deals at the start of this season, the other 22 players from last season shown the door. The only way is up?

Bees fans will hope so, and with new boss Harry Kewell bringing some fresh faces into the club - 12 new players as I write - plus an almost entirely new backroom staff, there's a renewed level of optimism. Starting almost from scratch brings its own challenges, of course, so they'll just have to see how things gel, but so far there have been some strong pre-season performances against higher opposition.

However, that pre-season optimism has been tempered by an opening day 5-0 drubbing at the end of a week which reads like the plot of a sitcom farce. I mean, it's not going to get any worse, is it.

Where are you from?

Well then, here's a bone of contention. Since 2013 Barnet have played at The Hive, and the general feeling is that it still doesn't feel like home. Understandable – the club had been at Underhill for over 100 years and, dilapidated as it was, it was intrinsically their home ground, and importantly, Underhill was in Barnet. The Hive, meanwhile, is in Edgware – only six miles away from Barnet, but this being London, that's an hour's drive - even longer on the bus - for the home fans to get to their own ground. Edgware itself is poorly thought of by Bees fans, an area that has declined from 'unremarkable suburbia' to 'scruffy and forgettable' with most of the good pubs and bars on Edgware High Street having now shut down. Most Bees fans suggest pre-match meet-ups take place elsewhere, such as Camden, or Islington, or central London. Anywhere else.

As for those making a weekend of it, That There London of course has plenty to offer, whatever floats your boat. Theatres, museums, parks and attractions. One helpful Barnet fan suggested a Wembley tour, but I think we know that ground pretty well already, don't we, having played there about as many times as we've played at Barnet.

The Hive itself, all will admit, is a world class facility, and has been used as a training base for many European and national squads. But eight years since Barnet moved in, there's still something wrong. The crowds have gone down year on year, talk on the forums is of a dwindling, ageing fan base, and a seeming inability to attract a new, young generation of Bees fans. Perhaps it's the distance from Barnet which is putting the crowds off, but most likely it's to do with the lack of atmosphere at what feels a facility rather than a home, the general feeling of alienation among the fans who are suffering the modern malaise of being treated as customers, not fans.

Who knows where the passion felt so strongly at an old ground goes. Deep-rooted in the creaking timbers of the mismatched stands, and trodden into the concrete by a billion feet over a hundred years, is that passion still there somewhere in the secondary school where Underhill once stood, drifting around like a ghost? Somebody get a priest!

You must be so …underappreciated?

I have to admit that I was surprised to find Barnet were 133 years old, but I'm probably not alone in having thought of them as a relatively recent club. Sure, a huge percentage of that time has been spent in non-League, but the next surprise is that their alumni is a veritable autograph book of famous names: while still in the Southern League in the 1970s Jimmy Greaves was a Bee. Mark Lawrenson, Dion Dublin and even Bradley Walsh turned out at Underhill. The list of previous managers is full of Panini stickers: Ray Clemence, Tony Cottee, Edgar Davids, Dick Schreuder, and Tim Flowers. And finally, the list of famous fans isn’t a long one, but one name stands out: John Motson.

Pre-match factfile

• Form
Barnet's pre-season form was pretty good, decent performances and results against some tricky opposition: Peterborough, Spurs U23s, Sutton.

• Dangerman
Watch out for new signing Adam Marriott, previously National League North hotshot, with 66 in 99 for King’s Lynn, and with two pre-season goals (a total eclipsed by Trialist B, who has three). Another newbie Bee, Ephron Mason-Clarke, is described as having power, pace and goals. I don't like the sound of that running at me in the 87th minute.

• Ex-Town threat factor
Among the influx of new players is Joe Widdowson, described as an "experienced defender", a bit of a shock for those of us who remember Joe as a promising young defender and think that 2009 was just a couple of years ago

We've been spared an embarrassing meet-up with our ex JJ Hooper, who was one of the 22 released, and with Bilel Mohsni, whose four-week, three-game Barnet career last season left Bees fans disbelieving that he'd been a professional footballer at any level, let alone international.

• Rivalometer
Overall, of our mere 19 games (surprising since we've both been around since the late 1800s) Grimsby hold the upper hand with a 12-3-4 WDL record, but if you discount the first six matches in, which were all Town wins, it's been a bit more balanced since then

There's very little from previous encounters to send the RivalometerTM needle twitching, no players past or present whose names we can only say through gritted teeth, and the Bees fans I've been speaking to recently are a helpful and friendly lot, generally looking forward to our return, having fond memories of Inflatable Sharkgate and of the consequential Mariachi band.