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It’ll Have To Be The Playoffs
Despite some unlikely last minute heroics, Barnet fall at the semi final stage of the FA Trophy. By: Eric Hitchmo 01/04/2023

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Without trying to copy and paste from last week’s article, isn’t it funny what a turn in fortune for your club can do. They could write a study of the fair weather nature of a football supporter and use me as exhibit A.

Before the draw, I had already looked at the logistics of getting back for the semi after we beat Maidstone. Home games would’ve been simple enough but as for away trips, Halifax wouldn’t have been an option, Altrincham was doable but expensive, but Gateshead was the one that was the best option. Lo and behold, we get Gateshead away. The seed had been planted.

Whenever I chat to people in Ireland about football they are surprisingly knowledgable about the English pyramid. When I mention my team, generally they’ll know that we’ve floated between the National League and League Two, although Wrexham and their documentary may take some credit for that. I would answer the question “why Barnet?” each time by talking about the camaraderie around the place whilst feeling close to your local team, but even with that considered it was hard to explain why this trip was happening. In my own head though, it was clear.

Since the age of 20, following Barnet became about the day out with your mates with the football and the result playing second fiddle. Today they were equally as important. Barnet have not been to Wembley in 51 years. Not for the first time we were 90 minutes away, and rarely has there been a better opportunity for us to get there.

In 2020 we made the playoffs and faced Notts County away in the semis. We wouldn’t have been able to go in any case due to COVID. In 2012 we faced high-flying Swindon in the JPT Area Final which was always a massive ask. 2004 was Shrewsbury in the playoffs for a game that would’ve been played at Stoke City. Then of course there were the Division Three/Four playoffs in 2000, 1998 and 1992 against Peterborough, Colchester and Blackpool respectively. We lost them all, the prospect of Wembley snatched away each time. It feels like just about every club has had their turn, but we have to wait patiently. Was this finally the time?

Realistically of all those might-have-beens, a trip to Gateshead was the best opportunity we’d had since that FA Trophy final defeat to Stafford in 1972. We were under no illusions though, this was going to be anything but easy. Gateshead may be struggling in the league but they had picked up form recently and we didn’t beat them in either league fixture this season. This was one that had to be earned, but we had every right to be confident given the season we’re having and our away form.

My attendance fell off a cliff after we left Underhill. I’ve been to roughly 40 games since we left in 2013 versus 600+ in the twelve years prior. Look at me now, a fully paid up member of the Dean Brennan black and amber bandwagon. I can’t deny that as I left my home in deepest darkest County Westmeath just after 4am I did ask myself “what am I doing?”, but it became abundantly clear as I met the lads in Newcastle City Centre for breakfast. Pints flowed, although a little slower for the lads who had made an evening of it on the Friday.

As we approached kick off and made our way to The Schooner pub next to the ground, it felt like stepping back a couple of decades. Everyone seemed to have made the journey, faces I haven’t seen for a very long time but who I immediately associate with Barnet the moment I see them. The songs were being sung, there was a positive, almost expectant atmosphere amongst the many who had travelled.

We made our way to the ground just as the teams entered the field. The stadium is an odd experience for a football match, to say the least. A sizeable away crowd stood uncovered a half mile away from the pitch, opposite a well populated main stand as the locals kind of got behind their team. One end of the ground was opened for roughly 100 additional home supporters who must’ve wondered what they’d signed up to.

That became abundantly clear within moments. I’m writing this as I wait for my flight home, and I am still trying to process what on earth happened in the first half. I’ve watched Barnet be bad before, but this was exceptional. We were atrocious. In years past I could have put it down to a team low on confidence and/or ability, but this team is neither. It was inexplicable.

Gateshead took the lead early via a soft penalty given for a fairly innocuous looking handball in the area. We briefly showed some sort of fight to try and get level, but whenever Gateshead attacked, they looked like they would score. Defensively, we were appalling. The home side merely nudged on the door and it was wide open for them to take advantage. Laurie Walker made several decent saves but could do nothing about the second, a ball flashed across from the right and poked home from yards out.

The third was a calamity and summed it all up. By this point you’re in a state of shock. How is it that Barnet can get so close to Wembley and perform like this? Some noisy questions were asked about leaving our top scorer and one of our more consistent midfielders on the bench, and why wouldn’t they be? By this point, the away end was gobsmacked. So much so that a Harry Smith header just before half time barely registered as the flicker of light that it was.

At half time there was confusion amongst the away end. Maybe there was a little bit of hope, but we barely deserved it on that showing. Someone very wisely suggested that the next goal was very important. Well observed, that man.

Kabamba and De Havilland came on straight away, obviously. It should’ve been this way from the start. Gateshead completely switched up in the second half. Rather than going for the kill as they could have done, they sat back and invited pressure towards them. The pressure came, though they soaked it up well. Harry Smith took an accidental clattering in our box that required a lengthy break to resolve. Fortunately he managed to walk off relatively unscathed.

With ten minutes of regular time left, we were awarded what looked like a fairly soft penalty. Pritchard stepped up and buried it. From nowhere we were right back in the game and with a large amount of injury time incoming, the away end found its voice with a renewed sense of optimism as the onslaught on the Gateshead goal began.

In truth it never really came. We knocked on the door but were repelled fairly comfortably. Courtney Senior impressed as sub but Idris Kanu flattered to deceive on the far side. It just wasn’t clicking, and even with twelve minutes up on the board, there wasn’t a sense that an equaliser was coming.

That said, there’s always time for one chance. One last throw of the dice. A last foray forward resulted in a long throw half cleared that fell at the feet of Pritchard once more. He took his chance and rifled a low drive into the bottom corner. Bedlam. I’m not afraid to say that I lost my composure as I bundled down the steps with several others as the lads celebrated in front of us. What a comeback from nowhere. A 90+12 equaliser having been 3-0 down in a FA Trophy Semi Final. I don’t think I’ve seen us recover a three-goal deficit. Ever. And now we’ve done it to save our FA Trophy campaign and take it to penalties for a place at Wembley. Emotion flowed openly as we brought ourselves back from the edge.

We barely had time to let what had happen sink in. That’s both us in the stands and the lads on the pitch. Before we knew it, penalties were upon us. You can all find the outcome for yourselves. The shootout scoreline reflected the 90 minutes, to be honest. It brought to an end a seriously surreal afternoon. I have rarely seen such a rollercoaster Barnet game in my time, but unfortunately it was the all too familiar feeling where we know how the story ends.

What positives can we take from this punch in the gut? Right now, not many. But let’s try and take a step back from the emotional part. What has this season, in particular this cup run done for Barnet Football Club? It has brought fans back into the fold who we could easily have lost. So many have reinvested themselves back into the club. Max Bygraves, The Wardrobe, and now even me. So many others were following from afar today. Think about your own Barnet group, we can’t be the only ones who have found people returning to take in home and away games.

What I said last week hasn’t suddenly become false because we didn’t make it to Wembley. This is still a likeable squad with a lot of talent. Dean Brennan has still steered the ship in the right direction, out of nowhere. He may have got it wrong today, but the general direction of travel is sound under his leadership. Let’s not forget about our league position as we continue fight to not only secure top 7 but push for as strong a finish as we can. The boys will have to dig deep to dust themselves down, but they’ve got an immediate chance to get back on the right track on Monday night at York. Meanwhile, my flight is delayed, it’s nearly Sunday and I’m still in Newcastle.

It will take a while to get over this. We’ll just have to do it in the playoffs instead.

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All Articles By This Author:

24/05/2024 LEGENDS - John Akinde
17/03/2024 Card Bored
20/01/2024 Barnet Rivalries
08/10/2023 Take On Me
03/09/2023 Wood You Watch That Every Week?
01/04/2023 It’ll Have To Be The Playoffs
26/03/2023 Home Away From Home
13/02/2022 The View From Afar
19/04/2013 Underhill
03/04/2013 Away

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20/03/2024 Another Step Closer
17/03/2024 Card Bored
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