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Card Bored
An uninspiring day on the pitch but a better one off it. By: Eric Hitchmo 17/03/2024
Woking
Barnet
1 0
League 16/03/2024
2023-2024 Attendance: 2544 (284)




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Becoming a parent for the first time is a strange, life-changing experience. Life is turned on its head and priorities change instantly. There would have been a time where watching Barnet would have been relegated even further down the priority list than it once had become but with my distant support revitalised by almost two seasons of alarming recovery under Dean Brennan, not only have I managed to find myself tuning into most NLTV streams between the broken sleep, I’ve also been pining to come back home and take in an away trip. After all, the last trip to Dorking was all the way back in October and that one certainly left a taste for more.

For a short while, my son was a good luck charm. His first three games saw us complete a first nine-point Xmas since 2006, scoring nine and conceding none. As the new year came though, of course the reality of supporting Barnet came to pass. Though his understanding of the situation is not quite there yet, most Saturday afternoons he’s been subconsciously watching and suffering our inconsistency from the comfort of his Moses Basket. In much the same way as he looks at me in the middle of the night desperate for milk I cannot provide directly*, he will eventually learn that supporting Barnet will also provide similar levels of disappointment with the occasional flash of delight in the form of that warmed bottle of milk.

*I should emphasise that he does get fed around the clock, I am not withholding milk on purpose to prepare him for the disappointment of being a Barnet fan.

Woking is an away trip that holds fond memories for me. It was one of my first back in 2002 when I’d just started following the club properly, and later that year whilst still only 15, it was the first time me and my merry band of friends had strayed away from the coach and gone on an adventure by train. In four visits, I’d never seen us lose there which is some going as far as Barnet are concerned. Even with the two clubs’ seasons having distinctly different paths after both making the playoffs last season, you always get the sense that a record like that is too fragile to stay intact for too long.

Our illustrious leader decided that pre-match refreshment was to take place in Waterloo, before getting a 2pm train into Woking. A large group of us were travelling, with the Irish and Swedish branches of Barnet supporters both in attendance.

The Brennan Bandwagon continues to roll forward, though it has had a couple of stalls in the past few months and has required a service or two. We came a cropper again in the late stages of the FA Trophy but even with the inconsistency and apparent lack of conviction in big games (we’ve lost the last eight games against clubs in the top nine), we have managed to grind out results and put ourselves in prime position to take that all important 3rd (or 2nd) place in the table to leave us a solitary home game away from that elusive date with Wembley Stadium.

In those aforementioned younger days, I perhaps had a reputation for being a bit moody whenever we lost away from home. That happened quite often. Somehow, this particular personality trait of mine has resurfaced in recent months as we have struggled along. Quite how a team that has been in the position it is in the league can elicit such a reaction is baffling. But then, it’s Barnet isn’t it?

Woking have not had a good season but have found form of late to drag themselves out of the relegation zone. Still in significant danger however in what is an unbelievable relegation battle which could still involve Dagenham and Redbridge in 12th, they weren’t going to roll over and die for us as we march on towards the playoffs.

Most of the games I have been to in the last few years have been pretty good. This one was not. This was a diabolical game of football. Certainly for me I’d have to go back as far as one of the Boreham Wood trips pre-COVID for a game that was this bad in person. I suspect that others would be able to pick from more recent games though. Woking set up to be solid and hard to penetrate and that’s exactly what they were. We didn’t get a sniff.

The home side didn’t have much to offer going forward either. Former Barnet man Alfie Pavey, the alleged striker, led the line for them ineffectively. Quite how he has continued to play at National League level is beyond me. The omens were there for him to score the winner against us, but in truth, neither team looked like scoring all day.

Both sets of fans watched on quietly as the first half dragged itself to a close. I don’t really recall a chance at either end that troubled the goalkeepers. It was a tough watch and probably quite representative of the frustration we have had in the last few months with this team’s inconsistency. We were still missing several key players from the starting XI and squad. Our bench on the day was absurd, with Gorman, Kabamba and Collinge available to enter the fray. Laurie Walker was another but it may be best to steer clear of that debate. We can only hope that the all of our key players continue their recovery at pace and are back in the team ASAP to inject some much needed quality at the business end of the season.

In the second half we moved towards the end we were shooting towards on the open terrace at the side of the pitch. The ground hasn’t changed a bit in 20 years and is as bizarre a setup as it was then with one large stand behind the goal and very little else to speak of. Suddenly out of nowhere a friend of ours decided it was time for a sing song and brought “The Final Countdown” out. For a good 10-15 minutes, the chant filled the Surrey air with people of all ages getting involved. For a moment it felt like the mid-2000s. It was great seeing some of the younger crowd being involved. Something as simple as that can be the difference between enjoying an away trip and not, especially if the football is bad, and the more people who can be encouraged to join in the better. Lord knows we need the numbers. 284 travelled which I thought was on the lighter side of what we might have expected.

In typical Barnet style, we conceded the only goal of the game during this fun on the terrace. In one of the few openings created all day from either side, a goalmouth scramble drew a great save from Josh Keeley but the rebound was smashed into the corner and propels Woking further away from the drop zone. The home fans were briefly roused from their slumber to celebrate and despite a brief stoppage, The Final Countdown started back up again as we tried to ignore another defeat staring us in the face.

We quickly brought on the heavy cavalry. First Gorman was introduced, then Kabamba. Danny Collinge, or should I say Danny Clinge as the Woking PA said, came on for his first appearance in months. Not much changed in all honesty as the clock ran closer to the 90. There was however one chance. Ben Wynter gained some space on the right hand side and sent in a delicious cross to the head of Kabamba who couldn’t miss. Cue very brief rapturous scenes as the linesman’s flag was raised. Now we had a pretty decent view of this from our position, and although the TV replay is inconclusive, let’s give the linesman the benefit of the doubt and say it was a very tight call. I didn’t think it was offside anyway, and I don’t think many Barnet fans did either.

There was not much else to speak of as the game wore to a close as we huffed and puffed but couldn’t find a way through the Woking back line. We don’t often fail to score, but this was another one to add to the tally as the final whistle went and we all shuffled out of the ground to endure the taunts of the home support.

There was time for us to sample a local pub on the way back to the station before heading back to Barnet for some final, unneeded beers and a curry. Days like this for me have become few and far between these days and I do miss them. As you’ll know by now, I have not been the most loyal supporter over the years. Through my own choice I opted to miss out on days like these and find different pastimes because of my issues with the club. Do I regret that a bit? Probably yes. Lots of new faces have come along in that time but many of the old faces have taken a similar path. Those who stayed deserve the success we are having at the moment but in true Barnet style, we always need a wobble to bring ourselves a reality check.

Clearly my life choices now limit me from being a fully attending supporter these days. Would I be going every single week like I used to if I still lived here? Probably not. I would though be trying to enjoy what we have at the moment even if it is frustrating, because I can assure you that is isn’t always going to be this way.

I’m desperate for us to play at Wembley and fortunately results around us on the day made finishing in the top three no less likely than it was when the day started. I still think 80 points will be a target that will be very tough for the sides below us to catch and we have the fixtures and ability to do it. Two wins this week at home to Eastleigh and Dorking, both in the relegation mix, will ease a lot of the pressure on the televised Good Friday trip to Solihull Moors.

If we do get to the 80 points, we’re asking someone in the chasing pack to go at 2+ points per game. Given that a lot of those sides have to play several games against each other, it would make the task even tougher. We are doing our typical thing of limping into the playoffs, like we have always done when reaching them. The truth is that wherever we finish in the top seven (if we do) it’s going to be a lottery. Though our form against the top teams is not inspiring, all it’s going to take is one or two good performances to get to Wembley and go for promotion. I think we are capable of that at least, particularly when big players return to the fold.

We need to stay positive and back the team as a united front. We need to encourage all that can attend home games to do so as we enter that final straight. We all want the same thing on the pitch and it’s up to us to back the team off it. I’ll leave my pontificating there as I prepare to head back to the airport and reflect that though it was not a great game of football, it was a great day out and as long as we can have those, and encourage others to do the same, the club may just have a bright future after all.




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