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The View From Afar
A tale from your man over the Irish Sea. By: Eric Hitchmo 13/02/2022

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What is Barnet Football Club?

In the interests of openness and full disclosure, I don’t go to Barnet any more. As those of you who have listened to the podcasts may be aware, I do have half a legitimate excuse in the sense that I live in Ireland now, however in truth my attendance had fallen by the wayside long before that and long before the pandemic that closed the stadia for the best part of a year.

If this invalidates my view on Barnet FC in your mind then you are welcome to click away now, and you are entitled to your view. However, I speak as someone who spent over a decade of his life revolving around the club, home and away, rain or shine, who has lost the buzz. I suspect many others, who spent many more years doing the same thing, will be in the same boat. If it sounds like I am pontificating from behind the keyboard whilst not enduring the hardships we are currently going through then fair enough, but I still have a point of view that I feel I need to air.

While the buzz may be lost, the deep connection we all feel with this football club doesn’t simply cease to exist. Whatever your current level of support is (if you are still a home and away follower, fair play to you), I think we all accept that there is something fundamentally wrong with Barnet Football Club at the moment.

When my good friend Max Bygraves took to having his say on the matter the other week, opinion was somewhat split on the suggestion that in exchange for dropping down the pyramid but playing in the borough of Barnet via a groundshare, we may just be better off. That wouldn’t necessarily be my view either, but what is pretty clear is that every Barnet supporter seems to be highly disillusioned with the way things are, but no Barnet supporter seems to be able to agree what the best, or most viable solution may be.

It was pointed out by some on Twitter that Barnet have faced similar crises in the past and have overcome them. The topsy turvy days of Stan Flashman, seemingly endless issues with Barnet Council and Underhill’s fitness to host football matches, relegation from the Football League and spells of awfulness on the pitch have all passed by, and yet we still endure.

That said, the current flavour of the month appears to be more of said awfulness on the pitch, with apathy in the stands (the ones that are open at least) and a catalogue of PR catastrophes from the man in charge. For now, let’s keep it factual; the last two seasons are our worst positions on the pyramid for 40 years. Attendances have dwindled to a level not seen for 20 years, with several league games attracting crowds in three figures as they were in the mid-1980s. If these things themselves are not grounds for concern, the rot runs deeper than performances on the pitch and numbers attending off it.

You can’t help but look around the footballing pyramid at clubs who have traditionally been in and around our level and enjoyed and continue to enjoy greater success than us. If we ignore the clubs who have been bankrolled from rags to riches (Fleetwood, Salford, etc), we can look at examples like Morecambe who are currently battling survival in League One. Burton Albion are in the same division, having made it as far as the Championship. Accrington Stanley are more than established at that level now. Forest Green Rovers are going in that direction as well, and they’re a tiny club, let’s face it. Dare I say it, even The Chavs up the road were a game away from the Championship at one point.

Yes, for every success story there is a horror story. Macclesfield Town, Chester City, Scarborough, Hereford United, Darlington - there is a seemingly and endless list of clubs who have gone bust and rebuild from scratch with varying levels of success. Even clubs who you’d consider to larger than ourselves historically have had to suffer the ignominy of dropping even further. Stockport and Torquay have been in the respective regional divisions, York City are still there, so it does work both ways.

So yes, it could be worse, but at the moment we seem to be floating around in a limbo state where nothing happens. Floating around in the abyss, watching ourselves be turned over by clubs like Wealdstone who due to particular circumstances are taking great joy in rubbing our noses in it. Is this what it’s come to, having our pants pulled down by Wealdstone? We may scoff at them, but unless we wake up and smell the coffee very quickly, yes it very much is the reality of the situation. As annoying as they may be, despite all their trials and tribulations with a nomadic existence over 30 years, they appear to have retained their identity and sense of community and have risen back from nowhere. What does our future look like compared to theirs?

Boreham Wood are another example, and despite still barely pulling in 800 at home most weeks, are on the up and leaving us by the wayside. Just because we spent a few years in the Football League, it does not entitle us to feel we are better than these clubs. Look at our current respective paths and tell me why Barnet being a bigger club actually matters.

Even those who have stuck with it are seeing their loyalty tested to the bone. Gradually, as each season goes by, support drops away as individuals decide that enough is enough. With each comment I read on whatever forum or social media, the theme tends to be the same; the heart and soul of Barnet Football Club is lost. The club we knew and loved is barely recognisable from that we remember.

These people have taken to following other local clubs to get their football fix. Hadley, Potters Bar, Cockfosters, Wingate & Finchley and others can all count disillusioned Barnet fans amongst their number. Or, in other cases, people just don’t go to any football any more. What does that say about Barnet Football Club in its current guise?

Every single one of us knows that Underhill was not perfect. It was ramshackle, it was limiting in terms of opportunities. In many of the latter years, the atmosphere was flat and the football flatter. But it was our home, it was where we all met and forged lifelong friendships. It was our little club with our tight-knit community who accepted that while we’d never see our team win the Premier League, we’d still go anyway because it had a hold on us that no one could quite explain.

To some extent, we may have taken this for granted and not quite understood just how important that sense of familiarity is. Whether it was your particular spot on the East Terrace, the fact you would still stand on the North Terrace when it was pissing with rain so you brought your umbrella with you, your pre-match routine timed to perfection to get to the turnstiles just as the teams entered the field, the fact you knew most of the stewards and staff by name or the near-unique aura of the place on a floodlit Tuesday night. Whatever the failures on the field at Underhill and however limiting the facilities were, we retained our heart and soul there.

If you’ll excuse the rose-tinted glasses, and I know full well that I am wearing them, would we have let that go so easily if we’d known what was in store just nine years down the road?

The Hive seems to have little to no love felt for it by Barnet supporters. A cold, soulless lego set in some outpost of North West London, an area which no Barnet fan has any affinity for. A total pain-in-the-arse to get to. A matchday operation bereft of care, consideration or ability. A cost of £30 to park your car and take a seat. An atmosphere best described as peaceful. A team struggling to hold its own in a league we have won (and been relegated back to) three times. No less than 18 managerial changes in nine years. A total disregard for connecting back to the community of Barnet, our home, and seemingly little to no connection with the locals around our new, supposedly temporary home.

Where is the next generation of support coming from? Do you really imagine you could talk about The Hive with same level of fondness you did of Underhill? You can have all the fancy facilities you want, but when you trade your club’s heart and soul for it, you may as well be building the foundations on jelly.

So where on earth does Barnet Football Club go from here? Can anyone suggest what about the current path points to any long-term success? Or, could anyone suggest what changes would need to be made to steer the ship back in the right direction. It is not as simple as building a winning team again. We would be naïve to believe that the level of despair at where we find ourselves can all be washed away and fixed by a Playoff or Promotion season. Besides, in a footballing sense that seems to be a million miles away. The despondency with where we are as a football club is not simply down to our league position. Yes, we can have the odd Gateshead, the odd Brentford FA Cup tie, but one-off flashes in the pan are not conducive to a sustainable long-term situation for our club.

Whilst I really do appreciate the efforts of the new BFCSA to both try and represent a united voice for the supporters and try to make the matchday experience better, no one seems to be able to present a viable, or realistic way of taking this club forward. Even the idea of playing in Barnet again seems pie-in-the-sky at the moment. Ultimately, it’s still down to the chairman, who I saw being very accurately described as the club’s judge, jury and executioner, to shape our future. I think having the BFCSA there however is a good thing and although I may believe they are trying to push water up a hill, I wish them all the best in doing so.

However, after nearly 30 years, there seems to be no coherent plan to take this club forward. We are in a lower league position than when the chairman took over, with lower crowds, playing in a stadium that no one wants to be playing in. We amble from season to season with empty promises of a fresh start and a great new plan to take us forward. In 2021-2022, this plan lasted seven (S-E-V-E-N) games before a change was made. Whilst that change had the desired effect in the immediate term, its impact has again waned and supporters again find themselves with an itchy trigger finger in respect of the man in charge of playing affairs.

In 2020-2021, no less than six (or was it seven) people took charge of a first team match. We see similar themes going back a few years whilst struggling for Football League survival, but now we are struggling for National League survival. By rights we should have been relegated last season, and we are fortunate that our current position isn’t causing us to be a similar situation.

So what confidence do I have that 2022-2023 or the seasons that follow will be any different? None, is the answer. While Tony Kleanthous remains in control of Barnet FC, I have no confidence that this club will go forward. However, without a viable alternative, what other choice is there? Voices of dissent continue to grow louder and more direct, yet there is no sign that change will be coming any time soon. So we put up, or shut up, or as many are doing, we simply drift away and do something else.

For all the things over the years that have posed a direct threat to the existence of Barnet Football Club, we have survived them all. How long can the club survive the slow, painful demise it is currently enduring?

It feels like things will have to get a lot worse before they get better. What a prospect that promises to be.

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All Articles By This Author:

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
02/02/2013 Questions

Other Articles By Category

10/04/2024 Nearly There
25/03/2024 "A Game Of F*****g Demolition"
20/03/2024 Another Step Closer
17/03/2024 Card Bored
09/03/2024 Tepid
06/03/2024 Bring Barnet Back
21/02/2024 Shot Down
20/02/2024 (South) Underhill
04/02/2024 Unpleasant
20/01/2024 Barnet Rivalries

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A huge thank you also to Rob Cavallini whose Barnet history books set the basis for our journey to complete all statistics back to the start of Barnet FC.

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