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Take On Me
A rare comeback makes for a classic away day for the ages. By: Eric Hitchmo 08/10/2023
Dorking Wanderers
Barnet
2 3
League 07/10/2023
2023-2024 Attendance: 1852 (301)




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The bandwagon is well and truly rolling. Fully in flow. And everyone is on it. Sadly I was back for a bereavement on Friday, but took the opportunity to stay an extra evening and take in the Saturday late game. Why not?

With several lads out, it promised to be a classic away day, meeting early somewhere in London to get the train to some random non-league outpost. Regular readers will know that this is a real rarity for me over the last decade, with away days generally confined to Boreham Wood. You’d be hard pressed to describe that as an away day, but this one had all the hallmarks of a potential classic.

Clapham Junction was the meeting point and of course a couple of us kept with tradition by arriving before our chosen pub was open. The plan was to be in Dorking for around 2:30 as a mini pub crawl had been planned by one of the lads. You could tell then exactly what sort of day this was going to be, like rolling back the years to our heyday.

Dorking is a part of the world that is a bit of a mystery to me. Following Barnet back in the day you got a general feel of where places were simply by going there for the day to watch a 2, 3 or 4-0 defeat. I had an idea roughly where it is, but would have made a fool of myself if asked to point it out on a map. I’m still not even sure now. “Somewhere between Woking and Crawley” will have to do.

After what seemed like an eternity on the train through South London suburbia, I had to find myself wondering had we turned up in another country. The October sun was beating down on a very fine looking vineyard. This was not at all what I was expecting. A brief but amusing cab journey landed us at the wrong pub to which our female taxi driver apologised loudly as she drove back past us walking to the correct one, The Kings Arms, to meet the rest of the group.

The town is lovely. There was a proper old English feel to it with low-ceilinged pubs with wooden beams, old shop fronts and tight streets. There was a nice buzz about the place, and I’m not referring to a decent number of Barnet fans milling around the local establishments. Our mini crawl included a micro-brewery which was so micro that a few of us were confined to the kitchen for our pints, as if we were at the Afters of some horrible house party at 5am. We took in one more pub, The Star before taking the short walk through the houses to Meadowbank.

Dorking Wanderers is a funny little thing. Not even a club until the late 90s, they have fought their way to the higher echelons of non-league where previous Dorking clubs have not been able to. All this has been done with a reasonable amount of money, but seemingly not in the same way as the likes of Salford or Fleetwood. I only learned fairly recently that the other Dorking club, who Barnet did face once or twice when they were merged with Guildford, folded in 2017. The new club occupies a fully refurbished Meadowbank which was used originally by the old club. Confused? Yeah so am I.

Did I like what they’ve done with the place? I’m not sure. You can see it’s been hastily put together in line with their rapid rise up the leagues. The ground is surrounded by high wooden fences and the away terracing behind the goal, which was only recently installed, was very shallow, meaning that the view was quite poor. It wasn’t much better from the small covered area on the side, particularly given that there was a raised step around the perimeter that people stood on meaning you could barely see over them and onto the pitch. This flanks a small main stand, and behind the goal the stand is split into two separate sections, one seated and one standing. So all told, it’s “different” shall we say, though others in the away end were less impressed. That said, there was a good space out the back where fans could mix, with a small club shop and more importantly, somewhere you could get a drink. More on that shortly.

Going into the game, Barnet were coming off the back of three straight wins against struggling opposition. We were superb at York, alright against Kidderminster, and fairly poor against Fylde, but we ground out three wins to keep the pace with a rapid Chesterfield team and a surprisingly impressive Solihull Moors. The latter lost for the first time this season in the 3pm games, but Chesterfield again won which meant there was no prospect of going top, only the ability to solidify second place. That’s not a bad situation to be in all things considered. Dorking had started the season poorly, but prior to a midweek home defeat by Kidderminster had won four in five. We’d lost all three previous encounters with them and on their artificial pitch, this was going to be another stern test in front of the live TV cameras.

And so it proved. We certainly were not at the races in the first 25 minutes and found ourselves undone twice. A different looking starting XI, certainly defensively, looked a little bit lost and couldn’t cope with Dorking’s direct approach. Not that we could see much of it from our vantage point. Dorking took the lead in only the 5th minute as Barnet failed to deal with a routine goal kick. Finley Potter missed the header, Jerome Okimo was beaten to the challenge, and it bounced all the way through to Josh Taylor who finished past Laurie Walker into the bottom corner off the post.

It was all very disjointed and not the slick build up play we had become accustomed to. It would be fair to assume that the pitch wasn’t helping but we would have had time to prepare given the extensive facilities at The Hive. Sam Beard was thrust back into the starting lineup having been on loan all season and struggled in the first half, but in all honesty, they all struggled and it would be unfair to single him out for criticism. More on that later, too.

In keeping with the Barnet away day tradition, someone who shall remain nameless nudged me and asked “if this goes 2-0, we’re going to the bar aren’t we”. My answer of course was yes. We didn’t have to wait long, as a cross came in which split the defence in two allowing Jason Prior to nod home into the corner. Well taken from Dorking, soft from Barnet. We kept true to our word and headed to the bar to drown our sorrows. Such was the odd nature of the setup, you could still more or less watch the game from the bar area. Pretty sure that’s not allowed, but we certainly weren’t the only Barnet fans who felt like a drink was necessary at this stage.

With Dorking in control and Barnet not improving, half time soon came. It was good to catch up with a lot of old faces who I’d not spoken to for a long time, many of them who stuck with it through thick and thin. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ve the utmost respect for those who really went through the mill with Barnet in recent years, travelling up and down the country when the prospect of a result was slim to none. Seasons like last year and this one so far are the reward for such loyalty, although clearly not as far as the first half was concerned.

But then this team is a bit different and a bit special isn’t it? How often could we say that in the last two or three decades? Usually, we know exactly how this ends. A solid 4-0 defeat and a miserable journey home. Dean Brennan and the boys appear determined not only to ignore the script, but rip it up and redefine a new Barnet FC script.

How many occasions over that timeframe have we turned around a two goal deficit to win away from home. You could count them on one hand, I’d wager. Instantly in the second half we looked like we meant business and ten minutes in, Danny Collinge was given all the time in the world to pick out a cross to the right boot of Nicke Kabamba who steered the ball home very neatly to give us some hope. Clearly Dorking had not done their homework on Collinge’s free role at centre back.

It was a rare, unfamiliar thing for me to experience. The feeling of not just hope, but expectation that we would equalise at the very least. We began to dominate possession and territory as we have done so well this season and were beginning to ask the hosts some serious questions. We won a free kick close to the edge of the box in a very similar position to the one where Anthony Hartigan had scored at Kidderminster last week. It didn’t look like he had any right to score from that angle, it was further to the right and perhaps more suited to Harry Pritchard’s left foot, but his effort curled beautifully over the wall and inside the post to bring us level. An outrageous goal to be honest, and the celebrations in the away section were raucous.

Dorking looked on the ropes and it felt like a matter of when and not if Barnet would take the lead. It didn’t take long. Gorman sent a high hanging ball into the box which wasn’t dealt with, and after some pinball between the defence and Jerome Okimo, the ball fell to Danny Collinge who roofed it from inside the six yard box. Terrific scenes again amongst the 301 away supporters, and the turnaround was complete.

Dorking, to their credit, didn’t give in. They weren’t going to let us have the points easily and they fought back to create a few decent openings in the closing 20 minutes. There were tense moments as they applied some pressure, but we stood firm to record a fourth win in a row ahead of a change in focus to the FA Cup next weekend.

Not to repeat myself from previous reports, I will fully admit given the way the day’s events transpired that the term “fair weather fan” could absolutely be applied to me. In fact the 90 minutes were a perfect summary of my Barnet supporting life in the last decade. Leave when the going gets tough and come back when the good times roll. I don’t offer any excuses for this, I’m fully aware of the fickle nature of my support. While our home crowds still stay stubbornly low, we can only hope that others who have found themselves in a similar situation continue to give their absolute backing to a quality of team that doesn’t grace the black and amber very often. The fact that a conversation began comparing this team to the 2004-2005 squad shows you how highly regarded they are already.

As we left the ground, the away dressing room backs out onto the exit. Of course, the rowdy away supporters noticed this and started a sing song whilst banging on the dressing room windows. Some of the players responded in kind to add the cherry on the cake of a fine Barnet away day.

We sang and drank all the way back to London where we eventually headed our separate ways after a solid day on the beers. With fatherhood rapidly approaching for me in Ireland, if this is to be my last away day for a while then it wasn’t a bad one to finish on. I’ll watch on with a bit of envy at all the away days that are sure to be enjoyed before this season is out, but I think you lot all deserve it after being served up endless horrors in the last few years.

One final word on Dean Brennan’s interview after the match. I’m not sure what phrase to use to describe it. Peculiar. Harsh. No-nonsense. Winners mentality. I love the standards that are being set for this Barnet team and I love that the manager is openly unapologetic about voicing those standards. It is this approach that creates that winning mentality amongst the squad and the never-say-die attitude of a team who’ve come from behind to win several times already this season. Where I am uneasy is his calling out of individuals publicly. I’m not sure that Sam Beard deserved to be called out and I’m not sure that the interviewer deserved to be snapped at for not immediately recalling a Reece Hall-Johnson injury midweek. Beard improved massively in the second half and it wasn’t acknowledged.

Brennan is taking this club back to where it should be and his near-universal popularity is fully deserved and well-earned. However, digging out individuals is not for me. Do it behind closed doors.

Other than that, a proper away day and another three points. I’ll be handing you back to my colleague Max Bygraves for the foreseeable future, my job will be to come up with more and more record breaking stats that this team seems determined to set.




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All Articles By This Author:

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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
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