Thanks for the memories

July 2019. Darren Currie and I, you don’t ask you don’t get and Darren duly obliged with an interview the first National League manager I had ever sat down with. Fast forward 13 months and now my phone contacts list looks like a who’s who of great people who have hit the highest level of non-league management.

That month set this bog on the way to the figures I’m now getting today, it went nuts for views and visitors wanting to hear what he had to say, some insights you normally wouldn’t hear, exactly as I have tried to do with all managers and ex players I’ve interviewed and had live on video. I owe some thanks for that to DC and I know he’d be the first to say ‘it’s not me but the way you wrote the words’.

Today, Wednesday, the Barnet love affair is over for Darren with contract negotiations ending earlier this week for both himself and Junior Lewis. Very randomly Darren phoned me on Sunday evening, no need to but wanted get some bits out I guess about Southend and his own situation. I value the things all these guys tell me and I hope that I release the right things and keep some things close to me as I feel they should be, its hard because sometimes you want to tell everyone exactly what’s going on.

Whether you believe it or not, Southend was all paper speculation, looked to me like giving their fans some hope that an up and coming manager was the answer to their prayers. Some wondered why Darren didn’t take to Twitter and quash the speculation, I don’t blame him for having a couple of weeks off after the play-off loss and then seeing that team disintegrate before his eyes, but knowing that was going to be the case if promotion wasn’t achieved. I knew then also that Barnet had yet to offer him and Junior new contracts, a good two weeks passed since the Notts County defeat and not a word of contact from the chairman, does that sound like someone trying hard to keep hold of someone?

Darren wanted to stay, the chance to build his team, maybe on a much reduced budget but nonetheless an opportunity. I messaged him on Tuesday afternoon, Monday ‘didn’t go well’. That was my confirmation his time was up, never wanted to admit that to myself but it is what it is. I’ve had a blast being close to these guys all season, we’ve kept in touch through lockdown and hopefully I’ve got a few extra friends for life including Darren.

So now we move on again, but have we missed a trick? Despite whats going on around the world and here of course, could we have found some way to get some continuity at Barnet FC? Could everything have been communicated better? Yes and yes, the latter being the biggest reason this club has a divided fanbase because in my opinion they aren’t treated well. Not many people know this but a couple of fellow fans felt I should offer my services to the club, PR wise, to help things get better so I did.

I did get advised I probably wouldn’t get a reply, needless to say I haven’t and I’m not expecting one either, I’ll happily carry on what I’m doing now. Wednesday’s later statement I thought was a huge kick in the teeth for the supporters of the club, everything was ok with it until money was mentioned. Having ripped the soul out of the team, albeit the right thing to do with parachute payments gone and income scarce, but then unable to give your head coach and his staff contracts to continue their good work, we’d like to take your money for a season ticket despite the fact we have no management team nor 11 players to field, please part with your cash.

Why was that not split into two separate statements with the season ticket info coming later this week? So far by Wednesday, I think I’ve seen two positive reactions to that statement in contrast to more swear words than you’d hear from Danny Dyer’s mouth, an utter kick in the teeth in my opinion and another opening of the divide between the club and fans that Darren had being bridging with great success.

So then, attention turns to who is next in the hot seat at The Hive. Speculation will grow aplenty over the next few weeks and I have my own ideas on who might be in the frame and one or two who might not be.

Luke Gerrard at Boreham Wood will be top of a lot of lists, worked wonderfully well up the road from us and two great seasons for them out of the last three, but nice secure job currently why swop it?

Graham Stack would be welcomed back to The Hive should this be his first chance in permanent charge after assisting Hayden Mullins at Watford but also unless the Hornets dispense with his services then hard to see why he’d take the move.

I expect to see Ben Strevens’ name mentioned, also Neil Smith, people being impressed with both during my video interview when they joined Darren, however again both in secure jobs and unlikely to walk away from what they can achieve where they currently are.

My real outside choice is Kevin Watson, formerly of Ebbsfleet. When you look at his coaching CV it’s pretty impressive and I don’t doubt that had the season continued the Kent side would have not been relegated such was the good form they were in and he knows how to deal with reduced budgets, he’s one that might appeal.

There are also one or two more that stand out in the Isthmian League, lower wages are also an appeal here if thats the route Barnet are going down.

My personal choice would be Ian Hendon, Andy Hessenthaler and Lee Harrison as a trio but not sure the budget would allow for that to happen! Two who know the ethos of the club inside out and a third with unbridled passion and a future unknown at Dover Athletic, something that might appease people but they would have to hit the ground running.

For now though, thank you Darren Currie, been a pleasure to sponsor you for the past two seasons and setting this blog on its way to smashing its own records on a monthly basis, once a Bee always a Bee………….

Time to make a stand

Scrolling through Twitter on Monday morning as I normally would be, checking the latest going’s-on from all four corners of the footballing world and one tweet in particular caught my eye and that was before I saw the above slogan.

Dorking Wanderers, a club I hold in high regard for the way Marc White has built his club into the National League South, popped a tweet up last night around 7.19 which I caught this morning on the back of another tweet from the superb Ollie Bayliss. I’ll link the tweet in below, in short it’s asking why the FA have been unable to explain to the Government’s DCMS how different life is in non-league football compared to those in the professional game and with it the slogan #letfansin .

The tweet from Ollie Bayliss eluded to the fact non-league clubs have been without income for five months and I must give credit to those who’ve kept these clubs going with nothing coming in. I’ve been there in a Step 5 club and I know how hard it is when money is just about in the till or the bank, these guys and girls have done fantastically to limit how many clubs have had to take a breather or fold completely and a huge majority on a volunteer basis.

Throughout Monday I’ve seen more and more clubs coming on board with this and as I write #LetFansIn is trending on Twitter just outside the top 20, it’s been as high as fourth and huge credit has to go to @forthefansshop on Twitter for getting this started and the momentum it has already generated is huge, but it must get bigger over the next few days and get opinion and decisions changed.

As non-league fans, players and club officials, even league officers, we know that to have us in a ground is perfectly possible, socially distanced and without drama. Why is it we can shop wherever we want with little or no restrictions compared to three months ago but we can’t attend a non-league football match? Why is it we can have thousands of people at the beach but not 100-200 people socially distanced at a football match? It’s not consistent and it needs to move in line.

Twenty-two players plus substitutes and coaching staff can play a pre-season friendly with no covid-19 tests for them, so where is the difference not having supporters there? We can sit inside a theatre without a mask on our faces amongst fellow people, but we can’t watch a game outside where transmission is less or virtually non-existent.

To me none of this makes sense whichever way you look at it, clubs have been carrying out work to make sure grounds are covid-secure, the best time to test it is now in pre-season, not waiting until it begins and then we have problems, too short-sighted and that is where the FA have fallen down.

Their lack of input into putting a case across that shouts ‘we are ready’ is harming the game at grassroots level and putting the futures of a lot of the members they are supposed to be looking after in grave doubt. I must admit I was expecting non-league to really suffer to survive through a tough few months, maybe that’s still to come, I hope it isn’t and everyone makes it out the other side, but without income coming into each and every one of these clubs there is a big fear more clubs will simply disappear.

Every club needs their clubhouse open not just during the week but when a game is on, every club needs fans coming through the turnstiles spending their money just to survive, this isn’t the Premier League where money is given for finishing 17th in the division, this is real life. These clubs are the heart of their communities, where the FA Cup still matters and the Vase gives hope you can reach Wembley, the stuff dreams are made of.

I would love to see every single club and every MP to get behind this campaign before the loss of clubs like Droylsden are being seen every week, put some pressure on the FA and the government to deliver, after all we’ve listened to and obeyed the rules in most cases for the good of the country during the lockdown, now it’s time to give a little bit back and in a lot of cases improve the mental health of so many people struggling to come to terms with such a change of life, its time to make a stand……………

#LetFansIn

@DorkingWDRS

@Ollie_Bayliss

@forthefansshop

How many will be lost

The image above is one that’s disappearing from the football landscape. Not the first casualty from this pandemic and unfortunately unlikely to be the last club to disappear but Droylsden FC will not take part in season 2020/21. There is hope they will reform at a lower level next season, it might only be temporary.

We’ve seen over the past few months clubs resigning from where they are, taking voluntary relegation in order to cut costs and operate at a level they feel comfortable at. These week though it looks a little bit as if things have ramped up a little bit and not for the good of non-league football. On Monday we saw the start reality at National League level with Dover Athletic announcing that without the players accepting a 20% wage cut they will be insolvent by the end of the month, the players have refused and the outlook for the Whites is not looking bright beyond August.

We’ve already seen Barnet make everyone redundant at the very beginning of the pandemic before placing everyone on furlough, I’m sure not all of those have made it back to the club although I am aware some of the 60 originally served notice had contracts due to end once the season was finished. Boreham Wood chairman Danny Hunter re-mortgaged his house to keep the club afloat, that in itself has got to be the extreme to keep the club you love going, with that going on you wonder where it’s going to stop.

FC Romania were another to drop out today although it is believed their committee are trying their upmost to field a team in the Isthmian League South Central this season, some won’t be that lucky. I can imagine there are a few living week to week watching the goalposts moving on a start date knowing they are that one step closer. I hope I am completely wrong, but experience of running a Step 5 club a couple of years ago I can vouch it’s not easy and we had games and a full season!

I originally believed that not just in non-league clubs would go to the wall due to a lack of income and even despite relaxations on paying VAT, players and employee’s put on furlough it’s merely delayed things at league level, advance payments from the Premier League has probably stopped a few going bust but that money was meant for the season’s budget, that has to be accounted for and adjusted or they will face going out of business over the course of this season.

Down in non-league and below the National League level, contracts are not so much in abundance, but the flip side to this is a majority of grassroots level rely on their clubhouses for regular income from the bar and hiring out the facilities and without any of those providing anything since the middle of March many clubs must be struggling despite the amount of grants that have been available to all to help them through this tough period.

Most rely on these areas especially through the close season to help them plan things for the coming few months and supplement the football side. Add to that sponsorship revenues will be down across the board as businesses and individuals struggle to get themselves back on track, some will never open again.

With so much uncertainty if the game will kick off again next month, clubs must now be struggling to plan especially as most if not all are back at least in pre-season training or beginning to play some friendlies in order to be ready. Whilst clubhouses are now allowed to be open, there is no one using them on matchday’s until the DCMS say otherwise, depriving clubs of these income streams they so desperately need.

We know that kicking off without fans will cripple these clubs even more and it’s staggering to see that clubs especially at Steps 5 and 6 can not allow a maximum of say 200 people into their ground considering it’s an outside event. Most won’t get close to that figure, but social distancing can work without hassle at this level. Some more work might be needed to agree on levels for the clubs at Steps 3 and 4, but there’s no reason why it can’t work perfectly well at levels once thought out.

What’s more concerning now is the national picture which looks as if the date will be set back further into October, how many clubs will not be able to survive until then? And then if clubs drop like flies there are going to be some very mismatched numbers across divisions to play out the season.

We may instead even see some clubs merging to stem the flow of losses, either way we’re in for a few interesting weeks with just as many trials and tribulations as we’ve faced over the past couple of months but hopefully less horror stories coming our way.

Is the start date too late?

With a date now announced for the beginning of the 2020/21 season for the National League clubs as being the 3rd October, non-league football now has itself set up ready to return and the hope that there are no interruptions heading our way this time.

As we found out during last week lower down the pyramid at Step 3-6, dates in September are when they will begin and with both the EFL and Premier League re-starting on 12th September I’ll be honest I was expecting the National League to fall in line as they waited to do so all through the lockdown period, but no, lets be different!

Let’s dissect it in a little more detail and try to work out the logic behind the reasons. On the sensible side if the National League fall under the bigger stadium rule set out by the government then starting behind closed doors has been discussed as not possible for clubs at Step 1 and 2, it wouldn’t be practical or feasible and so beginning on October 3rd is very sensible in that respect. Clubs can open with capacity restrictions expected still but that is better than no income at all.

It also gives those clubs the time to get things right and Covid-19 ready to maximise every tiny bit they can as part of what is currently normal. There is also the preparation needed for those clubs who have taken part in the play-offs and a chance for the administration to get the fixtures out there with finals still to be played this weekend and also the small matter of Stevenage contesting their relegation versus Macclesfield’s points deductions so in principle it appears a good decision.

On the flip side of that though is those players who have worked up a bank of fitness over July for the play-offs look like its now either going to waste or a two month pre-season for those players. Do clubs give those players a few weeks off and return again knowing it’s going to be a repeat of the same work? Do they go with individual plans for each player as they did during lockdown? Or do they power through adding new signings along the way?

The next big question is while the players are getting honed back in the right condition, who are they going to play in pre-season friendlies? Whilst the National League players are back in training, everyone else up and down the country will have kicked off their league seasons so are we looking at Premier League Under 21 or Under 18 sides as opposition? That part has been poorly thought out, under-prepared and under-strength friendlies will not work for these clubs, it’s to see how they will all get up to match fitness and a higher level of sharpness before kick off.

Two months worth of games to fit in beginning in October with one Saturday at the end of the month lost to the FA Cup, so where do these games fit in then? The National League commonly play one third of their season within the first three months, two months of that will be dead rubber, in August and September, and unless the crystal ball has shown that there will no repeat of the horrendous rain we suffered last winter then the fixture list might just about survive, any cup run though could seriously hamper a title charge for anyone.

Maybe I’m being a little bit harsh here I don’t know, and more will come out in the next few days regarding how clubs can combat the distance in time between training and who exactly will be left to play apart from fellow National League outfits otherwise I finding it hard to see a reason why the season cannot begin during the month of September.

It wasn’t to be, but it can bee

The promotion dream is over for another year, and with it the end of the 2019/20 season for Barnet. Ironically today on my Facebook memories was first time I sat down with Darren Currie, the first time these blog stats went a bit nuts!

Two consecutive weekends, and 2-0 scorelines on both occasions, but this time the Bees were on the wrong end of it and with that Notts County were off to Wembley. Quite rightly, Currie named the same eleven as started at Yeovil with Shaq Coulthirst and Simeon Akinola returning to the bench, although how fit both really were came to show later in the game.

As Currie eluded to in his post match interview, Barnet were better in-between the boxes, but lacking inside both boxes compared to last weekend, perfectly summed up and the difference between the two sides. As Bees fans we knew losing three of your starting back five would be a hard ask all through these play-offs, that as we know weakened our midfield and against a very good outfit like County you will suffer.

I’m not going to single anyone out, don’t think the players deserve that, County had that little bit extra, worked hard on not allowing any supply into Josh Walker and Paul McCallum, that gave us a lot more to think about this time around. Take three of their best players out of that starting line up and the odds might have evened up a little bit, but good luck to County in the final, promises to be a very good game against Harrogate Town.

The attention now though turns to Currie, his contract and that of the players. As we know from the video interview a few weeks ago, September is when his notice period ends and is a free agent. Rumours from Southend do not go away although the Essex outfit are less than stable and I would be surprised if they don’t go for an experienced head to steady the ship. Not taking anything away from Currie, he has supplied the solid base for something to happen at The Hive, but it’s one season in. The ball there is firmly in Tony Kleanthous’ court and in my opinion a contract offer for two years should be on the table by the end of this week at the latest.

Failure to do so will set this club back years again, which is why we end up in the circle we do. Currie finally has the opportunity to build his own team and squad having worked with those who were not his own, he should be given the chance to do so. We’ve seen the quality of the players he had brought in, James Dunne, Scott Loach and McCallum, he knows a player when he sees one.

I know there are 7/8 players considering offers, I’ve no idea how many will commit to another season at The Hive. If the manager is given almost the freedom to construct a side to win a championship players will buy into it, if Kleanthous drags his heels it could be the difference between years stuck in the National League bumbling along or having a real good crack at it.

It’s looking like being the biggest decision to make at Barnet FC for a few years, the support is closer to the team for the first time in I would say five years, the chairman can either embrace it or ignore it and if it’s the latter then I can see plenty wanting to turn their back on the club and it would show where the football club ranks in the whole scheme of things.

McCallum signing permanently will set the marker, it needs to happen to show ambition, anything less and you’re almost resigned to being happy to chug along in the middle of things. Macca showed in just a few games for us the quality, the difference between champions and also-rans, for me he would be the modern day Grazioli or Akinde.

I’m expecting the season to start on 12th September as per the EFL and Premier League, 19th at the latest, not long to build a side and to get your house in order, the clock at The Hive is ticking………..

We go again

On Saturday afternoon Barnet head north to Notts County in the National League play-off semi-final with a trip to Wembley Stadium a week on Sunday the reward.

Darren Currie’s squad eliminated Yeovil Town last weekend down in the West Country courtesy of goals from Paul McCallum and long-serving Mauro Vilhete, but it’s fair to say the hosts on another day with shooting boots and less blocking from Barnet defenders would have won the game, but it’s the Bees who make the journey to Nottingham having already won the league fixture earlier in the season.

Goals from Callum Reynolds and Simeon Akinola gave Barnet a 2-1 win and an opening six points from two games back in August. County soon found their form until lockdown intervened and were sitting 3rd in the table with hopes of catching both Harrogate Town and Barrow.

It’s not often one let alone both previous Football League relegated sides make it into the play-offs at the first attempt, just ask Chesterfield and Barnet of the previous season.

Form now counts for nothing; County were on a run of two defeats in their last ten league games whilst Currie’s men suffered just one loss in their previous 17 games. Barnet have the slight advantage of 90 minutes game time in the tank and a week of analysing what was good and what can be improved on after the Yeovil win.

But all of that still may not count for anything and the result back in August has no bearing on what will take place in 90 minutes on Saturday. Barnet defended in numbers from front to back against the Glovers and will need more of the same to reach the final.

In Neal Ardley, County have a particularly good young manager who worked hard to pull the team around from the mess of last season into a side capable of winning promotion in a truly short space of time. To show the strength of the club they released around 12 players before the play-offs leaving them with a strong squad still of 24 players whilst Currie lost three of his starting back five.

You can expect strong performances from the likes of Kristian Dennis, Enzio Boldewijn and Richard Brindley to name a few, County are strong going forward but as showed last week, Ricardo Santos, Harry Taylor and Elliott Johnson proved you’ve got to work very, very hard to get past them and onto Scott Loach.

Currie, I know will be expecting more from his players this weekend, to keep possession better and hurt the opposition, passing with a purpose. With Akinola expected to be fit for selection, doubt still remains as to whether Wes Fonguck and Shaq Coulthirst will be available, once again it could well come down to individual mistakes to win the game and with plenty of firepower available to the Bees it gives them the smallest of edges in what should be a very tight encounter.

Will that tenner still be intact for a trip to Wembley and yet another trip to The Hive after this weekend? Time will tell…………

Things to look forward to

As we head closer towards the re-start of non-league football, I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a look at the things I’m looking to forward to seeing, smelling and enjoying in what we hope is the return for spectators in September, but also to places I didn’t get to last season and catch up’s I’ve promised with people as well. Also within this will be an exciting new project I’m putting together which will be a first for me so read on.

March to September is a long time in footballing terms for us folk, deprived of six weeks then and potentially of another six or so weeks to begin this coming season but we all also appreciate the reasons why and that is not in dispute. But, at the same time I can’t wait to be back and seeing government approval with dates set out and leagues/FA’s sending out divisional constitutions this week must have raised more than a few smiles.

This weekend I am back at The Hive to watch Barnet in the National League play-offs semi-final, its not of course occurring inside the stadium but instead on the screens in the bar, and after going last Saturday as well it’s two small steps back to normality, or as normal as we can get for the foreseeable future. Saturday was safe enough as far as I was concerned, but then having worked all through the pandemic, my reaction to things might have been different to yours but a matter of opinion (I’m a delivery driver, not a keyworker in my eyes but classed as one).

Clubs are of course aware of what they need to do to be Covid-19 ready even for pre-season games, whether we get to see those is another matter. And I don’t doubt they will be ready, if not then no income until they are will hurt most clubs at all levels below Step 3. Some will be incredibly innovative and will prosper even further, after all income needs to be coming in as soon as possible.

So when everything is up and running whats the first thing you’re going to notice first? The ground improvements which have been tirelessly worked upon since football was suspended might be the first thing to notice, if its a midweek match the glare and glisten of the floodlights sometimes from miles away and of course the smell in the air from the food outlets, the burgers sizzling away nicely, the onions on the fry, hot dogs cooking slowly and for those of a generation, the bovril smell is one to fill the air. Personally, I’m ready for a football burger or two, not because it tastes any better than anywhere else but it’s staple diet for me going to a game and always has been.

What’s going to be so important to every one of these clubs over the next twelve months is every piece of food sold, every cup of tea, every pint and programme will be crucial to all, so when you go and if you didn’t do it before have a think about dipping into your pocket and grabbing one of these. I’m not saying you have to do it every week, but having done a stint as a Secretary and Treasurer at a Step 5 club I know how important any small profit is within a grassroots club.

Someone gave me an idea for a new feature to use for this year, something new and something I think will benefit the club and its personnel in question. I have chosen this year to see what effect new boss Terry Dodd has at East Preston FC who play in the Southern Combination Premier Division. It has no affiliation to the club itself, but more for me to try something new and with the lack of local newspaper coverage now going on up and down the country and especially across West Sussex and for both Terry and EP it’s free coverage for themselves with next to no work. definitely for the club anyway and for clubs at that level its priceless, while I’m currently averaging over 1000 visitors per month from all around the world who knows the club might find a few new fans in deepest Canada or Brazil!

I also have a list of clubs and people I want to get around to that I didn’t manage last season and also a few managers who have been good enough to supply me with interviews during the lockdown period. Just before lockdown was invoked I had pretty much planned to head to Norfolk and take in Wroxham, who of course have appeared in this blog a few times. The day after I was hoping to get to see Needham Market Ladies, managed by the impressive Freya Louis. Neither happened so thats on the list to be done.

More trips to The Hive for next season, lockdown taught me a lot of things and gave me a change in my personal circumstances, a trip to watch Barnet is five hours minimum on the road, being inside made me realise I shouldn’t hate the journey and I’ve vowed never to, whether it’s driving or going by train, the difference in time is minimal.

Locally I want to take in a few more teams and games, not being tied to any club gives me more scope and also more blogs too, plus it gives everyone who reads insights all over the place rather than concentrating too much on one thing.

I’ve been lucky to have had a lot of club personnel keeping me busy by doing interviews since March, the first one being Lee Robson chairman of Wroxham who I will catch up with on my trip to Norfolk, fingers crossed I will get around to see Barnet’s Darren Currie, no idea yet which division they will be in it could well be a final non-league piece for him, Eastleigh’s Ben Strevens and Bromley’s Neil Smith, both have been very accommodating and guys at the top level of the non-league game.

But as with Lee, it’s not just been the top end of the game I’ve been in touch with, dropping down just under that with Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm, and then to Step 4 with Worthing manager Adam Hinshelwood, Step 5 and Richard Styles at Tunbridge Wells along with Simon Colbran at Langney Wanderers and of course Dodd at East Preston, finishing up with Simon Hull at Step 6 Arundel.

Plenty going on and plenty to be going to see if all goes to plan, there’s bound to be a few spanners thrown in the works as well to keep things interesting, but it wouldn’t be fun without a few additions for amendments throughout the season………

One step closer

National League football for the first time since March, that pretty complete performance away to Woking the last time Barnet took to the pitch. Points per game ensured the Bees took their place in the play-offs at the expense of Stockport County.

The route to the final is away from The Hive, for all three games and the first hurdle to negotiate was a trip to the West Country and Yeovil Town, ironically the final game Barnet should have faced before lockdown.

With the opportunity of watching the game shown on screens in Legends Bar at the ground, it had to be done. Ninety minutes surrounded by fellow Bees fans seemed liked a good idea, a tenner including curry and a drink.

Being that we effectively snuck into the end of season party, I can’t say there was any nervous feeling for me, more just happy there was a small sense of normality returning and the chance to watch the team in action again.

As I stated in Friday’s preview it was going to be interesting to see how Darren Currie’s team coped with the loss of Dan Sweeney, Callum Reynolds and Cheye Alexander from their back line and whether Harry Taylor/Charlee Adams would line up at centre half or central midfield, either or for both.

As it was Taylor slotted in alongside Ricardo Santos and Elliott Johnson in a back three with long serving Mauro Vilhete taking Alexander’s wing back spot, a squad though that were missing Simeon Akinola, Wes Fonguck and Shaq Coulthirst with varying muscle strains.

The first half, very sketchy, a lack of penetrating runs and chances created although Town certainly had the better of the efforts with ex-Bees target Rhys Murphy finding his way often blocked by the impressive Taylor.

The hosts began the second half as they did the first, on the front foot forcing early corners, an effort from which hit the crossbar, whilst blocked tackles were coming in from all angles to halt Yeovil’s progression.

It was however soon after this the Bees took the lead, Ephron Mason-Clark setting Paul McCallum away on the edge of the box, turned back inside and sent Town keeper Stuart Nelson the wrong way.

Despite taking the lead it was Yeovil still creating the better chances after going behind, once again though the Bees were equal to everything, blocking from David Tutonda, Taylor heading out from under his own bar and Johnson playing a neat one-two off the post.

The hosts thought they were going to equalise just six minutes from time when Taylor once again got in the way of a shot that was destined for the bottom corner. Vilhete however sent The Hive into raptures wrapping up the win just two minutes later after the ball bobbled off players and a post to set up a trip to face Notts County next Saturday evening.

Despite this being a cold start for all the teams involved, Currie had expected his side to hold onto the ball better and create more chances, there is room for improvement and progress with another week’s training and some to analyse what was good and what can be done better.

Some great performances stand out from Santos and Taylor, the latter just shading MOTM for me and some crucial saves from Scott Loach to keep the score-line blank for the hosts.

With Akinola expected to be fit to return next week the boss will also have a selection dilemma as to whether he retains the same eleven or restores his top scorer to the starting line-up, whatever happens though I’m off to The Hive!

The wait is almost over: Yeovil vs Barnet

Saturday, a tiny bit of normality returns to the non-league football world for me. Actually, it’s here on Friday evening, although I am writing this before Boreham Wood take on Halifax Town in the first eliminator of the 2019/20 National League play-offs and in two weeks’ time one of six clubs will be promoted to the Football League.

I’m off to The Hive to watch the game on screens in the Legends Bar with like minded folk happy the Bees are back in action, its been a long wait. It’s not Huish Park of course but it brings back the fact that despite us knowing this virus might be dampening down a little its not going to fully go away these are to me the green shoots of recovery coming through in the non-league game.

By 5pm on Saturday though my tenner on @ 8/1 could be dust, or it could be going on for another week! This two-week battle for promotion is going to be a lottery regardless of what any fan says from the six clubs. A cold start for everyone, different squads and teams for some since lockdown began in March, there is no form to consider. My own club Barnet were on a superb run of one defeat in 17 games, a scintillating performance last time out at Woking in March but now that counts for nothing. Our opponents Yeovil Town were enjoying a fine campaign and along with Notts County, it’s the first time I can remember the seasons previous relegated clubs both in with a shout of returning at the first time of asking.

A first full season for Bees boss Darren Currie saw his side take the final play-off spot by virtue of points-per-game (PPG). The argument of those games in hand due to the weather curtailing games on what was a poor Hive pitch for most of the season should actually bring a few plaudits to Currie and his team, trying to ping the football on the ground is the way we play, Currieball, and credit should go to them for still playing that way on a surface that wasn’t fit for purpose.

There are a couple of losses from the squad which could hurt Currie’s plans, Dan Sweeney and Callum Reynolds have both chosen to move on, but the return to fitness for Ricardo Santos is a massive plus in that area and with cover alongside him from both Harry Taylor and Charlee Adams with Elliott Johnson expected to line up on the left hand side of a back three. Cheye Alexander and Dan Sparkes are two other departures from the club, but with Mauro Vilhete able to fill in at right wing back and Sparkes being a bit part player since his arrival the club those two departures shouldn’t be felt.

In attack is what excites me! The lack of playing games has allowed both Alfie Pavey and Shaq Coulthirst to get themselves fit after long term injuries, whilst Paul McCallum has returned to the club as agreed within his loan spell to add to the firepower already provided this term by Simeon Akinola and Josh Walker.

With a lack of match sharpness for all a concern across the six clubs these games may come down to punishing defensive mistakes and these five in black and amber are the reason I feel Barnet have just the edge over their opponents, at least for this weekend.

There are no advantage to being either home or away as we’ve seen in both the Bundesliga and Premier League when it comes to fans being behind the team, it’s down to ninety minutes of pure football, boy have I been waiting for this!

                                                Loach

                        Adams           Santos           Johnson

Vilhete                    Taylor               Dunne                        Tutonda

                                                Akinola

                                    Walker           McCallum

Subs: Pavey, Mason-Clark, Coulthirst, Matrevics, Elito, Fonguck, McBurnie, Vasiliou, Edwards.

What’s in a date

Now we are closer to a return for non-league football, attention turns to what date the FA will decide upon once the government and Public Health England give the full go ahead to resume competitive matches.

There is a lot to consider up and down the country and how much guidance the FA will give and support with is currently unclear and I’ll take you through why I think it’s much needed.

To start four weeks later than a normal season is not a problem for non-league to accommodate but some sacrifices will need to be made in order to not have clubs facing three or four games a week in April and May, the weather might dictate otherwise but everything needs to be done to avoid it. In Sussex for example clubs can be in as many as seven cup competitions alongside a full league campaign of around 34-38 games at Steps 5 and 6. That just can’t happen in 2020/21 with a truncated season, be it only four weeks short, but in that time two rounds of the FA Cup are completed along with around three or four league games for clubs at that level, for one year only we hope these miscellaneous cups will have to excused.

 It has to be remembered players at this level and above up to Step 2 also have full time jobs, to expect them to graft for a day’s money and then travel for a couple of hours in some cases to play 90 minutes of football and travel home again is not on. Some creative fixture planning needs to happen to keep these trips to a Saturday especially as these guys could be playing twice a week for as long as three months.

There is the need to complete both the FA Cup and Vase early rounds to meet the contractual targets for the Cup by the end of October, but this is achievable in two ways for me, reduce the amounts of entrants just for this year and allow no clubs from Step 6. Before you all go ‘they rely on this prize money should they win or lose’ not all Step 6 clubs make it in if they do apply and if they can run without the Extra Prelim round or a very small version of it then it will help no end to fit things in. Add to that a straight one-off game with no replays in either the Cup or Vase will also cut out games that can’t be accommodated in this year’s calendar.

I am expecting to see a start date of 12th September for non-league football across the board, anything later than that and it will be a struggle to fit everything in. That start date will give you a league game on the Saturday, followed by the Tuesday , FA Cup round the following Saturday, which if a one off game allows another league game on the Tuesday, FA Vase round for the final Saturday of the month and round it off with a further league game on the 29th, almost repeat for October and the catch-up would be caught up.

It must be remembered that last season saw unprecedented postponements from November onwards and every effort should be made to fit as many in as possible before then or the season will back up horrendously after Xmas, players will enjoy playing rather than training as it is.

I don’t see why County Cups can’t remain, later start than usual but still able to be completed even if they start in 2021, it might be weather dependant but a decision that can be made once the season is up and running, no reason why it can’t be said that ‘we’d like to do this and that, but it is dependent on this and that’.

I have seen rumours October will be the start date, that suits no one in non-league due to the tight fixture restrictions and how many clubs can go another three months without income from their activities that exist alongside their football, and if they could survive until then in some shape or form, is there a chance they won’t finish the season instead because the pressure is on to raise cash and as much as they can?

Paramount to everything, it has to be safe to re-start that is without question but as we see things are changing daily, weekly and where we will sit as a country in eight weeks’ time is difficult to predict although the signs are it is improving well for us.

What we don’t need to do is flog the players to death because we start four weeks behind and then try and cram too much into the end of the season because of a lack of preparation from the beginning, FA guidance is actually going to be very crucial in getting this right, maybe this time they might deliver……