We all have a reason why we support the teams we do and they vary so much in their origin. Family ties, dragged along by friends, an attachment of colours, you name it everyone will have one and this is mine!
I grew up a Tottenham fan, after my late father brought me back both home and away shirts from the ’81 FA Cup Final, not that he was a Spurs fan, West Ham for him. I grew up in a multi-supporting house, Newcastle for my mum, Chelsea for my middle brother and the youngest brother also attaching himself to the Hammers. The love for non-league football came in 1986 and a trip to London Road, the then home of Maidstone Utd.
My first taste of floodlit non-league football, a 2-0 win over Nuneaton Borough courtesy of goals from Steve Butler and George Torrance. I can’t remember exactly how many times I went that season but I was there for the final game at the stadium before the move to groundshare at Dartford, it was also to be the first time I was to encounter John Still.
So from there I enjoyed watching Maidstone in Dartford, but a Football League club after one season, my first taste of league football, but in that time my dad would take me anywhere to watch a game, Dartford themselves where I first encountered Peter Taylor and Andy Hessenthaler, Welling Utd which was a first encounter with Lee Harrison and Terry Robbins, but also Kent League clubs, Darenth, Tonbridge and plenty of others, non-league kept it coming.
As it was Maidstone become the first Football League side to resign from the competition since the 1960’s and with it no club for me to support in 1992. I went months without watching a live game, until I suggested to my brother and one of his mates about going to watch Barnet who were doing well and looking good for promotion. I looked up our journey, one train into London and then a direct tube to High Barnet, nice and easy!
So off we went one Saturday afternoon in April, sun shining ready for football once more. Scarborough were the visitors to Underhill that day. When we got there, had absolutely no idea where to head for, so I asked the first person we saw, a chap selling a fanzine who turned out to be a certain John Cosgrove, became a friend and ended up on my stag do and at my wedding reception and not the only one.
We ended up on the popular West Bank behind the goal, which was to become our standing place until it was taken down and replaced with temporary seats. Anyway, back to the game, which Barnet won 3-1, the first a bullet header from former Maidstone Utd midfielder Tony Sorrell, being that he was one of my favourite last few players to appear in a Stones shirt I felt quite at home! Further goals from Brian Stein and Paul Showler secured the points for the home side and that was it, I was hooked on the Bees! I went again on my own to watch the penultimate game of the season, a 1-1 draw against Lincoln which featured another ex-Stone in Darren Oxbrow.
My first full season, well that fateful one where we survived expulsion from the Football League, the cobbled together side, all ticket games, FA Cup ties against Chelsea and a football boot away from victory, the arrival of Ray Clemence as joint manager alongside Gary Phillips and some great moments in what was a very troubled season, the only season the club has spent in what now is League One.
Thats some twenty-seven years now in total, I’ve seen two promotions from the non-league game into the Football League, but three relegations in that time. I’ve made countless friends in that time alongside Cosgrove, mentions for Pete Williamson, Janet Matthewson, Tony Reckless Hammond, Michael Hanley, Nik Myles, Lucy Waldon to name a few, I’ve sponsored the likes of Nicky Bailey, Ashley Carew, Neal Bishop, Edgar Davids and Darren Currie.
I’ve seen some fantastic players in that time, some that went forward and made their name higher up in the games, some on the way down, Maik Taylor, Dougie Freedman, Jack Taylor, Jason Puncheon, Albert Adomah, Nicky Bailey are a few who went up, Paul Warhurst, Paul Furlong, Gary Breen, Andy Hessenthaler, Eddie Newton, David Hillier at the other end of the scale, there are many more I’m sure and everyone has a different set that mean something to them or spring to mind.
I can pick out goal-scorers in Freedman, Guiliano Grazioli, John Akinde, I could be here all day picking out players from here, players from there.
It’s not just the players, the ones in the dugout, Ray Clemence already mentioned, Alan Mullery, Gary Sumo Phillips, Edgar Davids, Paul Fairclough, Martin Allen and now the turn of Ruby Currie to make a mark on this club.
Whatever your team, there’s a story like mine about how you got there and where it’s at today, one thing I’ve always been able to say it’s never dull following Barnet FC…….