I think it’s fair to say that over the 20 odd years of supporting Barnet FC for me we’ve had our share of ‘names’ over the years on and off the pitch. I’ve already covered the biggest name in my opinion when Edgar Davids arrived at Underhill, and there are plenty I could mention but I don’t want to spoil a future blog that’s planned!
I’m going back to the turn of the century when a ‘name’ arrived at Underhill complete with a decent topflight reputation. Step forward Tony Cottee, a legend in West Ham Utd colours, a decent record in-between two spells at the Hammers with Everton and a slightly less productive spell at Leicester City.
Having been released by the Foxes in 2000, Cottee moved to Norwich but struggled to make the move work and was subsequently released after just seven games for the Canaries, days later linked with a move to Barnet and sure enough unveiled by Tony Kleanthous as the new player-manager as John Still moved upstairs to become a director of the club.
As it was when Davids arrived at the club, I would say the general feeling was why Cottee, who enjoyed a career at the top level in the game, wanted to drop down to the then Third Division, or maybe that was just me! Either way here he was and as with Barnet on more than one occasion I’ve experienced, this was going to be another rollercoaster ride!
Not involved in the 0-0 draw away at Rochdale, Cottee’s first game in charge was the following Saturday at home to Blackpool. I myself that day wasn’t expecting to see what I did end up witnessing, a 7-0 thumping of Blackpool with a debut goal for the new gaffer and a hat-trick from the current Bees boss Darren Currie. There aren’t too many debuts that can go better than that, and maybe it gave a false sense of belief to the incoming player-manager, who had bolstered a front line already consisting of Tony Richards, Scott McGleish, Omar Riza and Ben Strevens.
That though was as good as it got pretty much for Cottee despite a hat-trick for himself in mid-December. The team always had goals in them from all angles, but it appeared they had forgotten how to defend, goals going in started to be outweighed by those conceded.
Two wins in twelve games from the beginning of 2001 sealed Cottee’s fate and it was announced mutually to end his brief four month reign. In that short amount of time Cottee managed to take the team from the cusp of the play-offs to a side devoid of confidence, leadership and dropping like the stone towards the relegation places, indeed only five points off the bottom and having played two games more on his departure.
Rumours surfaced of players not being fit enough to see out ninety minutes and a lack of leadership from the front coupled with poor training sessions. As we know Still came back to try and halt the decline with ten games to go, but the damage was already done and relegation back to the Conference came in the final game of the season where the winner stayed up, Barnet totally off colour in the biggest game of the season and Torquay benefitted from that securing the win.
Having spoken to Darren Currie this season, a question came up about the whole Cottee experience and quite rightly as a manager now himself, Darren was diplomatic in his reply. Part of the question put to him was ‘did the players not care’, and ‘how did the team drop so low’. The answer was certainly not for the first part and difficult to put your finger on why as it was the same players, Darren’s response at the end was to say ‘he’s never been in management since so that maybe explains a few things’.
Some people make great coaches but not managers, some make great pundits but plain awful on the training pitch, we’ve got a good one at The Hive, hopefully we’re onto something special once again…………