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………

Maidstone Utd: That fateful season

Pictured above, the last time I saw Maidstone United in Football League action. 28 years later the Stones have still not returned, the top division of National League until 12 months ago is the closest they have come. The dream of league football died within three years of promotion, and a club with 95 years of history to be no longer.

After a first season success on reaching the play-offs only to lose to Cambridge Utd over two legs, the second season wasn’t quite living up to expectations for chairman Jim Thompson. The trigger finger got twitchy and manager Keith Peacock who masterminded that play-off run was sacked in favour of the brash northerner Graham Carr, father of the comedian Alan. Carr who had a successful time at Northampton was brought in you felt to replicate that for the Stones, only the north/south mix didn’t quite work.

Ironically for Carr his first game in charge was at Northampton, the team limped to a 2-0 defeat with three players sent off and a sign maybe that performances weren’t really going to improve a great deal. The break up of the side followed over the coming months, Karl Elsey and Les Berry given free transfers, Steve Butler leaving for Watford after handing in a transfer request and Mark Beeney finding his way to Brighton and no disrespect to the squad Carr had at his disposal for the opening day trip to Chesterfield for the new season it was far removed from the one that finished that play-off season.

Five defeats in five games without a goal being scored in all competitions saw the end of Carr and a season that never saw Maidstone outside the bottom six positions. A sure but slow improvement under Bill Williams followed, the Stones though were lacking quality throughout the team, plenty of endeavour but that doesn’t win you games alone.

When you look at the squad list above what sticks out firstly is the huge turnover of players inside three years, eight players remained from that first league season although three of those players were fringe members when joining the club. Tony Sorrell, Jesse Roast and Nicky Johns, all missed the entire season, Mark Gall sold along with Robbie Painter and Lawrence Osborne during the course of the season, first Williams and then Clive Walker working against the tide rather than with it. You might notice a certain Gary Breen at the top of the list, didn’t have a bad career in the end did he!

After the rejection from the council for the new proposed ground in November, the fight effectively was over for the club as a whole, to see out the season was never certain with losses piling up by the day, but there were a few bright spots in a dismal time. The form of keeper Iain Hesford was superb all through the season, including a goal against Hereford, the emergence of Breen who even at 17 you could see there was a decent career in front of him, Stuart Nethercott on loan from Spurs was another who forged a good career in the pro game after time at Watling Street and then onto Barnet before the end of the season.

When you look at that division, Burnley, Blackpool, Cardiff all went upwards and onwards, York, Hereford, Wrexham, Scarborough and many more went the other way, you do wonder if the new ground and complex had been given permission where Maidstone would have gone and be looking from now, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and maybe too much ambition is what cost Thompson the club.

Sat May 2nd was the last time Maidstone Utd played a Football League match, a 3-0 loss at Doncaster Rovers the final line in history. Despite that line, the Stones were included in the fixture list for 1992-93 and poor Scunthorpe Utd were left without an opponent on the opening day despite programmes printed and everything at the ready. A rumoured just five players were on the old London Road training pitch which sat behind the old stadium along with boss Clive Walker, they were soon to be out of a job.

With Thompson having relinquished control of the club to Mark English, he was back in charge less than a week later after English took one look at the books and decided it was not for him. Eventually the club did leave control of the beleaguered chairman and John Waugh looked to move the club to the North East, re-named them Newcastle Browns and share St James Park. Unsurprisingly, the Football League refused and told Waugh the club had to stay in Kent,that was the last throw of the dice and with it the end.

Why and how the Stones disappeared I will look at in more depth in a future blog,

Guest Series: Ben Strevens Best XI

ben-strevens

To end the month I’m beginning with a new series of articles. Former Barnet, Dagenham, Brentford and Gillingham striker Ben Strevens has picked the best eleven players he played with during a career which spanned just over 600 games.

Here’s who the current Eastleigh boss has selected:

GK – Wojciech Szczesny – Came on loan to Brentford from Arsenal, you could tell straight away he was going to play at the top level.

RB – Ian Hendon – Was my captain at Barnet when we won promotion, leader in all aspects. Good 1v1 and excellent going forward.

LB – Ryan Dickson – At Brentford only played one season with him before he moved to Southampton but was athletic and full of energy.

CB – Simon King – Lovely left foot and very good defender. Convinced if he didn’t get injured, he would have played at least in the Championship.

CB – Adam Barrett – Only played a short while with him at Gillingham, but also a proper leader and very good defender.

RW – Sam Saunders – Played with him at Dagenham and Brentford. Very good crosser of a ball and also the delivery from dead ball situations. Went on to play in the Championship.

LW – Darren Currie – Best chop and two footed player I played with. Looked after me when I was a young lad at Barnet.

CM – Matt Ritchie – I’ve put him at centre mid just to get him in my team! Could tell he was special, his left foot could do anything. Currently at Newcastle Utd

CM – Nicky Bailey – Was only a young lad at Barnet. Was so competitive would boil over at times, but could tackle, dribble and score goals.

CF – Paul Benson – Was brilliant to play with, could hold the ball, run the channels and most importantly score all sorts of goals.

CF – Giuliano Grazioli – All round great bloke that helped me loads on and off the pitch. Knew if we got a chance it was a goal. Was incredible for us the season we won the league at Barnet.

My thanks to Ben for his input, there are more to come from a couple of National League managers in the next month.

Guest blog 3: Anywhere and everywhere

Tonight’s blog is another guest blog, I’ve been lucky people want to write for me during the difficult times we’re experiencing and this is the next one in line with some more to come.

Carla Devine is a Barnet fan, don’t worry not every guest piece comes in black and amber! This one is a story of following a non-league everywhere and I mean everywhere! She is also a contributor to the matchday programme at The Hive and this is her story:

My whole life revolves around Barnet FC. My first game was when I was 16 months old and I haven’t missed a game in two and a half years. Supporting Barnet is all my Dad’s fault. Despite being born and brought up in Leeds myself, because my Dad was born in Barnet and grew up supporting them, I inherited the gene.  In my lifetime I’ve seen 2 promotions to the football league, although this has been outweighed by 3 relegations back to non-league. Non-league Barnet have taken me everywhere from now Premier League Sheffield United to League One Bristol Rovers and even Isthmian Premier Division Carshalton Athletic. It’s a journey like no other.

 

Carshalton

(War Memorial Sports Ground, home of Carshalton Athletic)

Back in the days when I was younger we didn’t go to as many home games as it’s a 400 mile round trip from Leeds but I have fond memories of many Northern away days, such as Morecambe and Accrington. A cold wind on the sea front as well as being dragged around this old bookstore in Morecambe and standing on that cold terrace in Accrington is something that defined my childhood. Games like this were a blessing for us, we could be back on our sofa in time for tea. Yet despite us coming from the opposite end of the country and not going as often, we always saw familiar faces and this to me is what makes non-league unique. You could be at a game anywhere from Dartford to Gateshead and there will always be the friendly faces you recognise and for my family I think that’s one of the reasons we became so hooked.

Morecambe

 

(With the famous Eric Morecambe statue on Morecambe sea front)

Fast forward to my teenage days I grew more of an interest and started begging my Dad to take us to every game (even all the home ones). Thankfully my Dad committed to the cause and by the time our next stint in non-league came, we were going to most games. I think this is when the uniqueness of non-league hit me. In one season you can travel anywhere from the bigger grounds like Lincoln City to the less developed clubs such as Hyde United. Another thing that struck me about non-league is that you have the opportunity to go to some more niche places. I’d never heard of Altrincham or Telford until we were playing them – to be honest I’d still probably be unable to place them on a map but at least I can say I’ve been there. Of course my teenage years also saw us become the first ever team to win the Conference for the third time in 2015. No matter what anyone says winning a title is a feeling like no other, regardless of what league it’s in. That season was unforgettable and we couldn’t stop coming back for more. During this time I also got to know more Barnet fans and became more involved with the club as a whole. This is another thing I think massively differentiates non-league from others, the personal level you can get to know the players and managers on and this too is a reason I became so enticed in the life of non-league.

Alty away

(Altrincham Away in 2015)

In September 2018 my perspective of following Barnet religiously took a new turn as I moved down to London to start university. Although London was always my dream, my growing relationship with Barnet in the years prior to this made London more important to me. And I promise you, I will never take that lie in on the Saturday morning of a home game for granted. Unlike people might expect, I felt at ease with the move to London and the prospect of travelling to more games on my own. Travelling by train you are always bound to see some Bees fans and recently I have travelled on the minibus too which has allowed me to get to know more people. By this point non-league itself has changed too. Now you have the bigger teams such as Notts County and Yeovil in the mix as well as the smaller clubs like Chorley. Yet it’s also a better league than it used to be, it really can be anyone’s league and every game must be treated with respect.

Just last season we had a tremendous FA Cup run which saw us beat Sheffield United away and take Brentford to a replay after an amazing game. Not to mention our FA Trophy run too or the emphatic 4-0 win against AFC Fylde this season. But it has its lows too, a 3-0 loss to then bottom of the league Ebbsfleet on a cold Tuesday night or the exhausting 4-2 loss away at Halifax. Though being there to witness the lows definitely makes you appreciate the highs. Non-league is certainly an unpredictable place and following a non-league team around the country really is a rollercoaster ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the final countdown………

Martin Allen 2

So then seven days ago I left things on a knife-edge and this blog will tie up the loose end to Barnet’s 2014-15 season. It’s ironic that in this time where circumstances are difficult I was expecting to hit 4.45pm this afternoon, have a few beers with old friends and then pop round to Darren Currie’s office and share a beer with him, Junior and of course Ben Strevens as it should have been Eastleigh at The Hive, two managers whose company I’ve had the pleasure of this season and kept in touch with.

But instead, this blog goes back to exactly five years ago, Barnet one game away from the Football League, forty-five games down and Bristol Rovers just one point behind, match their result and champions the Bees would be, Would they? Ten years after the last title triumph? You best read on…………

This morning five years ago was one of excitement and expectation, having seen Barnet become champions back in 2005 was I about see Barnet become the Conference champions for a record third time? The journey by car usually takes me around 2 and a half to 3 hours in total, today though was beers and the train! I met up with Gareth Spinks at Worthing, another convert to watching the Bees, well more he loves his football!

Beers on the train I think up to London, early into London I might add, maximum drinking time when we got to The Hive despite it being a 5.15pm kick off. I remember the sun was shining as it pretty should be at the end of April. Once at the mecca of footballing greatness, more friends to meet, Pete Williamson, Reckless, Lucy, Shep, Janet Matthewson to name drop a few, no nerves from me, but I am an eternal optimist and our fate was in our own hands from the kick-off.

On hearing the team news I wasn’t surprised to see Martin Allen had gone for an unchanged team, faith in those that had got the team to this point, but a strong bench with the likes of Charlie McDonald, Luisma Villa and Luke Gambin among the five. Not surprisingly also it was a full house, when The Hive is full it rocks but sadly we don’t get to this point often enough, something we can all hope will change after this pandemic?

The tones of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’, the eyes look up, the players emerge, you know for the next ninety minutes this is it! And Barnet were up for it, at it straight from the off, Allen had them up for this but to be honest nothing less than you expected from one of his team’s. Gash and Weston were the first to create chances and it wasn’t long before we were off our feet and ‘on our way’ once again. Rovers were already in front, news filtering around The Hive, winning was now the only option. Fitting that it was Mauro Vilhete who had established himself as a firm favourite in Allen’s team, a boy who had come through the ranks and the longest serving player in Barnet colours began to write himself in Barnet history. The smallest player on the pitch with the most majestic leap made the breakthrough on 25 minutes with a free header and this stadium went nuts! We were on our way, to the Football League!

It should have been two before the break, Weston’s sweet volley from 20 yards crashing against the bar, we thought that was it! In and game over, but the goal lead at half time would be enough still forty-five minutes later.

So far, so good for us lot, but knowing one goal would peg us back and advantage Rovers, no chance for letting up. And just four minutes into the second half, there he was again, that man Vilhete stabbing home from yards out to send The Hive wild again after Gash’s header was cleared off the line. Almost before we were back in the seats though, the Heed almost halved the deficit, Graham Stack as so many times over the season was equal to the effort, a stunning save watching it back on the re-run, the best Gateshead managed for most of the game until a late disallowed goal for offside.

Vilhete and Akinde both had chances to really crown the performance, but two goals were enough, seven clearly weren’t and Allen had delivered the title and with it a return to the Football League. The celebrations once the final whistle went were something else, one of those things that lives with you forever.

More beers, more celebrating until we had to go, or the last train back to Littlehampton was departing without us! Memories though, not just of today but a season’s worth, one I believe Martin was confident from the off we could or would win this. It was also good to see former Bees boss Edgar Davids was there to witness the return to league football, nodding approving glances at the final whistle and beyond.

Some big players won medals, everyone contributed, the experience that had collected in this group before a ball was kicked. I don’t want to leave players out here, but I think some deserve a bit more. Of course without Akinde’s 31 goals we don’t win games, Weston’s goals at the back end of the season cannot be underestimated, a player who goes under the radar does his job wherever he is asked to be, but those goals just as crucial as Akinde’s? I’ll let you decide that! The back five, rarely unchanged throughout the season, Stack, Yiadom, N’Gala, Stephens and Johnson, consistency and foundations that allow a team to flourish, the arrival of Connor Clifford to spark fresh legs into the midfield, Sam Togwell the sometimes unsung anchor in that midfield, the early season contributions of Lee Cook and Charlie McDonald, the emergence of Luisma Villa at crucial times with goals too, and Vilhete, the final star, the hero, of a campaign that promised and delivered and a place in Barnet history for a talented squad and manager.

 

Champions

It’s over, but it’s not over?

 

NL logo

The next step in the footballing puzzle is now almost in place after the National League decision on Wednesday afternoon to cancel the remaining games across all three of its divisions for the 2019/20 season. Once again it’s another difficult decision to be made against the delicate situation of what is happening up and down the country.

The season is now cancelled with no further games to be played, what happens next is the decision of how the season’s tables finish. What offers will be on the table is anyone’s guess at the moment and that is the next action the clubs will have to vote on.

I’ve had a read through the Barnet messageboard before writing, and I’ve spoken to three National League managers for their views as well as my own. So, where do we start?

A mixed selection from Bees fans, a mixed selection from supporters of other clubs across Twitter as well. The timing of the season end with almost all clubs completing 80% of their fixtures has caused many to say the final 20% should be completed at some stage, whenever that may happen. We are all aware that at best we’re in the middle of this pandemic, football may well take a long time to come back and an even longer time with crowds who knows is really the honest answer that one. I believe some of us would take games behind closed doors at the moment just to watch a game of football, but how long would it be before we grow cold of that situation?

Some will argue we hold on until that part can be resumed but for how long can clubs hold out against no cash flow coming in? We know clubs higher up the food chain live underneath the breadline and clubs lower down with less income are similar, bills still need paying and despite clubs being able to furlough staff, players not being included then leaves that expense line running at normal but nothing to pay it with.

Clubs will argue in cases of promotion and relegation if the table stays as it is today.  The same will be said if points per game (PPG) is used to create a final table, that will benefit some more than others, clubs that will have backed themselves to get out of the bottom four or gatecrash the play-offs, or even steal the title.

From here though there is one issue affecting the EFL that affects the NL and then all the way down the pyramid. Bury’s place in the Football League is up for discussion having run at 23 clubs in League One, but should they invite Barrow for example as leaders of the National League when play was suspended, then would the likes of Harrogate and Notts County feel a sense of injustice and seek legal advice? And if they promote one team up to League Two does this create a domino effect down the pyramid of one team needing to go up and if so how is that going to be calculated? Will a division run one team short similar to League One? Lots of questions still to be answered but there is plenty of time before decisions beyond these current ones need to be made.

After the decision I spoke with Eastleigh boss Ben Strevens, Bromley gaffer Neil Smith and Bees boss Darren Currie to gain their views on the statement. Strevens was in favour of the decision saying ‘It’s nice to have some clarification, just really tough and now it’s finding a fair way to end the season.’

Smith was in agreement too, ‘I think it’s the right decision as we are no nearer the end of the lockdown and I think the bigger picture is the safety of everyone. The decision will now be how the league ends it so it will now go back to the clubs to vote.’

Currie called on more to be done to ensure all clubs survive, ‘It is the responsibility of the ‘football family’, The FA or PFA or whoever it is that we come together and be sure that we come out of this terrible situation that we don’t lose a single club from the pyramid from top to bottom. Today’s decision is understandable, football will be with us again soon, but in the meantime, health safety and wellness is the priority.’

Attention will surely now start to focus on player contracts and those whose expire in the next eight weeks, many will nervously be wondering what direction clubs will take given a start date for 2020/21 is unlikely to be known anytime soon

No doubt in a few days time we will see the options open to clubs to vote upon, whatever they are it’s not going to please everyone and you can be sure there will be much more debate and opinion flying around…….

 

 

 

 

Guest blog 3: This end of the season

Gavin 1

I’m always on the lookout for new angles and different ways to keep everyone occupied while we battle through this difficult time and guest blogs is another way to see things from different situations. This is the first article sent to me by a friend on Twitter, and there are currently two to come over the next few weeks, so sit back, grab a cuppa and have a read:

Gavin Blackwell has been involved in the game for over 30 years as a physio for a handful of non-league clubs, most notably Halesowen Town but also Oldbury Utd, Tividale, Stourbridge and Hednesford Town. He has also assisted Wolverhampton Wanderers Academy and West Bromwich Albion Reserves.

The football season should have been very much in its latter stages by the Easter weekend. As we all know, that period can have a massive bearing on both the relegation and promotion outlook with twists and turns that can come with two games in three days in front of larger than usual crowds.

I can recall one such occasion when it did it’s very best to. My former club Halesowen Town had kept chipping away at big spenders Rushden and Diamonds unassailable lead in the race for the 1996 Southern League Premier Division title.

That Bank Holiday Monday opened up the race.

Rushden had a morning kick off at Sudbury and Town were away at Worcester City in the evening.

News broke that Sudbury had beaten Roger Ashby’s side and we had a chance to close the gap further . In the end we could only manage to draw but it helped to take it to the last game of the season.

With it getting warmer, evenings are getting lighter spring is in the air and another season would have been about to come to an end, soon so I thought I would look back on some moments that only football can through up.

In the 1989/90 season, Sheffield United gained promotion to the First Division led by manager Dave Bassett.

During that campaign they allowed the BBC cameras unprecedented access into all aspects of life in a football club and ran a series following that season.

Each of the six episodes featured a different aspect of the football club, from boardroom to supporters, the apprentices and the commercial department.

One of the most interesting and fascinating episodes of the series was that of the players wives/girlfriends and the ladies who work tirelessly behind the scenes at clubs.

This reminded me of the likes of Dot Wooldridge serving Wolves for many years or Sheila Horn of Arsenal.

The programme – known as ‘United’ showed an industry very different to today’s world, featuring players who were far removed from a game awash with cameras on the field. It filmed the players at home on a Friday evening and the wives at work on a Saturday – what would most of the WAGS be doing now on a Saturday?

I am talking days of just score updates on radio, Grandstand, World Of Sport, teletext and Ceefax to keep you up to date.

For non league followers it was difficult to have updates whilst a game was being played out sometimes the Saturday pink was the first port of call for those or teletext when you got home or possibly local radio at around 5.30pm. The programme showed the human element of football players wives worrying about new contracts for their husbands – will they have to move house, will they need to find the children a new school?

These are issues that still effect players families regularly and staff also, but of course at the top level you are dealing with much more money for players these days and possibly home schooling or private education comes in to it but you can imagine Friday night still now being the biggest and sometimes the most difficult for players as essential preparation, whether that be at home with the other half’s, or in a hotel with their team mates.

Two players that were featured in the programme were Paul Stancliffe and Wilf Rostron and particularly the relationship they had with their wives. The latter was feeling the strain as his contract was up end of the season and of course it affected his wife Jill as well. It showed though what a great spirit they had together and how Jill knew her husband and when to talk about the game or not to say anything.

When they played away, some of the wives would spend the evening in each other’s company. It can be a lonely existence and the friendship they endured and developed, be it through the crèche at Bramall Lane at home games or the odd club events helped create another aspect of how important team spirit is.

Paul’s wife Janet gave a fantastic insight of life married to a footballer and how this successful football team that her husband played in meant so much to her as well. Whilst Paul would spend Saturday afternoons playing, she would work at Marks and Spencers.

During the week and on Saturdays when United where playing away, like the supporters, Janet and Jill caught up in the emotion of the promotion race and like the fans, they wondered if it would last the season.

For Janet, although she was working Saturday afternoons, she made sure that she kept tabs in the shop on the score how the team and more importantly her husband was doing.

When there were eight games to go, United where second in division two and the next fixture was Portsmouth away.

The chance of promotion was a reality and for Janet she was feeling the drama and the possible sense of achievement.

She said: ‘ It is in their own hands , but so much can happen in the next four weeks the pressure is getting to me to be quite honest’.

Even her mum was caught up in ringing her at work to let her know how they were getting on.

The programme ended with Janet in front of the TV screens at work waiting for the results to come through.

It was not a good day for United, losing 3-2 and the other teams getting the results they want which made it a little bit tighter. You could sense her disappointment. But it did turn out to be a happy ending as they got promoted. This was passion for the game at its best!

You can follow Gavin on Twitter, @GavinBlackwel11

Barnet FC: 2014-15 season so far…….

Martin Allen 2

 

Exactly five years ago today, Barnet Football Club were on the verge of a return to the Football League. Having been relegated back 2013 on the final day of the season the Bees were in the driving seat to regain league status with just two games left in the season and one point better off than Bristol Rovers who were aiming for an instant return to League Two. So, how did they get to that point? Well here goes the story………….

Martin Allen was the man in charge once again at The Hive having been appointed before the previous season had ended for a fourth time and wasted little time in shaping the squad he wanted as he prepared an assault on the Vanarama Conference League title. The final signings of Sam Togwell and Lee Cook were to be instrumental amongst a very talented squad of players.

Indeed it was Cook who scored twice on his debut as Barnet romped to a 5-0 win at Chester on the opening day of the season. Rovers themselves were given a harsh introduction to non-league football at The Hive as the Bees recorded a 2-0 win with goals for John Akinde and Charlie MacDonald. Despite the first defeat of the season coming at the weekend at home to Lincoln, Allen’s men then rattled off five straight wins including a 3-0 midweek success at Dover in front of the live TV cameras and a hat-trick for Cook against Dartford which meant Barnet ended the month at the top of the table, shades of 2004/05 coming into play.

By the end of September Barnet had lost just two league games and were setting the pace at the top of the table but had their lead cut to just two points by second placed Halifax. Only Wrexham came away with three points in a month where goals were certainly not hard to come by, no less than nine separate players scored as the Bees rattled up fifteen goals and fourteen points. That month also set the pattern for the season where Allen’s team never went more than two games without a victory, a stat that would prove crucial as the run in entered its final stages.

October came and went with only one further defeat and Allen had strengthened the squad with the loan signing of Sam Hoskins from Yeovil Town. It also the month Luisma Villa played his way into the team and notched four important goals to keep Barnet top of the league, a lead of eight points.

November saw the Bees lose two games in a month for the first time this season with Bristol Rovers gaining some revenge for their only season defeat with a 2-1 win, the only game goalkeeper Graham Stack was to miss all season, while Torquay beat an off-colour Barnet team 3-2 at The Hive. Rounding off with a 3-1 win over Macclesfield the Bees were still eight points clear at the top after another six goals from Akinde and three more for Villa.

An unbeaten December ensured that Barnet went into the New Year as firm leaders of the division. Akinde matched November’s goal tally and a crucial equaliser at The Hive against Dover in a game where the visitors had controlled a majority of the game, Bristol Rovers cutting the lead by a point to seven as 2014 came to an end.

Despite two big losses in the middle of January and the pressure being kept up by Bristol Rovers Barnet remained on top. Allen announced the arrival of Michael Gash to support Akinde up front as more of a target for Akinde to work off. Consecutive defeats to Lincoln and Grimsby threatened to briefly derail the title charge but normal service was resumed with four goals put past Southport at The Hive to extend the lead over Rovers to eight points again.

Consecutive losses again in February gave Rovers a glimmer of hope once again, wins over Woking and Altrincham sandwiched defeats by Wrexham and Grimsby again, Gash scoring his first Barnet goals at Altrincham while Connor Clifford arriving on loan from Southend to add fresh legs to the midfield, also opened his account against Grimsby, the Bees having now been caught by Rovers and dropping into second place.

March began with a third loss in five games but a resolute performance away at Eastleigh with goals from skipper Curtis Weston and Akinde once more delivered the points despite ex-Bee Ben Strevens pulling a goal back, Barnet returning to the top spot on goal difference. That win put Barnet on a seven match unbeaten run through the remainder of March and into April. Indeed the defeat at the beginning of March to Forest Green at The Hive would be the last time Barnet tasted defeat in this campaign and coincided with skipper Weston coming into his own playing just behind Akinde and providing three crucial goals alongside four from the striking talisman. The 1-1 draw at Alfreton gave the Bees a slender one point lead as we entered the final month of the season.

And so to April! Back to back 1-0 wins over Easter thanks to Akinde and Weston kept the Bees in front of Rovers as we neared the end. Halifax were dispatched at The Hive 3-0, both players again on the scoresheet adding to Mauro Vilhete’s early goal, two games to go one point the difference between Barnet and Bristol Rovers. Rovers headed to the Kent coast to take on Dover while the table topping Bees headed to Kidderminster. Drama unfolded and it wasn’t even the final day! The Bees conceded first, 1-0 down at half time while Rovers were still drawing 0-0. Mid-way through the second half Rovers took the lead and went back to the top of the table while Barnet were still behind. Ten minutes after the Rovers goal, Barnet drew level through Villa but were looking like heading into the final week of the season behind Rovers, but…. hold my beer says Ricky Modeste!

The Dover winger wrote his name into Barnet FC folklore with an 88th minute equaliser which prompted a bunch of Bees supporters to sponsor Modeste for the following season! That goal ensured Barnet would go into the final day with fate in their own hands, Gateshead visiting The Hive next Saturday, the Bees one point clear of Rovers and the Vanarama Conference title awaiting them, didn’t someone once say ‘Destiny always takes over’ or words to that effect……….

 

 

 

Football in the family

 

Ray Pointer 1

Football has always run through my family on both sides, my dad was heavily involved from refereeing to running youth sides I played in before eventually delving into senior football.

On my mum’s side of the family it goes a lot deeper than this and makes me understand why I have such a love for the game. Some of you older readers will know the famous name that is within my family timeline, if you were watching football in the 1960’s then you’d know who he is, a First Division title winner, a FA Cup runner up and an England international, well known in the North West circles of football, his nickname ‘the Blond Bombshell’ and if you haven’t got there yet he’s one of Burnley FC’s favourite sons.

Yes, Ray Pointer was my great uncle, one with a rich football pedigree and a man I was glad to meet and spend time with, but more on that bit later. The claret and blue of Turf Moor was where he made his name as half of a striking duo alongside Jimmy McIlroy, one that led to Burnley winning the title in 1959-60, the season before Tottenham became the first team to do the league and FA Cup double.

Ray then picked up an FA Cup runners-up medal in 1962 as Spurs defended the cup with another win, coupled with runners-up in the First Division, a real purple patch for Burnley. Months earlier he made his debut for England, scoring on his debut which not many players can claim they have. He went on to play just three times for his country but did net again against Portugal which sent England to the 1962 World Cup Finals, I was lucky enough to see and touch his three caps that were proudly on display in his house.

Ray Pointer

(Ray middle of the front row)

When it was time to leave Turf Moor, he had amassed 133 goals in 270 games and to this day is still the second highest goal-scorer in Burnley colours. From here the game took him to Bury and a record of 17 goals in just 19 games showed he still knew where the back of net was, just at one level lower, a record that prompted Jimmy Hill to bring him south to Fulham and then onto Portsmouth for six more years and winding up his career close by at Waterlooville. He also held a scoring record at Bury for scoring five goals in one game.

Once he had hung the boots up, it was back to the North East to coach at Blackpool, Burnley and finally at Bury which saw the end of his footballing time and retirement to Blackpool, not far off the seafront which is where I first met him. Barnet were away to the Tangerines in the penultimate game of the 2000-2001 season and extremely close to dropping out of the Football League. I had travelled north with my mum and auntie and we had a double overnight stay with Ray and his wife Marilyn. I managed to persuade him to come to the game, bear in mind he hadn’t been to a live game in I think it over 20 years, that’s how disillusioned a former player had become with it. But, the knowledge, the stories he regaled us with were nothing short of heart-warming and such humbleness in a time where money was beginning to take over the beautiful game, there were quite a few modern day players at that time who he didn’t think were the real deal.

He enjoyed the game the next day, Barnet went down 3-2 unfortunately and the following week out of the Football League for a few years but I was pleased I got to a game with him in tow.

Our second and only other meeting was at my grandad’s funeral some twenty odd years ago and Ray himself passed away in 2016 after years suffering from dementia, a seemingly common disease among players from his time linked to heading heavy footballs.

He was referred to after his death as ‘the David Beckham of his time’ that is very much the highest compliment you could pay and shows his popularity in an era when Spurs had become the first team to win a domestic double, West Ham and Chelsea had stars coming out of all corners and England were World Cup Winners mid-way through the decade.

I went back to Blackpool in 2017 to watch Barnet once again and how much the stadium had changed from their rise to the Premier League and back down again, something I don’t know if Ray would have liked nor the actions of the Oyston family.

But there it is, another footballing story from me and I’m sure there are lots of you out there who have a famous relative in this or another sport drop me a comment if you do……………………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest blog 2: Lucy’s story

Easter Monday

This the second guest blog I’ve asked someone to write just to change things up a little and to hear from other people instead of just me! This one is from Bees fan Lucy Waldon, I was going to post it later this week but as you read you will see why Easter Monday is a memory for her and the reason why it’s gone up today:

Why Barnet?

I remember going through primary school and pretending to support whatever team was popular at the time, as everyone did, to make friends – and I look back and laugh, because I couldn’t think of anything worse than supporting Tottenham (I think my dad would have actually disowned me if he knew). But it got to secondary school and university and for the best part of a decade, I often got asked that question – why Barnet? It was usually accompanied by laughs, and questions like “who?” or “what league are they in?”

Growing up in Essex, my local teams were probably West Ham or Dagenham & Redbridge, maybe even at a push, the likes of Southend and Colchester United. I was a Brentwood girl and my dad was from East London, more specifically Barking… but all of his family were Arsenal (except my [step] Grandad, who was Fulham). My mum’s from Birmingham, but none of her family were Blues – they were all Villa – but of course, they’re not blessed with ‘good’ teams up that way! I guess when I think about it properly, I should have been Arsenal…

My dad went to Highbury as a boy and continued going for many years after that. I remember vividly him telling me about the time he was unable to get a ticket and to ensure he got his football fix, he went to Barnet instead. I believe his grandad or great-grandad used to play in goal for the Bees, so in hindsight, it was only natural for him to head to Underhill. He was quite quickly hooked and to cut a long story short, I went to my first game in the 1993-94 season. I’m told it was a 3-2 win over Hartlepool – not that I remember much about it. Apparently, I asked, ‘when will it be half time?’ and ‘when can we go home?’ – clearly not an immediate fan! But he persevered and took me again, countless times. Obviously, with the bribe of free food! I used to love visiting Mr Nut and his cart for chocolate raisins at half time, in later years, Opal Fruits from the snack bar under the Main Stand – and better still, our lunchtime tradition of visiting The Green Dragon pre-match during my uni days.

Lucy's Underhill

Eventually, I was bought a season ticket and we were Main Stand regulars – Block C, Row H, Seats 3 & 4, at Underhill, of course. The first full season I remember vividly was 2003-04, the year before we went up. I didn’t have a season ticket that year, but went to every match. Dad bought me a season ticket for that championship-winning campaign and all my favourite football memories stem from that year and from Underhill. I had a season ticket for the subsequent years, until we left Underhill for The Hive – I even went to the University of Hertfordshire, so that I could still watch my beloved Bees and not be too far from home (family have always been the most important).

Lucy at The Hive

Unfortunately, and sadly, things change. People change. Interests change. My dad was never a fan of The Hive – he thought it was a mission to get to, over-priced and soulless. A lot of the people we used to sit with and became friends with didn’t make the move – and we ended up only going to a handful of games. As his health started deteriorating, football became less of a priority, less important. Our last game together was Easter Monday, 2016. We played Luton and won 2-1 – a John Akinde 96th minute penalty, no less. His colleague/client Andy is a Hatters fan and he was our chauffeur for the day – but we all sat in the home end together. When we won in the final minute, we were worried we wouldn’t get a lift home! My dad sadly passed away that May, and I soon realised that there was more to life than football. I went to a few games with my mum, and a couple on my own, but it wasn’t the same. In fact, my last Barnet game was Leyton Orient away (January 2017) and I actually ended up having a panic attack en route. For me, it was no longer fun and the sole point of going to football had gone.

18 months later and I had my little boy and found myself moving to Milton Keynes. I’ll never give them my money, mind. I still follow the Bees but from afar but not with as avid an interest as I once did. Interestingly, on our estate, there are several other Barnet fans – not least, our old groundsman Wes, who I’ve kept in touch with – and there’s two weeks difference between our little ones! I am adamant I will take Alfie to The Hive one day, so he can get a taste of live football and re-live my childhood – but for the time being, he’s happy watching on TV. I’ve got him chanting “Bees” and I’ve made him wear my scarf.

Plus, all my memorabilia is still at my mum’s – about seven or eight shoeboxes full of programmes and other memorabilia, as well as copies of all my by-lines (including work for Four Four Two and World Soccer Magazine). It will be great to look back at it all one day. This also remains the piece of writing I’m most proud of – and I still can’t read it without getting emotional. So many memories, good and bad, happy and sad, all brought together.

I laugh when I see people bang on about supporting your local team. If I had, things would have been very different……….