Unbeaten run extends to four games for Brennan’s Bees

Dover away this year meant the chance to banish last season’s memory, one of the many ‘minging’ performances under Tim Flowers. A side who were struggling last season along with the Bees dismantled Flowers’ side with ease in the pouring rain.

My first ever visit to the Crabble Ground situated on top of a hill above the rugby club was back in the pre-season prior to Barnet’s Football League debut, a 1-1 draw I believe which was then followed by another first, a meal in a Chinese restaurant not that I can remember where exactly the place was in Dover and I doubt it still exists!

My last visit to Crabble was live on TV, a 3-0 Tuesday night win as Martin Allen’s Bees were on the way to the league title, no such aspirations for Dean Brennan’s Barnet, merely trying to gel after a very poor start under Harry Kewell.

Dover meanwhile haven’t been able to make too many in-roads into the minus twelve points they’ve started on, a tough ask for ex-Bee Andy Hessenthaler having seen his side go part time over the summer months whilst battling to survive at National League level.

With a couple of Bees suffering from midweek knocks, there were starts for both Dan Powell and Rob Hall while Wes Fonguck was named on the bench after starting during the week at Kings Lynn. There was a change in goal with Aston Oxborough coming in for his debut, mindful of Sam Sargeant’s loan spell from Orient unlikely to be extended nor cup-tied next weekend.

A bright start from the Bees saw the ball in the back of the net after just a minute, the lively Powell crossing for Mason Bloomfield to slot past ex-Barnet loanee Adam Parkes in the Dover goal only to be ruled out for offside. However, nine minutes later there was no mistake and the visitors were in front.

Ephron Mason-Clark, who was a constant threat all afternoon down the right flank, saw his cross headed back across goal by Ben Richards-Everton for Bloomfield to direct his header past Parkes for the opening goal.

Oxborough was called into action twice after as Dover looked threatening down the left flank, two superb saves from Koby Arthurs and Matt Bentley kept the Bees in front, Arthurs looking like providing the biggest spark for the home side.

Neither side had many clear cut chances in the remainder of the half, Mitch Brundle heading wide from Josh Payne’s clipped free kick, whilst Dover trying to exploit a shaky Barnet backline didn’t really trouble Oxborough giving the Bees a half time lead.

The second half had the Bees shooting into the goal where most Barnet fans congregated behind but to begin with did little to trouble Parkes. It took until just before the hour mark as Barnet started to turn the screw a little, Bloomfield playing Powell through on goal to notch the Bees second and seemingly control of the game.

But this is Barnet after all and nothing comes easy. Pretty much out of nothing five minutes later, the home side were back in the game as Aaron Cosgrave was allowed to stride forward unchallenged and arrowed a shot past Oxborough, the keeper not at fault and unable to get anything on the ball.

The goal certainly invigorated Dover and their supporters in the crowd of 885 and the Bees had to defend their penalty area against a good few waves of attack over the final 20 minutes.

There were chances for the visitors to make the game safe, Kian Flannagan was unlucky to fire just over the bar moments after coming on and the same player hit the side netting after working himself into a good position despite better placed team mates.

A late flurry of balls into the Barnet box failed to trouble Oxborough and the Bees came away with the points and now on a four match unbeaten run under Brennan.

Not a vintage performance by any stretch of the imagination but three points is three points and that’s the most important thing at the moment. Brennan is doing a fabulous job of managing minutes for a lot of players who didn’t complete a pre-season, namely Powell, Hall, Fonguck, Marriott and possibly more.

Sensible as well to bring in Oxborough ahead of the FA Cup tie next weekend, Sargeant has turned in some good performances despite a shaky start and it’s unlikely his loan spell will be extended with Aymen Azaze now recovered from injury.

Stand out performers for me, Bloomfield was excellent once again at both the hold up play and his twists and turns, Mason-Clark and Powell were constant threats down the flanks whilst Joe Widdowson was solid at left back.

Hall flittered in and out of the game, some very good touches and I think as he picks up match fitness he’ll have more influence on games as time goes on. Debut from Oxborough was on the money pretty much, his kicking though was a little suspect at times but can’t fault his saves nor the ability to come and claim the ball.

Free hit next week in the FA Cup, underdogs on current league positioning to Boreham Wood but another chance to put in a good performance with another free full week of training.

Feel for Hessenthaler and Nicky Southall, two guys with huge FL experience and hearing a section of the crowd calling for Hess’s head I’m not quite sure what else they’re really expecting this season, it’s almost a waste of a year for them when demotion to the South division would have been in their better interests and to also level up all three divisions at 22 clubs, but hey what do we know compared to the National League board!

I’m not quite sure someone else will be able to do a lot better having seen an almost brand new part time squad arrive over the summer but I could be wrong in that respect, as said above it’s almost a nothing season for Dover other than turning up for 40 odd games if they don’t soon pick up two or three wins.

It’s actually nice to see the managerial speculation shifting away from us towards Southend, the attention needs to be on the team, gaining points and getting some consistency, I’m not sure I’d be putting my money on appointing a successor to Kewell anytime soon……….

The beautiful game looks about as ugly as it ever has been

So then. The last 24 hours or so, read lots, spoken to a number of people, answered lots of messages, here we go then the National League ladies and gentlemen!

A warning this might be a long blog, there’s a lot to get through, reactions from those inside the clubs, my own thoughts and what I see as stumbling blocks going forward from today, it won’t be pretty, you might not agree, but above all it’s an opinion nothing more, it’s neither right nor wrong.

Before we get to the main points though as a Barnet fan I’m embarrassed we’ll stay up through default. On the face of it, it looks like Tony Kleanthous made the correct decision in the summer not to spend, to severely undercut the football operation and six months later he’s looking good.

We should have been doing it on the pitch for the next four months or so to get out of the mess we created for ourselves which is what I would have preferred to happen, sink or swim by your decisions, not of others. But, for all intents and purpose it is what it is and Barnet have the opportunity to put a proper club in place under Tim Flowers over the remaining months of the season, a silver lining if you must but a hollow one at that.

Onto the main meal then and once again here we are in the midst of controversy. Whatever this final outcome was to be there was never an option to please absolutely everyone and there will be ramifications to come for days and the next few weeks.

I don’t believe there was ever a doubt in outcome of the vote, heavily weighted towards the top division and with the EFL relationship at the forefront of that it won’t have come as a surprise, but it’s been more how the situation has been dealt with.

A real lack of transparency and leadership is evident which you can trace back to the play-offs last season and continued into this. Commendation maybe for ensuring we had play-offs eventually completed for all three divisions last year but a lack of foresight when attempting to get this season worked has been forgettable.

Funding of course has been the full issue in where we have gotten to now, we are all aware the National League have no minutes of the meeting with the DCMS over what was on offer for the full course of the season is at best incompetent. I’ve served on league and club committees throughout my lifetime, to not have something so simple but vital can’t suggest anything more than a cover up of mismanagement and hanging all 66 clubs out to dry, effectively what they have done.

Two days ago I was informed players and staff in the South and North divisions were told, not via official communications, that no testing was to be carried out ‘a waste of tax payers’ money’ which in effect said null and void was coming. Excuse me, what about some of the £11 million pounds of lottery money than has now been poured down the drain?

While I write this now, I see across social media fans, clubs and chairmen attacking each other because opinion is so divided on what should have happened.

My opinion, well every club of those 66 is vital, vital to someone, vital to its players, vital to its staff and mostly importantly vital to its supporters and its community. The same applies for Steps 3-6 as well and every club has quite rightly looked after its own house but should they have been left to fend for themselves while the league banner they play under seem to not want to get involved.

Last night I spoke to various people around the situation to gauge a bit of reaction:

David Blackmore, chairman of Eastbourne Borough was ‘absolutely gutted’. He said ‘We have been cut adrift by the National League. A majority across all three divisions wanted to continue, majority in the South wanted to continue, yet we don’t continue.’

David’s manager at Priory Lane Danny Bloor is frustrated the season has now ended, ‘Our club just wanted to keep playing; at the conclusion of this we sit 3rd in the league a position we’re very proud of and I hope we can regroup and replicate that again next year.’

Steve McKimm, manager at Tonbridge Angels who had to furlough their players this week in order to protect the club, was gutted at the outcome ‘I don’t think the process was fair, how can the National League have it’s members vote against each other but not in equal amounts.’

Ben Strevens, manager at Eastleigh, is unsure what the future holds for the top division ‘seven teams voted for null and void, what exactly is that going to mean after this weekend for our teams?’

Andy Hessenthaler, manager of Dover Athletic who seem most at risk of not seeing out the season, said ‘I think the mess is just going to continue because as you said nothing has changed, still no money. Seven clubs voted to null and void so will be interesting with what’s going to happen now’.

Kevin Watson who recently returned to the game at Billericay Town like most wasn’t shocked at the decision, ‘No surprise at all to be honest, just really disappointing.’

Adam Hinshelwood whose Worthing side have twice been in pole position for promotion to the National League South questioned the timing of the announcement, ‘It seems strange with the government telling us on Monday the plan for the country and for the National League to not follow suit and also not to stay in line with each other.’

‘I feel for Marc at Dorking who invested in a great team at that level and to see it null and voided again seems wrong on the face of it. It does seem likely Steps 3-6 will follow; we will be ready for whatever decisions are made for our club.’

An increase once again to the furlough scheme as the North and South clubs put their players and staff on leave once again from this morning and attention turns now to the can which is just getting kicked down the road.

Already we see legal action from clubs going in today which if they feel is the right thing to do for themselves so be it, I’m not here to judge the rights and wrongs of what each club feels is its chosen path. Whether they can get any joy or a reversal of decision remains to be seen.

Then we have the seven who voted in the top division to null and void, the next can of worms. What now if those seven, and I’m led to believe Barnet were NOT one of the seven, decide with no further funding their club would go under and quite rightly want to preserve their future? Do we play on with 16 teams expunging all results of those not playing as there is no relegation? Do those seven get asked to furlough the first team and play weakened sides in order to complete the season? Do the National League push Sport England to help these seven clubs as soon as possible? So many questions but when do we get the answers? And these are just the beginning.

To read this morning though that two clubs in the top division didn’t bother replying at all beggar’s belief! Now either they’ve got deep pockets so it makes no odds to them or purely ignorant, surely out of respect to the other clubs in your division you would have abstained?

In all likelihood Steps 3-6 will now also null and void with no chance of Step 3 promotion to the National League North and South bringing another premature end to the season for a second year in a row. The hope now will be for the FA to see sense and take the time to implement their restructure of the perfect pyramid and with it some movement for teams upwards which is deserving, the benefit to playing exactly the same teams for the third year running, not one I can see.

And for the second season running it appears as if the National League and South will run with a team less once again, granted it’s difficult to now work out who would take the missing spot in each division but a lack of contingency plans is as well not their finest hour.

Just a sidenote to this as well, the FA Trophy and Vase. One continues, one suspended and last year’s finals still be played with one of the four participants an EFL club, go figure!

The beautiful game as it’s often referred to looks about as ugly as it ever has done in non-league circles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a vote of no confidence in both the National League and the FA in the coming months, not a chance this is all going to go away easily…..

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………….