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A trip back from Ireland to take in a Barnet match for the first time in three years. How was it? By: Eric Hitchmo 26/03/2023

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As I mentioned during my exiled rant last season, I live in Ireland now. Like a reverse Dean Brennan. Post-COVID I’ve been able to get back and forth regularly enough, but for whatever reason I have always had other plans on a Saturday than to take a Barnet game in. That, or the fixture wasn’t attractive enough. I’ve been to Wrexham. I don’t want to ever see that place again having been chased out of there fifteen years ago.

As I also mentioned in said rant, I’ve been disillusioned with the way the club has been run and how it has performed generally in the last decade. That’s nothing new, I think we all have. In truth, I had stopped going way before COVID and way before moving to Ireland. The misgivings I have about our location, the setup, everything, are still in my mind but it’s funny what a decent season on the pitch can do for your mindset.

For the record, I don’t think our current league position resolves some of the deep-rooted issues I have with the club, but it does help to quieten them somewhat. I have heard the stories of not being able to get a beer or hot food, or getting stuck in the car park for an hour, or £56 for a back pack that still dog the matchday experience. But we’re 5th in the league and one game away from Wembley. Hypocrite? Fickle? Fair weather? Quite possibly. The irony is not lost on me.

Fresh from the idea of jumping on the bandwagon, suddenly it’s a more attractive prospect to take in a local “derby” at the business end of the season where we are well and truly in the playoff hunt. I have watched on from afar with some degree of jealousy as photos and stories from away trips to the likes of Oldham, Maidstone and Boreham Wood (!?!) have filtered through social media. There was, believe it or not, a fear of missing out.

Watching from a distance and living it through the fine writings of my esteemed colleague Max Bygraves, this is clearly a likeable squad with ability unearthed seemingly from nowhere. We were never going to win the league, but to be in the mix at this stage of the season would have been at the very top end of most Barnet fans’ expectations given the abject misery of the previous two seasons. That has been left as a painful memory for now; a rough patch that hopefully can be classed as a blip.

We have a formula that took some tweaking and has some inconsistencies, but has showed plenty of encouragement and landed us in prime position to take on the Playoffs, despite a recent wobble. In Dean Brennan, we appear to have laid to rest the numerous managerial catastrophes of recent times and the direction of travel is positive, for once.

With that in mind, Wealdstone away did leap off the page slightly as something I could justify coming home for. Fresh with a permission slip from my better half, I was keen to join in what was set to be a decent crowd of old friends for a boozy, shouty day. I was more excited about this than a grown man ought to have been and as I arrived at Dublin Airport on Wednesday evening I felt as though I could’ve floated over the Irish Sea rather than endure Ryanair again, though on balance it was a hardship worth suffering.

You’d have to try pretty hard I think to care too much about Wealdstone, but given their attitude towards us and the fact it’s not a million miles away, it adds enough spice to make it an exciting prospect. Rolling back the years somewhat and turning up in Barnet early doors to meet the boys, I felt a touch fraudulent but frankly my intention was to drink that feeling away and be asleep by 9pm.

It's funny how soon you forget the bad stuff when you’re with your old mates. We’re all Barnet aren’t we. Regardless of where Barnet are playing and how they’re doing, there’s still that bond. The only thing that has changed is that we all have a few more wrinkles and a lot less hair between us. It’s like your family isn’t it. Even those you aren’t that well acquainted with; all it takes is a nod or a quick hello. Suddenly you feel like you’re back in the Durham Suite knocking back Smirnoff Ices before going for a sing song on the East Terrace.

Walking into Wealdstone’s ground, well, let’s be diplomatic about this and call it an interesting setup. I find it difficult to not have a sneaking admiration for what they have done though. Having more or less collapsed in the early 90s, they have rebuilt themselves up slowly but surely to be challenging for the Playoffs in the National League, all of this whilst playing in a minute stadium renovated by their own rapidly growing support. Of course, we all know what happened on the way and I daresay that had the same thing happened in reverse, we would be just as bitter as a small element of their social media following. A decent away support was shoehorned in and the place was packed to the rafters for what was a huge occasion in the season.

Being the massive, loyal fan that I am, I have indulged in several live streams since the service was put in place. I’ve seen some good (Scunthorpe, Eastleigh, the first half at Notts County), some bad (the second half at Notts County) and some ugly (the second half vs. Altrincham and Oldham). What Barnet were we going to get today?

In the first half, not much. A breezy nothingness. From our restricted view on the terrace we appeared to hit the post directly from a corner. They may have hit the crossbar themselves, it wasn’t clear, but in truth neither keeper was troubled as both teams cancelled each other out on a wet guff of a pitch. The atmosphere, in the away end at least, was decent enough.

The second half though started as well as you could have asked for. Nicke Kabamba made the best of a defensive slip and fired home from 20 yards. Only on the replay could you actually appreciate the skill involved; a terrific individual goal. The touch to create himself some space before unleashing the shot into the bottom corner was of the highest quality. The terrace responded as such with some great bundles. It’s been some time since I experienced that with Barnet and what a celebration it was.

The atmosphere picked up accordingly, in fact it was pretty good all day. A mixture of old and new songs creating some consistent noise. The Bees were generally in control of the game, keeping Wealdstone at arms length, and when Harry Pritchard neatly slotted home in the 74th minute, the points were secured. The hosts put some pressure on towards the close but were restricted to potshots or weak efforts at Laurie Walker who was revelling in the atmosphere and occasion with what can only be described as elite level shithousery. It was a solid defensive performance all round, even with the addition of several new faces in the last few weeks.

The record crowd of 3012 in the home stands emptied rapidly as the final whistle approached and once it sounded, players and fans were as one, celebrating a big win and what surely now must secure a place in the playoffs. What a contrast it was to last season when the players and staff were apparently trapped on the pitch, utterly intimidated by a boisterous home crowd. Given our inconsistency of late, it was a great result, and the fans serenaded the players for their efforts. You can forgive that inconsistency given the gruelling schedule, but on this day they ground out an excellent result in difficult circumstances.

Obviously I have been watching from afar, but I have felt the sense of renewed optimism from my friends and others around this team. They have performed superbly, way beyond what was expected of them, and this has been spearheaded by a very capable and passionate manager in Dean Brennan. His celebrations at the end of the game were noted, especially given his connection to the opponents of the day.

As we left the ground some of the younger crowd found themselves in an oddly heated conversation with the local constabulary as home and away fans traded a few insults, but in truth there was nothing doing. We slipped off to some very busy Ruislip pubs (who knew that anyone actually lived in Ruislip?!) before completing the circle and landing back in Barnet for the rest of the evening. It took bloody ages to get back, mind you.

Supporting a lower league club is not an easy thing to do, particularly when it’s Barnet. We endure wild swings where we are in a promotion race one season or more often than not, a relegation battle the next. We are not a Tottenham or a Chelsea or a Man Utd where finishing outside of the top four of the Premier League is considered an existential crisis worthy of protest.

I can’t imagine I was the only one who considered 2020-22 a pretty dark period in their Barnet-supporting life. If the fire was almost out, for me at least this season has breathed new life into it, and I’ve not even been there to experience it. Wealdstone away has added a good deal of fuel to that fire. Being back on a terrace and feeling passion for this football club is a feeling I thought was long since passed, but it’s still there. Obviously there’s only so much I can do from Ireland, and I still have reservations, but I’m going to hold my nose and enjoy the good times while they last, from a distance. I’m not going to claim for a second that I have felt the ups and downs as strongly as those who have endured all the change of the last decade, not even remotely close, but it has been a bit of a rollercoaster nonetheless.

Maybe, just maybe, I was being a little melodramatic last season when I more or less wrote the club off. Contrary to my doubts, there is a new generation of support coming through in the form of The Amber Battalion and they have taken it upon themselves to give The Hive a bit of an atmosphere. Maybe some of the chants are off-colour, but we were all teenagers at the football once. When you get that mix of old and new like we did on Saturday, it demonstrates that there is life in the old dog yet.

We take on Woking this week in a game that effectively decides whether third place is still an option before heading to Gateshead in what is arguably one of the biggest games we have faced in many years as the prospect of Wembley in the FA Trophy looms large. It is entirely feasible for me to fly to and from Newcastle in the space of the day, and I must say I feel inclined to do so having been coerced by everyone in the pub after the game. Isn’t it amazing what a good season will do for you. Suddenly I’m all interested again having got the taste for it.

At this rate, I’d even be inclined to go to Wrexham again, if we ever play there again…

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07/06/2024 A Barnet Story
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