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Giuliano Grazioli
A true legend of this football club. By: Eric Hitchmo 14/12/2009

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I love Giuliano Grazioli for so many reasons. It's not only the man's innate ability to score when given the ball inside the area, or even some way outside of it, it was also the way he conducted and still conducts himself off the pitch that endeared him to me and so many others during his largely magical time at this football club.

In what was perhaps one of the best deals this club has ever done, signing him from Bristol Rovers in 2003, receiving £110,000 to boot and only suffering the loss of the admittedly very skillful Junior Agogo, there was a buzz when Graz first donned the Barnet colours. A proven goalscorer in the Football League, a local lad and former work colleague of our good friend Ruper Remington. OK so the latter is a bit more personal, but you get the drift.

Some were quick to recall that Graz had previously been on the verge of joining the club some years before. The agreement with Peterborough and Barry Fry was in place. Trouble was that The Posh went and inflicted our heaviest ever home defeat, just the nine goals to one, and Grazioli, the little tinker, only got five of them. The deal was off.

But still, all's well that ends well and that was more than forgiven five games into the 2003/2004 season where he had already notched five goals. Not quite the strike rate he had previously enjoyed around Barnet, but it was alright wasn't it? It was clear already that Martin Allen's 'revolution' had a clear hero at the right end of the pitch. Claims of a one man team however were clearly false, as a solid backbone had emerged across the field. The team had its limitations yes, but with touches of class in each position, they geared up well in the Conference. And much of a relief it was too, after two seasons of disappointment since relegation.

After a five in five return, Halifax were on the receiving end of three more goals from this little genius of a man. Eight in six. His name was already ringing out loudly and proudly around the East Terrace and on our travels. Brilliant days these were, when the gradually growing number of merry Barnet supporters would travel far and wide in fine, vociferous form. And this team, particularly Grazioli, would show their genuine appreciation at all times. It was a great, great time to follow Barnet Football Club, and Graz was very close to the centre of it all.

That said, he had the audacity to fail to score against Accrington, but four games later he had another four to the tally, scoring one in each of four fine wins. His former club The Chavs were beaten on their own turf, newly promoted Aldershot were dispatched at home, Margate were beaten by the odd goal before a can't-believe-our-eyes type win at Shrewsbury where his solitary goal made it four in a row and now perhaps we could actually believe that we could make a challenge to get back up into the Football League. That's twelve in eleven, if you're counting.

Goals continued into the new year and we were holding our own in the top five. Another hat-trick at Leigh RMI, two at Stalybridge in an FA Cup replay, by 2004, Graz had scored twenty goals in all competitions. We had five more goals to enjoy in January but then it all just stopped. The goals stopped for Graz, for two and a half months.

But this was a bit different. Is this not usually the part where the ruthless football crowd gets impatient and turns on its once hero? Isn't that in the very nature of a football supporter? Not in this case. If anything, the support got louder, driving the team and Graz on to succeed. Even when on the pitch things were not going right for someone who had already scored 25 times that season (is that actually possible, to have a 'bad patch' having scored 25 goals?), he was still approachable off the pitch and always kept a smile on his face. Graz loved playing for this club and its supporters and it showed every week.

It was epitomised on the final day of the season where we needed a win to be certain of a playoff spot. The team had stuttered towards the end of the season, not helped by the departure of Martin Allen a few weeks from the end. We were up against Leigh RMI, already relegated, sitting back and waiting to be battered. And they were battered, despite taking the lead after five minutes. A very busy Underhill scratched their heads as the teams went in locked at half time, 1-1.

It was a ridiculous game, where Barnet rained in perhaps a million shots on the Leigh goal. Sitter after sitter went begging throughout the first and early in the second half. Liam Hatch missed a few, Ben Strevens missed a few, then Graz missed a few, everyone missed a few.

In a season where us Barnet fans were taken on a tumultuous ride with outstanding highs and not so many lows, where fantastic friendships were forged off field, where giddy excitement after winning goals caused us all to hug people we barely knew, where a very rare bond between players and supporters had been prevalent throughout, was football going to play its trump card and let us down like only football can? Were we going to go so near, yet so far from glory?

Fuck off. This is where your legends stand tallest, brush themselves down and get on with it. I don't recall many louder roars, many madder celebrations, many bigger tidal waves of utter euphoria, jubilation and relief at Underhill than when Giuliano Grazioli put us 2-1 up against Leigh RMI. When I first watched the video back on Barnet World, those incredible memories flooded back. I remember a picture in the Barnet Times the following week, showing the aftermath of the goal. To say it summed up how Graz felt at the time, how we all felt at the time, is an understatement.

We were beaten in the Playoffs by Shrewsbury, on penalties. Tears were shed by many at the time, but in hindsight the 2003/2004 season was up there amongst the best in Barnet folklore, and people who have been attending for far longer than I have would probably agree. At the end of that second leg, as Shrewsbury's pitch turned into a sea of blue shirts, stalwarts from that season forced their way through to show their appreciation. Chris Plummer, Ian Hendon, Simon King and of course Grazioli as well as the rest of the team found their way to us to applaud our efforts.

Do I even need to tell you what happened the next season? Under the permanent stewardship of Paul Fairclough, Grazioli was given even more licence to run riot around the pitiful mortals in the Conference. Creative additions to the squad, as well as solidifying in the right areas made this team practically impregnable in the remainder of 2004.

Graz started as he meant to go on with a brace in the opening game against Forest Green Rovers and by the end of September he was already on nine goals as The Bees shot their way to the top of the league, destroying nearly everything in their path. He suffered injury after scoring two more at the start of October, but this team was so bloody good that even the goals of Graz were shared fairly amongst the rest of them.

Again, cries of 'one man team' from those who languished sadly behind us were again proven to be utter bollocks as in the next four games, Barnet notched a mere fifteen goals. We were loving this even more. What a ride this had turned into for us. Every week we went out and entertained and had fun on the terraces. The atmosphere was fantastic wherever we went and team rarely failed to deliver. As some of the Away Days from this season will show, this was THE time to be a Barnet supporter. We were loving every minute of this.

A return from injury and a return from the goals endeared him further to the already adoring crowd. We know all about the goals now but perhaps less so about his highly professional, down to earth attitude at various club events. Graz was the hero for young and old supporters and he would happily chat about the football to all who approached him. There wasn't even the slightest hint of arrogant or prententious behaviour. Sometimes footballers in this position can be good, and know they are good, and perhaps forget just how important the supporters are. But in Giuliano Grazioli, you had a humble, modest footballer who loved what he did and loved the club and supporters he did it for. By the turn of the year he was on seventeen goals.

This time there was no sign of last year's drought. Even when the team wobbled slightly in the second half of this title winning season, Graz was there still popping up with crucial goals at crucial times. Apt then, that come Halifax Town at home, on April 09, 2005, it was him who notched the third goal and made our promotion safe. A historic day in Barnet's history with three goalscorers who have all done a fine service to this football club. Simon King and Ben Strevens got us in front, but the stage was set for the hero of the hour to take the crown and fire us back into the Football League.

The story of the night that followed is legend. The Weaver, some five minutes from the ground has never seen such business. It is said that they took in ten Saturdays' worth of money in that one night. It is also said that a member of the barstaff was sent out to buy many boxes of champagne for those in something of a celebratory mood. It was impossible to get a quick drink, the whole pub was rammed full of partying Barnet supporters.

And who was there for much of the night with us? About half of the team turned up to be fair. Manager Paul Fairclough, who masterminded and orchestrated this joyous nine months, captain Ian Hendon, Liam Hatch, Simon King, Shane Gore, Anthony Charles and of course Graz were there for a right old sing song all night. Where else would that have happened? As mentioned in the season previous, there was a rare bond between this team and the supporters, and it was summed up very well on this most euphoric of evenings. If memory serves me correctly, there may well have been more players around, and I think eventually they moved on with the rest of the squad to party the night away. I just don't recall the finer details, it was that sort of night, you understand! I think 5am is a fair estimate as to what time I got to sleep.

Anyhow, I digress. Graz has 28 goals to his name in a season of pure unadulterated joy. Our 'closest' rivals that season were Carlisle United and there was a fair bit of needle and bitterness about the Tuesday night home game against them that saw us receive the trophy. How hilarious it was then that Graz looped a 96th minute equaliser to rob their nine men of a win, after we'd missed a penalty and they seemingly had us well beaten. A truly audacious overhead lob bounced in at the far post and sent us all loopy, not for the first time in the season. It was that little extra sprinkle of icing sugar on top the already cherried twenty five layer massive sweet cake that was the 2004/2005 season.

But he didn't make it 30 goals at Dagenham the following Saturday, which was a disappointment, and almost stood to negate his hard work in the previous two seasons. Or something like that!

So the big sea of positivity followed in the form of the Football League. The big wide world of the Football League. It proved to be a bigger step up than many of us expected, and we had to get used to losing again. This had become a huge rarity in the year past, and even after making an early foray to the top of the table, the good times were to come to abrupt end. Still, Grazioli made a strong start with five goals by the end of September.

This included a quickfire start against Leyton Orient where we were ahead in around twelve seconds after a fluid move was tapped in by our man. He would score about twelve seconds from the end too, ultimately a consolation goal after we proceeded to be battered.

In the next home game, we saw some more Graz's sublime best. At home to Plymouth in the Carling Cup, he was put through on goal. Knowing which was his stronger out of finishing and pace, he chipped the ball over the goalkeeper from just on the edge of the box, agonisingly out of his reach before bouncing practically perfectly into the net. A testament to his magical ability to finish.

It was around about this point that things started to go wrong all over the pitch. The plum draw at Manchester United caused enough of a distraction to prevent league victories in the run up to it. We all know what happened there, but how different could it have been if Graz's perfectly good equaliser had not been disallowed? Oh and if Flitney hadn't been sent off, but y'know...

Grazioli was employed as a lone striker in an ultra-negative 4-5-1 formation that dogged us for the entire season. It was plain to see, and indeed by his own admission, that he was a striker who thrived on good service. Well this was all but nullified by this system that contributed to an away record that remained winless from August to the last day of the season in May. That was fun to watch I tell ya. Graz was one of many who struggled to thrive in this setup, combined with some unhelpful injuries and the signing of Tresor Kandol.

Two back to back goals in January would complete his scoring for the 05/06 season. He still remained joint top scorer for the year alongisde Nicky Bailey with eight goals, a sign of how well this season went. We stayed up on the last day of the season with a win at Rushden & Diamonds.

Nonetheless, Graz would remain a highly popular figure amongst the supporters. Even during the 2006/2007 season, where had become replaced by the likes of Kandol, Liam Hatch, Magno Vieira and later on Adam Birchall, his immense popularity still shone through. It was early in the season where Graz would notch against Boston United, his second of the campaign. Little did we know that this would be his last for the club, hereon being limited to very little first team action down to injury and the aforementioned names above.

It was disappointing to see such an end for such a great servant to this club. However the loss of a yard of pace and a touch of that predator instinct contributed to his place being filled. However, his attitude remained second to none, the consumate professional. Always willing to talk to the fans, support club events, even become an ambassador for the clubs' Football In The Community project.

He was rarely used during the 2007/2008 season, spending some time away on loan, yet still continuing to serve this football club. His appearance in the last home game of the season at home to Stockport was met with a rousing standing ovation from the adoring crowd. Despite not having scored for the club for some eighteen months, he was still revered as a Barnet legend. A term that gets chucked around far too easily these days, but one that is apt for Giuliano Grazioli. He would make his last appearance at Rotherham the week later after near incessant chanting of his name and the demanding of seeing just one last glimpse of Graz in Barnet colours.

After his release he moved onto Dover Athletic where he notched a couple of goals for the Kent club. Yet still he kept very close ties with the club, coaching youngsters with FITC and regularly appearing at home games. He was forced into retirement by an eye injury which has prevented him from any exercise, which is a massive shame.

To this day though, Graz is still a regular visitor to his local football club and to this day he remains one of the finest players that I have personally seen grace this turf. He left the club with a record of 122 starts plus 25 as sub, scoring 65 goals. Still a formidable and barely matched record. I love Giuliano Grazioli. Quite simply, the man is a legend.

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