Saturday 16th November 2013 ko 17.30
BARNET 2 (Villa 38 Weston 45)
CAMBRIDGE UNITED 2 (Appiah 29 32)
Att 2,853 (Ground Record)
I like Barnet, I always did, right the way back in the early 90’s when, as a student I used to catch the Northern Line to its terminus at High Barnet, then counter-intuitively walk down to Underhill.
The place reminded me of my club Oxford United’s spiritual home, The Manor, with the sloping pitch, and the hotpotch of stands and bits of terrace. It was magical, but unsuitable for the rigours of League football so a move was inevitable, however painful. I paid my my farewells last season, but the move has not been without controversy, and let’s not think about the fact the Hive is in Edgware, around 6 miles from Barnet. Quite how Barnet Council managed to turn down the football club’s application to move to Barnet Copthall Stadium and improve it, and then let rugby union club Saracens do exactly that is beyond me.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that underground trains can still be seen from the ground, although these days its Jubilee line trains from Canons Park station. The Prince Edward Playing Field was originally earmarked as a new ground for Wealdstone FC, the ground was half built but the money ran out in 2004, and the site lay derelict until 2006 when Barnet won the tender from Harrow Borough Council to take over the site initially as their training facility. It is worth commenting that Wealdstone now play at the former Ruislip Manor FC ground Grosvenor Vale, but the lease on there ends in 2018, and they’d love to share the Hive with Barnet, and the legacy of their interest is the right to play at the ground that was granted to them by Harrow Council.
Even with Barnet playing their first game at the Hive in July this year the difficulties still are there. The club used planning permission dating from 2008 to build the ground, and applied for retrospective permission to increase the height of the floodlights and the size of the West Stand, the stand that backs on to the tube line. That permission was turned down by Harrow Council so as of September 2013 the club have six months to remove the stand, and three to remove the lights, but the club have appealed, and I can imagine that process dragging on for years.
And here’s the rub, Barnet would far rather play in, well Barnet! They have a 10 year lease at the Hive, but the long-term plan is to build a 10,000 capacity stadium back home. The Hive is seen as that rarity, a temporary stadium, and it doesn’t take long to spot that.
The West Stand is a modular affair, the biggest brother of the tiny affairs hated by groundhoppers, and while it offers good facilities and a fine view of the action, its clear you are walking on metal rather than concrete. The translucent amber sections between the roof and the back row of seats do give the edifice a Barnet-feel though. The club say that the stand can be reduced in height should the appeal fail, that I suppose is the great advantage of modular construction!
Elsewhere the club has fitted out what was built by the Wealdstone project. There are identical terraces behind the goals, but the East Stand is an odd arrangement with the roof only covering around half the length of the pitch, leaving a good number of seats exposed to the elements.
What is doesn’t feel like is a non-league ground, but then the top division of the Conference has long been the quasi-League 3, and this fixture between two full-time ex-Football League clubs, rather confirmed that gut reaction. But Barnet, being Barnet made sure the game would be anything but straightforward.
You have to question the ego of player-manager Edgar Davids in giving himself the number 1 shirt. It did look odd, the only other time I’ve seen another outfield player wearing 1 was Stuart Balmer when Charlton Athletic decided to do their numbering in alphabetical order! He also made the cardinal sin of welcoming “Cambridge City” to the Hive in his programme notes!
It was Davids who was robbed of possession by Luke Berry in midfield and the ball was quickly moved to Kwesi Appiah and he coolly passed the ball into the net past Graham Stack in the home goal. The striker, on loan from Crystal Palace doubled his tally 3 minutes late with another effortless finish, slotting home under Stack.
Barnet responded quickly, and reduced the arrears as Davids atoned for his error by feeding Luisma Villa who curled a delicious curling effort round goalkeeper Chris Maxwell. Better was to follow in first half stoppage time as Curtis Weston’s 20 yard blockbuster brought the sides level.
The second half was just as frantic, albeit with fewer chances, but in stoppage time game came an incident so bizarre it could only involve Barnet. A smoke bomb had been set off by Barnet fans behind the goal. A corner was swung in at that end, and Jack Saville’s header was cleared up into the smoke, then falling on to the bar and out where George Sykes on debut no less, was on hand to sweep the ball home.
The linesman flagged that the ball had gone out, and the goal was disallowed. That seemed to defy the laws of physics and in any case, how could he have seen through the smoke? But that’s the lot of following a lower league team, life is never simple, nothing is ever totally black or white. And that’s especially true if you follow Barnet.