Since February, the Bees have had anything but an easy ride, and Bristol Rovers FC has kept with them all the way to the last, only a point behind, going into the last day. We wondered at one point, if our “educated” guess, had back fired, and in fact we had placed a Voodoo curse on Barnet, through our own search for glory, we had jinxed Barnet’s chance of going up. There was only one way to find out if the suspicion of a Haitian curse was true, so off we set for a 17:15 kick off at The Hive.
Barnet (BFC) is a very familiar club if you have grown up in North London and are a football fan. For the both of us it holds fond memories of visits to the famous Underhill, a short bus ride from both our houses. The affordability, friendly atmosphere and locality made it ideal for young teenagers to see some football, and not break the bank.
I (Daniel) spent a season or so, going quite regularly, at one point if I remember correctly I had a season ticket for a £10’ish, and had to pay £1 on the gate at every game I went to. I also remember a playoff game against Peterborough, and the solemn bus ride home, when BFC had not done enough to win. My last visit to Underhill was on the last day of the season, and Stockport County FC secured promotion to League 1, considering their position now, you can tell it’s a while since I saw the Bees play.
Our bus from Queensbury Station, notifies us of our arrival at “Camrose Avenue for Barnet Football Club”. The now familiar setting of suburbia with a break in a row of detached houses, and a sign saying “WELCOME TO THE HIVE” and a road leading to the ground. BFC’s new home since 2013 is a brand spanking new complex of five aside pitches, full size grass pitches, gym and the jewel in the crown the stadium itself, all to the soundtrack of Jubilee line trains passing every couple of minutes behind the main stand. Sadly it is lacking all the charm and quirks of Underhill, but needs must in the modern era, and their new home is impressive, if not a little generic.
There are already a significant number of people on arrival, and in fact it turns out to be the grounds first sell-out crowd, understandable considering the importance of the game.
Past the grey porta cabin ticket office and club shop, the fence surrounding the ground has the flags of many countries hanging from it, some even seem to be signed, perhaps by fans from those countries.
Two tall white flag poles fly two large BFC flags, fluttering in the wind. It’s overcast, and a bit blustery, but this has not stopped the BFC fans in their black and orange spilling out of the Hive Bar, sitting on the grass banks outside, all in nervous anticipation of the day’s events. The Hive Bar is so busy we decide to make our way around the opposite side of the ground, to a bar, newly named after a club legend.
At the turnstiles we have our bags searched, and Tom’s huge camera causes one of the stewards to say something that even till today, I find very strange. He informed us that we were not allowed to take pictures during the game, due to copyright and that the club had its own official photographers, and if we were seen taking any, we may be asked to stop or even leave! As I wanted to watch the match, I did not allow the instant volcano of rage that appeared inside of me to come out, and nodded and agreed.
I’m not someone who watches the game through the view finder on my camera, or the screen on my phone, but I do like to take pictures of the ground, fans and match, as I know many people do, and to be told we were not allowed due to copyright, I still find astonishing!
The turnstiles were not manned, but had the beady red eye of Sky Net, ready to except my printed ticket and scanned the bar code like thing, you see on adverts on the tube.
Once past the Terminators 2nd cousin, and with Queen coming over the sound system, we find ourselves at the corner of the ground, and at one end of the main stand, which runs the full length of the pitch, with its stripes of black and orange seats. Behind each goal are two covered standing terraces, and opposite the main stand, with the back drop of the Hive Bar and gym are a few rows of seats, which flank the dug outs.
At the back of the main stand and above the door to the bar in orange scrawled writing, like something from a Mediterranean bar strip is “Grazioli's Bar”, named after the former club player and manager, top goal scorer the last time BFC were promoted and all round legend/hero and favourite son in these parts.
The bar is doing good business, as we enter the headquarters of the cult of Graziloi, his image is visible from every angle, and signed shirts and photos cover the walls. We are lucky as Tom, was once a neighbour of Graziloi, and prior to coming today, Tom had let him know, so we were able to have an audience with him.
The bar is not huge, and there is a great atmosphere building minute by minute, every so often a chant breaks out at one end, and quickly fills the whole room, “We’re on our way, we’re on our way, to the Football League “We’re on our way” “Hello it’s good to be bees, it’s good to be bees, hello, hello”. It dies out as quickly as it had started, and back to the chitchat of people talking about being nervous.
Graziloi is on a table with his kids, and Tom tells me that as he still lives locally, he is still a reasonably regular visitor on match day. Tom goes over and catches his attention and introduces us, on seeing Tom the big grin, visible in all the pictures of him on the walls, appears on his face, and old neighbours catch up on the last 10 years.
My abiding memory of Graziloi is not in BFC colours, but in those of Stevenage Borough FC, and that famous goal he scored in the FA Cup against Newcastle.
It must be a strange experience being surrounded by your own image, and Graziloi certainly does not seem like the kind of person with an ego that gets off on it, but a family man with his kids, who looks a bit embarrassed and humble when the whole bar sings his name, and our conversation is interrupted every so often as someone wants a quick picture or to say hello, but there is no hesitation, and he is happy to oblige.
I ask him about his current involvement with the club, and he explains that it’s mainly as a fan, and as an agent for some of the current players. I’m curious to know about the eccentric last player/manger Edgar Davids, whose time here created more headlines than most, predominantly for some pretty bizarre reasons, like not traveling to away games outside London, or taking the number 1 of the keeper, and keeping it all for himself. He laughs as he tells me about one game where Davids was not at the match, but at the Playboy Mansion, and he thought he had “done the right thing”.
He is however sure of one thing, and that is a victory today, he says it’s a “certainty”.
The bar is heaving, and while Tom nips to the toilet the clubs mascot a giant bee, Mr Bumble walks in, and a group of fans offer him a ballad in homage “there is only one Mr Bumble” and a few of them take the opportunity to take a selfie.
Outside the bar, we have a pint, and allow the ringing of the deafening chanting to dissipate. For the collectors of retro football shirts, the crowd was a sea of new, old and really old shirts, and was a real sight. It appeared that people’s houses had been stripped of all things orange and black, giant orange glasses, orange Santa hats and an orange foam finger, and even someone in a Holland jacket, just as long as its BFC colours!
We find our seats, as the players warm up on the pitch. BT sport are out in full force, they are showing the match live, their cameras dotted around the ground really stick out, and in the far corner we can see the bright lights, and that bald guy who is always overly cheery and chummy, on Match Of The Day 2 or the League Show, talking to camera.
Both ends of the ground are filling quickly, and a large Saint Georges cross is hanging at the back of one. Mr Bumble is on the pitch doing a warm up with some kids, in full kit, and the players applaud the crowd as they sprint for the changing room, kick off is imminent.
Eminems “Lose yourself” is playing over the struggling sound system, and the lyric “You only get one shot, don’t miss your chance” is more than appropriate.
The warm up goals are hauled off, and the fans drown out the announcement of the teams,
“WE’RE ON OUR WAY, WE’RE ON OUR WAY, TO THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE, WE’RE ON OUR WAY”
The terrace to our right is now full and jumping to the banging of a drum, the flag that was visible before is now completely obscured by people.
Orange and black balloons bob around, and a fan in a shirt tries his best at the front of the stand, facing the crowd, to conduct the fans, like a European Capo.
“WE’RE ON OUR WAY”
Martin “Mad Dog” Allen runs to the centre circle and as all football people do, to exaggerate their clapping, raises his hands above his head, and applauds the fans.
The ball boys in pink bibs emerge, and this causes the volume to go up another notch.
“COME ON BARNET”
Mr Bumble, like a hype man at a rap concert does his best to get the crowd going, but he needn’t bother they are doing a fine job themselves.
The sound system struggling like a shit car playing its music far too loud, blasts out “Sweet child of mine” by Guns & Roses, I would love to know why that song, of all the songs in the world, is the one they chose, but it gets everyone to their feet, if they weren’t already, and the air around us is full of black and orange paper streamers.
The refs whistle blows and the 5,000 plus people who were just silent, burst into life and with kick off, come shouts of “COME ON BARNET, COME ON THE BEES!”
The first half is almost a side show to the fantastic, animated scenes in the crowd.
BFC are on top and cruising from the beginning to the end of the first half, and the game is a formality. BFC are passing the ball well and are very tidy, they have two engines in central midfield who don’t stop, and options of rapid speed or strength in attack, especially in the league top goal scorer John Akinde.
After three minutes BFC have a chance, but a poor shot, means no goal, but it’s coming. The crowds mood changes as BFC don’t take their chances, from loud and happy to quiet and nervous. Fans are half out of their chairs, at the sniff of a chance, but they just don’t happen. Martin Allen on the side lines gesticulates at every decision the referee makes, and stands with his arms out to his side, like Christ looking over Rio.
The bouncing fans with the drum don’t stop, never stop and would out jump the Duracell bunny. The ball is kicked into the stand, and a fan stands and heads the ball with great gusto, and the crowd around him cheer. People are franticly checking their phones for updates of the Bristol score.
“BEES, BEES, BEES, BEES”
On twenty five minutes, a collective sigh of relief, and the noise returns as BFC take their chance, a floated free kick from the left of the box, is met by Mauro Vilhete and unopposed, he heads the ball in to the back of the net, 1–0.
Just as if someone had let the cork out of a bottle, the stadium explodes into life again “WE ARE
TOP OF THE LEAGUE”.
The stewards look a bit twitchy on the side lines, perhaps expecting a bit of mayhem before the game is over, and the police stand on the side lines with a camera pointed at the crowd.
GH have one speedster, whose bursts forward, cause a little concern, but other than him, they offer very little else.
With ten minutes to go until half time, BFC almost double their lead, but a half volley from the edge of the box, slams flush with the cross bar, and spins off out of play.
BFC are almost the creators of their own demise, when the veteran keeper Stack’s, poor kick goes straight to a GH player, fortunately for him nothing comes of it, and once he has the ball back in his hands, he pats his chest, puffs out his cheeks and raise his hand to his team mates.
Tom has left his seat just before the half time whistle, he wants some pictures of the crowd, and we agree to meet back in the bar. Once I get there it looks by the state of a few people that they have never left, and are watching the game unfold on the TV with easy access to the beer, rather than take their seat outside. I search the place for a flat cap, but have no joy, I do though finally bump in to Tom outside, and we quickly have a pint.
The second half commences, and all is the same as the first, and after only a couple of minutes in, BFC double their lead. The same player again, latches on to the ball in the box after a corner from the right is knocked down and toe pokes it in.
“WE’RE ON OUR WAY”
“THE BEES ARE GOING UP, AND NOW YOUR’E GOING TO BELEIVE US”
Just like in the first half after scoring, BFC almost let GFC back in the match only for a world class one handed save from Stack, to prevent a goal.
Martin Allen conducts the team from the side lines pacing up and down and his team have not let him down, in particular the two Red Bull fueled central midfielders who have been dogged and continuous in their efforts.
The remainder of the half is played out with little incident. GFC have no answer to the BFC train thundering towards League Two, and BFC only look like scoring more only for the cross bar stopping them adding to their tally.
“GRAZIOLI, GRAZIOLI, OLE, OLE, OLE”
A giant inflatable football bounces up and down above the people’s heads in the crowd, for the last ten minutes BFC are happy to sit back, hold on to their lead, and see out the game. Nerves are on the edge again, it would seem inconceivable for GFC to get back in the game, but you never know, so everyone just wants the whistle to blow.
Hearts are in mouths briefly on the 85th minute when GFC score, but thankfully the linesman’s flag is up, and the scorer was offside.
It has rained for the whole of the second half, and umbrellas have popped up, where people are not sheltered from the rain, and the fans to the right of us have gone from jumping to congaing.
By now a huge crowd has formed at the edge of the pitch, and the stewards have resigned themselves to the fact that they won’t be stopping the hoards, once the final whistle goes. Tom and I are one of the many waiting to celebrate on the pitch, and everyone’s attention is on the referee, who is being constantly asked how long is left, and the reply is always “1 minute”.
Bristol have scored seven in their game, but that is immaterial, as BFC’s win, will crown them Champions of the Conference, promotion to League Two, and for some reason I come to the realisation that they will be in FIFA 16 next year!
The referee puts the whistle to his lips, blows three times, and BFC have done it! Like Olympic hurdlers, people are over the fence in a flash, and race towards the players, and the centre of the pitch, Tom flies past me like a whippet, keen to capture what he can on film. I take things at a bit more of a sedate pace. People are knee sliding all over, and curiously someone films three children doing push ups on the centre circle. If people are not filming the moment, or taking a picture of it, they are on the phone telling someone else about it. Most people have formed a civilised mosh pit near the player’s tunnel, singing and whirling scarves above their heads,
“WE’RE ON OUR WAY, WE’RE ON OUR WAY, TO THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE, WE’RE ON OUR WAY”
Once the celebrating on the pitch is done, the police and stewards slowly and calmly usher us off the pitch, so they can set up the trophy presentation.
The presentation to the dismay of most fans, is set up to face the executive boxes, who are the minority, and has its back to the fans, the majority, this results in the whole place chanting “turn It round, turn it round”, this falls on deaf ears, and after the Chairman, manager and players are introduced and make their entrance, it is a strange moment when the BFC players finally lift the trophy, only really to catch the back of their heads, over the top of a temporary advertising board set up behind them.
The big screens congratulate the team “Conference Champions”, and the pissing rain, is not even on people’s minds as Queens “We are the champions” whips the whole place up in to a sing along, and the team with families and children in tow do a lap of the pitch, taking turns to hoist the silver pyramid above their heads.
“We did it” “Here’s to the Kings of Non League”, are some of the many toasts in the bar after the match, as we take in another pint, and realise quite how wet we are.
As we leave, and the ground is empty, all that’s left is Martin Allen, now in his 4th spell at BFC, and making them the only team to win the conference title 3 times, talking to the press. From his elevated position, he stands proudly, chest out, with the press looking up at him, holding up their Dictaphones, recording his replies.
He is asked on his thoughts of the future, and replies that his only concern is what factor sun screen he will wear, when he and the team celebrate in Benidorm a few days later. I wait for the conference to end, manage to introduce myself, shake his hand and ask for a picture, he looks back at the waiting journalists, and says “why didn’t you take one there”, I say to Tom that his “reputation precedes him” which brings a smile and a laugh to the steward who had witnessed the slightly embarrassing exchange.
The end of the day finishes outside the home changing room, with the sounds of music and cheering though the wooden door, and an odd glimpse in as people come and go, with their winning medals around there necks. Some players kindly pose for some pics for us, as they make their way outside.
The player’s entrance door opens and closes again, and we can hear the congregation outside singing and cheering every time the players leave.
We slink out the same door, but alas to no cheers, and make our soggy way back to the tube station. The flood lights switch off, and even though we are a fare distance from the ground, we can still hear them sing,
“WE’RE ON OUR WAY, WE’RE ON OUR WAY, TO THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE, WE’RE ON OUR WAY”