David Cameron Walker

Archive for the ‘Barnet’ Category

Giant Killing Bees Threaten Escape!

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Apologies for the slightly misleading title of the blog, there should have been a hyphen in there somewhere, for anyone who has clicked through due to the fascination of Giant Killing Bees please keep reading but you may be disappointed. The Bees in question are not particularly scary – unless you are a promotion candidate in League Two.

In recent weeks the perennial relegation candidates, Barnet FC, have come away from fixtures against Rotherham, Gillingham and, League Cup hopefuls, Bradford with 9 points. This is really quite incredible feat taking into account that two of these were away. Sandwiched in within those results was an away draw to a strong Exeter side and a disappointing loss at home to fellow strugglers Aldershot. 10 points gained from this particularly tough period of fixtures following Christmas is a hugely successful haul for a side that, at one point, were languishing at the bottom of the table with only 3 points from 11 games.

The credit for this remarkable turnaround in fortunes must lie at the door of Edgar Davids who has instilled a resilience and a confidence which was so sorely lacking during the opening months of the season. He has lead from the front by strapping on his boots and demonstrating the tenacity, and the occasional mistimed tackle, for which he was so highly regarded during his illustrious career. While he may have lost his pace and occasionally looks off the pace he still possesses the touch of class which sets him above the rest on the field.

In a managerial capacity, he has succeeded in tightening up a suicidally leaky defence which had conceded 26 goals in the first 12 games of the season and has imbued a confidence which had been completely eroded before his arrival. His arrival could have proved intimidating to a bunch of League Two players, unaccustomed to the media fanfare and to working alongside such a decorated player. Conversely, it would have been easy for Davids to have believed himself above the job, yet he has thrown himself in with a passion and commitment which has rubbed off on the players. There have been many cases where ex-players have seen themselves as big fish in a little pond and have seemed to use the club as a play thing to keep themselves amused in retirement. This cannot be said of Davids, he has treated the club and fans with respect by convincing them that his number one priority is avoiding relegation.

One of my favourite aspects of Davids’ managerial reign has been the humbleness he has demonstrated when he is no longer having a positive impact on the match, by pointing toward the bench and subbing himself off. It was one of these self-substitutions which gave an excellent insight into the relationship he had with his former ‘Joint’ Head Coach, Mark Robson.

As I wrote in a previous blog, Robson disappeared from view after the appointment of Davids, he sulked on the bench and very rarely stuck his head above the parapet of his dugout to make himself known to the supporters sat behind. Spotting him became a hobby; even Bill Oddie once graced the Main Stand with his binoculars waiting patiently to see Robson’s quiff venture out of the safety of the dugout only to quickly retreat back into his nest until next week. It was clear that Davids was the Alpha male of the relationship, to be fair there would be few occasions where he wouldn’t be.

The relationship between the ‘joint’-head coaches was exemplified perfectly during a game in which Davids was struggling to make an impact, it was clear to everyone that he needed to come off, yet who would make that decision? Would Robson whisper it in the ear of the 4th Official before running to safety? Or would he sit, meekly watching the great man misplace pass after pass? In the end neither situation arose –  it was Davids who strolled over to the bench, barked an order at substitute Andy Yiadom indicating that he wanted him to be his replacement. This moment made it crystal clear the new power structure at the club: Edgar Davids is King.

From this moment it was only a matter of time until Robson was shown the door, the relationship between the two was so one sided, you felt Robson was a man looking in through the window and having no impact upon proceedings  Robson was living on borrowed time after the disastrous start to the season and was only hanging on thanks to Paul Fairclough’s embarrassment in having made the stupid decision to announce that Robson had a ‘job for life’.

Statements of this kind, as admirable as they seem, have found a way of backfiring upon spokesperson this season; with Alan Pardew’s Newcastle plummeting since he was awarded an eight-year contract and his future seemingly to be heading a similar way to Robson’s ‘job for life’.  Paul Fairclough, Director of Football at Barnet, has been the one to have had the spotlight turned upon him this season after another poorly conceived managerial appointment and a declining skill in the scouting department causing many within Underhill to question his position. His close ties to the Chairman Tony Kleanthous will probably mean the desire to see him pay the price for these decisions will not come to fruition. However, his decision-making needs some improvement if he wants to dispel the naysayers and to ensure he will not be joining Mark Robson in the queue at the Job Centre.

After the inevitably doomed Joint Head-Coach experiment Barnet now have only one Head Coach, it’ll never catch on, to steer the club to safety from the depths of despair for the fourth season running. Unfortunately for Barnet their fellow contenders for the drop have also shown an annoying ability to pick up unlikely points indicating another tight finish at the bottom. With the continued application of Davids’ determination and a fair bit of luck I have faith that Barnet can survive once more. It would be a great, and very important, way to say goodbye to Underhill and beckon in a new era at the Hive.

Written by Doug Pyrke, We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger

Doug tweets at @dougiepyrke

No Sting Left In The Bees

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Is this finally the year The Bees give up on surviving in League Two and succumb to the painful reality that they are no longer good enough to be classed as a Football League team? This is their eighth season in League Two and long gone are the glory days of Guiliano Grazioli banging goals in at Underhill for fun. The past two seasons have seen remarkably narrow escapes from the drop at the end of the season, but form this year suggests that no progress is being made and their luck may be up.

Saturday’s defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge increased Barnet’s winless run to six games and their 19 goals in 22 games this season is proof of just how important Izale McLeod was to the club last season. Compare this to the 36 goals they have conceded in those games and the evidence suggests that it is not only hitting the net that is a problem this year, but protecting it has proved tough too. To his credit, Mark Robson is taking steps to remedy the situation, completing three signings in the past month, if only to provide different options and cover, rather than first team players. George Barker, a 21 year old forward from Brighton and Andy Iro from Stevenage, have both signed on loan while Dutch winger Melvin Holwijn has signed a one month contract with the Bees. Barker has never made a senior appearance for the Seagulls, but Robson believes he has the quality to score in League Two and there is no doubt he will get a chance to prove this.

While I admire his attempts to save the club, I am afraid it may be futile for Robson and in fact it may do the club a favour to drop down a division. Everybody knows how hard it is to save a club from relegation if they are bottom at Christmas, so without any major spending or some serious luck in January and the coming months, I see no way for the Black And Amber Army to rescue themselves. Despite this, every cloud has a silver lining and with so many young players in the club, it can only be damaging for them to suffer defeats week in week out, and this will undoubtedly hamper their progression.

In the Blue Square league, they would have more opportunities to score and, particularly with Edgar Davids in the ranks, play better attacking football, as opposed to the typical long balls into the wind I’ve been watching flying up the field at Underhill every weekend. However, even despite Barnet’s highly developed, poor-mans Stoke-esque style of play, they have brought some real talent to the fore in recent years. Jason Puncheon and Nicky Bailey and are the most impressive of the names to move on to bigger things, although many have moved up to League One or the Championship and done well. With many of these players, it was clear they were head and shoulders above the other players, and of course most only had one good season before being snapped up, leaving a gaping hole in the side and therefore instability at the club. If Robson and Davids can build a strong team, rather than a weak team with one or two standout players, a return to League Two would be much more sustainable, but this can only happen via a step down.

I’m not saying that Barnet should try to get relegated, but rather that relegation could be a step forward rather than backwards in the long run. I love hearing my fathers stories about the unthinkable days when Barnet used to get the occasional win, and I pray for a return to a similar age, but I see no way for that to happen while my beloved club clings desperately to Football League status. So, on that note, call me a mad man, but I want my club to get relegated so we can rebuild and return much stronger. Even if it does mean I lose my place on this blog.

Written by Danny McGovern, We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger

Danny tweets at @DannyGRM

Christmas Comes Early In Barnet

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

The club was plummeting out of the Football League faster than Felix Baumgartner from the stratosphere, spiralling, in danger of losing all control. Suddenly, out of nowhere, (well actually from Enfield’s 5-a-side Astroturfs) came a little, bespectacled, Dutch maestro to bring hope to the Underhill faithful that things may not end in a splat. All Edgar Davids has to do is to release the parachute, causing millions of morbid YouTube viewers to turn off their computers simultaneously in disappointment that things have not ended as horribly as first anticipated. Before we get ahead of ourselves, that release cord is still a long way away and is going to require some serious strength to pull.

Enough of mad parachutist metaphors! Metaphors aren’t really necessary anymore, in a world where former Dutch and Barcelona legends turn up at Underhill and ask if they can play, the real events don’t really need embellishment.

Last time I wrote about Barnet was two days before the most bizarre news story in Football had emerged, causing my blog to go out of date quicker than warm milk. The shock effected everyone, suddenly Barnet were a major news story and their plight had become common knowledge. The added pressure seemed to get to the players, they decided to give Davids a clear example of what he had got himself in for by producing their worst performance of the season, losing 4-1at home to Plymouth Argyle. Edgar was sat in the stands, hurriedly scribbling notes (most believing it was most likely the first draft of his resignation letter).

Whatever was in that notebook has seemed to have had an effect, maybe it was a self-portrait of himself in the amber and black since he decided to get his boots on much earlier than anticipated. Only a week after agreeing to help out, he gave a performance which proved any of his doubters wrong and showcased the sheer class he still brings to a football pitch. After a close first-half, and a couple of trademark meaty tackles from the little maestro, Barnet scored 4 second-half goals to record the first win of the season against a good Northampton side.

By no means was it all down to one man either, his presence seemed to buoy all the players. Most of all John Oster rose to the occasion, demonstrating why he used play in the Premier League, he finished off a brilliant team move with a daisy-cutter into the bottom corner from 25 yards. The marked difference on the field was the presence of a leader, Edgar barked orders to his new team-mates, berated lapses of concentration and cajoled his troops. The result was a feeling of confidence emanating from Underhill, the passes were hit with greater conviction, first touches less nervy and there was a decisiveness in defence which had been sorely lacking previously.

Such was the excellence of the performance, the fans who made the short journey to Wycombe on Tuesday evening were demanding a win. Football fans are the most fickle of people; suddenly the depression has been replaced by unrealistic expectations of a team still trying to find their way out of the relegation zone. In the first half of the game, the players gave the fans everything they desired minus a goal or two; the play was expansive, beautifully deft touches from Davids were only eclipsed by Clovis Kamdjo, whose range of passing has at least doubled since the arrival Davids. Clovis has always been a favourite of mine, mainly for his work ethic and his effectiveness in breaking up play, but once on the ball he has never convinced me he knows what to do next. Within a week, Davids has seemed to breath confidence into him enabling him to take more time on the ball, get his head up and spread the play himself.

The second half brought back memories of the Barnet of old, passes going astray, lack of forward threat and Davids tired as the half wore on. There was however something different; the Barnet goal remained in tact, the players dug deep and produced a gritty defensive performance to withstand a late Wycombe charge. Oster almost stole the points with a rocket from 30 yards which Nikki Bull kept out at full stretch. It was a marker of how far the club has come in a week that the fans were imploring the team to attack in the final minutes rather than cling on to the point they had. In the cold light of day, the 0-0 final score represents a success once put in perspective of the problems faced by the club. As a mathematically gifted fan sat in front of me remarked, 4 points from every 9 available will mean safety from this point forward. I haven’t actually done the maths on that but he was very convincing!

One of the most interesting facets of the arrival of Edgar Davids is where this leaves Mark Robson. It is hard not to believe that he won’t feel undermined by the appointment of a joint Head coach. Paul Fairclough claimed that Robson had ‘a job for life’ when he arrived but  this has been brought into question by Davids appointment, since it was largely brought on by the failures of Robson’s regime. I believe that Fairclough still wants to stick with Robson and that Robson is part of the ‘Grand Plan’, realistically, one doesn’t feel Davids will be around too long before someone else wants him and it feels like Robson is ‘on ice’ for when he inevitably rides off into the sunset.

In the meantime, how Robson and Davids work together over the next few months will be intriguing. Robson has not made himself particularly visible since Davids arrived but the players did make themselves clear during the 4-0 demolition of Northampton that they had his back by running over to celebrate with Robson after the third goal. The situation is a question of Robson’s character, is he happy to let Davids to take centre stage and take the praise if things go well? Or will he try and impose his will over the squad and take Davids head on in a power struggle? One hopes he will be modest enough to welcome ‘The Davids Effect’ and reap the benefits, both personally and as a team, of working with such a legend of the game.

Even if Davids goes tomorrow, this has been one of the best moments to be a Barnet fan, it’s just shame we are still bottom of the league!

Written by Doug Pyrke, We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger

Doug tweets at @dougiepyrke

The Cyclical Existence Of A Barnet Fan

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Three seasons in a row Barnet FC have summoned up great Houdini-like escapes from what have seemed like impossibly bleak situations.  And in each of the last three seasons have seen a tall dark stranger emerge from the rubble of that season and lead the Bees out of the mire and into nose-bleed territory of 22nd place. With this knowledge the current debacle, 24th in the league and no win in all competitions this season, looks remarkably positive – if anyone can recover, Barnet can.

After each of the previous miraculous escapes came a period of hope, otherwise known as ‘The Summer’, when we naively believe that somehow the master plan laid down by Tony Kleanthous will be played out and the goddess of mid-table mediocrity will swoop down, pluck us out of the reach of the Wolves Of Non-League and let us rest our weary heads on her ample bosom.

However, Tony has other ideas….Revolution!

The kulaks of the old squad must be cleansed for any chance of the old vices of insecurity and the shackles of self-doubt to be banished and a new bunch of merry men brought in to provide the 2000 (I have rounded up to give the impression of grandeur) a feast of football and success.

Each August comes around with supporters hurriedly reaching for the programmes to put names to these new faces and to count the survivors from the summer’s cull. From the evidence on the pitch it seems as if the players could also do with this programme ritual (or, less cumbersomely, name badges) such is the lack of cohesion and understanding. And by the fourth game of the season the cleansing process has to be repeated because the first lot were generally incompetent and had been found out to have lied when they entered ‘Footballer’ under the previous employment section of their job application. Twice in the last three seasons has the whole squad been completely annihilated; after the 2009/10 season, at the wish of the then new manager Mark Stimson, the only one senior player – Joe Devera – survived for the beginning of the 2010/11 campaign.

Around game 8 of the season this second team, consisting mainly of hasty loan deals, has finally come some kind of arrangement which, without going into the boring details, meant that they had agreed to pass to one another with the aim of getting the ball past ‘the man who can use his hands’ and into that netted area which, for the purpose of ease, we will call the ‘goal’.

And here is where we find ourselves now. After scoring 2 whole goals against a good Southend side with 25 minutes left on the clock, Barnet, seeming to realise the magnitude of the situation proceeded to crumble, letting Southend claw their way back from the brink of defeat to claim a draw and leave the Bees still without a win. While many teams might have been disappointed with this end, in Barnet’s current state a 2-2 draw away against Southend seemed like Divine Intervention. One now hopes that this result can now provide some form of momentum to the current batch of players who have shown promise but very little cutting edge up to this point with only the silky skills of Ricky Holmes providing any threat to opponents or joy for supporters.

Mark Robson, the latest leader of the revolution, has arrived at the club with the backing of the Paul Fairclough, Director of Football, to impart a “comprehensive transformation of the club’s footballing strategy”. Paul Fairclough set out his mission statement after the appointment of Robson:

“I want the club to become renowned for the way they pass the ball and try to play their way through opposition, as opposed to over them. Obviously results are important but those results can be achieved by playing good, entertaining football. In Mark Robson we have secured the services of a forward-thinking coach who will lead the club along a new and exciting pathway. I truly see this as a new dawn for Barnet Football Club.”

This has not been taken to kindly by the supporters, as of yet, with groans of derision every time the ball is played backwards and screams of ‘kick it in the air!!’ belted out when the ball has touched the green stuff for too long.

I am a fan of the idea that led Fairclough to bring in Robson, however maybe not the application (3 points from 11 games isn’t what I signed up for), but can’t help but feel that I am being naive. I recently saw an Opta stat which analysed how clubs were successful in League Two; it suggested the opposite of Robson’s philosophy, namely; long balls, big blokes, lots of crosses and more big blokes. It would be lovely to be the club which proved the exception to the rule but evidently the current points tally demonstrates that. It would seem that the idealistic Fairclough and Robson need to reassess their priorities and put the survival of the Football League status of the club back at the forefront.

The main problem with the games I have seen this season has been a goal threat (I thank Alan Shearer for this astute piece of punditry). 8 goals from 11 games and the recent Southend game being the first time the team have managed to beat the opposition goalkeeper twice do back up the point quite nicely. While Jake Hyde is a willing runner and links the play quite nicely there is very little danger in his play. In fact this lack of danger runs through the whole team, while the philosophy of building from the back and trusting your defenders to hold onto the ball is a brave move, once in possession no one seems to want to make that killer pass or lung-busting run from deep to test out the opposition defence.

While Robson’s passing philosophy does appeal to me, there is a difference to just playing a game of piggy-in-the-middle and a real game of football, I have been reliably informed. The passing up until this point has mainly taken place within our own half, across the defence, or slightly further up the pitch, laterally across midfield. Too seldom will a midfield player take the risk of venturing further upfield to see what the grass is like up there and present the opposition with a goal threat.

Great possession sides like Barcelona and Swansea look to play one-twos in order to take players out the game and move themselves into dangerous positions while poor ones, like ourselves, keep the ball around the back for a while and then once the ball finally gets to the striker he is so isolated there is no chance of him doing any damage. Ricky Holmes has proved to be our only real goal threat, scoring a cracker and setting up Jake Hyde for the second goal against Southend. He is eager to take players on and try things which the others are; either incapable of or too frightened to do.

When Exeter came to Barnet they presented the antithesis to the ‘Robson Theory’; playing with two banks of four defending their own half and once in possession quickly getting the ball forward to the lively pairing of Jamie Cureton and the ex-Bee John O’Flynn. During his time at Barnet O’Flynn had looked cumbersome and slightly lazy even though he did score plenty of goals in his first season. However, here he looked sharp and in-sync with the classy Cureton and proved a constant menace to the Barnet defence providing a lovely cross for Cureton to score his first of the game. Their second goal was one of the best counter-attacking moves I have seen at Underhill, such was the speed of the move, the ball was won deep within the Exeter half and quickly chipped forward to O’Flynn who played in Tommy Doherty providing the opportunity for a beautifully weighted ball for Cureton to stroke home. These kinds of moves have been sorely missed from the home side at Underhill this season with the insistence of patient build up and a lack of pace in general within the side.

There were a few calls for Robson’s head after the Exeter game, not literally since Underhill is a family club and do not condone beheading as a punishment for underachievement. While I have been critical of his methods thus far, the club needs much more consistency than has been the case recently if there is ever going to be any success. The management merry-go-round, with Martin Allen sitting on most of the horses, needs to stop. As does the annual summer decimation of the previous season’s squad. It was the players as much as the management who pulled off the remarkable recovery last season and any momentum built from that quickly evaporated with the decision to not retain Allen and change most of the squad. From what I have heard from Robson he is aware of the problems the team has and the judgement of him must wait until he has a chance to tackle these.

Now that we are near to having a settled squad once again there is some promise. The defence and goalkeeper look solid with Clovis Kamdjo providing effective cover in midfield and Danny Senda close to returning. John Oster is an excellent footballer who looks like he just needs to improve his fitness and Ricky Holmes has proved his worth time and again. With big Collins John now cleared to play hopefully we can have some real threat up front. The outcome of his fitness battle, which has plagued him since he was seen as an excellent prospect at Fulham and has led him to ply his trade in far-flung reaches of the footballing world, will prove to be crucial to the Bee’s survival this season.

In Robson We Trust – sort of…….

Written by Doug Pyrke, We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger

Doug tweets at @dougiepyrke

Use Your Allusion

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

“Great leadership does not mean running away from reality. Sometimes the hard truths might just demoralize…But at other times sharing difficulties can inspire people to take action that will make the situation better.”

John Kotter, Professor at Harvard Business School.

For the third season in a row Barnet FC have avoided relegation to non-league football on the last day of the season. This is a troubling  statistic, which no amount of euphoria or relief from a dramatic win away to Burton Albion can disguise or dispel.  Whilst league survival is clearly a positive outcome from the season, why is is that Barnet have found themselves in this position once again this season, and what can they do to prevent this from happening in the next?

I would argue that Barnet FC’s problems are a result of a culture within the club of playing and reacting within an artificially constructed paradigm, and not engaging with reality. In short, Barnet are victims of hyperreality.

Hyperreality refers to a hypothetical inability of consciousness (be it individually or as a group) to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality. In a world where media and other influencing agents can radically shape and filter our perceptions of events and experiences, consciousness can be tricked from engaging with any real world emotion or stimulation, opting instead to engage in artificial stimulation and endless reproductions of a fundamentally empty nature. Crucially this can lead to enjoyment and fulfilment only being found through imagined or simulated of reality, because reality can be difficult, confusing and unpredictable, whereas an artificial reality can be comfortable, predictable, and has the illusion of control.

For Barnet, it would appear that their group hyperreality extends to a created reality whereby they are permanently underdogs, and the most fulfilment and pleasure they can derive from their season will always be the avoidance of relegation, the more dramatic the more fulfilling.

The general journalistic narrative surrounding Barnet certainly contributes to this. Often considered relegation candidates and, aside from cursory match reports, the most press attention they receive of a season is indeed when they avoid relegation. This narrative is not one of achievement, or building success, but of clearly stating that if they want recognition, it won’t come with a season of mid-table security.

Whenever Barnet looked like they might break out of this hyperreality, and engage with the actuality that the squad,  particularly after the January transfer window, was capable of much more than simply fighting relegation, results belied this.

Consider that Barnet went unbeaten in November and January, winning eight and drawing two in the process. These were results borne from ability, nothing more or less. It would appear that Barnet were unable to deal with the reality of moving up the table, and changing their paradigm, and thus reverted to playing within the imagined reality of relegation, complete with all the clichés of ‘heads dropping’ and playing ‘direct’ football when conceding first. From a team who had been playing good, effective football just days and weeks prior to this, it was absolutely frustrating to watch.

Also consider the team’s achievement in reaching the area final of the Football League Trophy. Teams from League Two who flirt with relegation tend not to progress particularly far in cup competitions, simply because they are not good enough. Why did Barnet buck this trend? Arguably because this encapsulated their problem with their constructed reality better than any other event this season.

To reach the area final Barnet were required to beat Brentford and Colchester, teams who finished 9th and 10th respectively in League One. The point bears repeating, this is not something that teams that nearly get relegated in three consecutive seasons accomplish generally, because they are not good enough.

In losing to Swindon in the area final, however, the hyperreality of Barnet achieving nothing but survival was reinforced, in mind and deed. Barnet went on to lose five games from their next seven, having gone a month unbeaten prior to this event. Barnet had not stopped being competitive, but I believe that they thought they had.

Finally I want to look at the build-up to Barnet’s Lazarus like comeback to remain in League Two and demonstrate the impact of hyperreality.

On the 10th March Barnet beat Port Vale, away 1-2. In their next nine games they lost six and drew three games (including draws against both Hereford and Macclesfield, teams who were both relegated) before winning their remaining last two games to preserve their league status.

Whilst some would suggest that this was the result of Martin Allen re-joining the club for the final three games of the season, I would argue that this is only a partial explanation. More likely is that Barnet wanted to simulate the events of the previous two seasons, of which one element was a last minute managerial appointment. Unable to derive any satisfaction or fulfilment from a mid-table finish, which was within their scope, and unable to break out of their hyperrealism with a Wembley appearance, Barnet engaged in what could be accurately described as a (currently) endless reproduction of reality.

It is often said that the League table doesn’t lie, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth of Barnet’s season. Yes we won 12 games, lost 24 and managed a ratio of one point per game, so far so dreadful. It doesn’t tell the story of a team who had the league’s (joint) top goal scorer, a team that were one win from a Wembley final, and a team that went two separate months unbeaten. So what is the truth?

From my perspective Barnet were undermined by their inability to reconcile themselves to reality, that they had a good team and were capable of a mid-table finish. The hyperreality of a heroic, against the odds, fight back from relegation was far more attractive. Barnet, currently, fight with relegation because the alternative, is worse; even less media coverage, no sense of satisfaction or accomplishment, and because the emotions a last day escape provides, no matter how many times this is reproduced, beats dealing with the reality that they should take no satisfaction from fulfilling a minimum requirement of their league season.

So what can be done to change this? Short of winning a trophy, as I see it, Barnet have one other option which could inspire a dramatic change in paradigm. It is also something the club are working upon implementing in the near future. I believe that moving from our Underhill stadium, to a modern venue, with modern facilities, befitting a team with aspirations of promotion, would be hugely beneficial psychologically. What better way to break with the hyperreality of the present, than to literally and physically move away from it?

Written by Hugh Webster, We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger

Hugh tweets at @hughwebster

Barnet’s season as “The glass of Fashion and the Mould of form”

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Something is Rotten at the Home of Football.

For fans of Barnet FC this has been a season, so far, of extremes. Since the beginning of the season we have seen the club vie for the bottom of the Football League with Plymouth Argyle, beat two teams from League One, go unbeaten in November and January, lose their last four games – conceding 12 and scoring 3 – win four games in a row for the first time since 2009, oh and come as close as they ever have in my living memory for a shot at a cup final at Wembley, before losing to Swindon.

Attempting to contextualise the in-exhaustive list of triumph and tragedy above, in order to rationalise, explain and understand the season so far is imperative. As such, viewing Barnet FC’s season, and judging it’s trajectory as Prince Hamlet of Denmark offers the perfect framework to judge the season so far and to offer potential insight as to how the season will end.

‘To be or not to be, that is the question’ - Act III, Scene I

Perhaps the most definitive and widely known characteristic of Hamlet is his indecision. Indeed it could be described as his most tragic flaw. It is also something which Barnet have displayed throughout the season, with similarly paralyzing results. Consider that Barnet’s recent poor performances have come hot on the heels of their season’s best string of results, which had the effect of moving the team closer to the play-offs than the relegation zone. It seems abundantly clear that this posed a question which has not been addressed; namely how do the team approach games now that promotion, not relegation is the immediate concern?

Unsure as to how to proceed in games, when to pressurise opposition and how to respond to teams who treat them with respect as opposed to a struggling side who stop playing football when they fall behind, the team’s performances and results have suffered as a direct consequence.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the recent home game against Shrewsbury, when a fine first half performance was undone by an injury time own goal, which led to one of the worst second half performances I have ever had the misfortune to pay to see. It was clear to see that the team could not decide how to approach the defect – whether maintaining their first half tactics or adopting a more direct approach would be more effective. The result was a clear symptom of the kind of indecision which has plagued Barnet’s decision making recently.

A lack of consistency in performances, form and results have led to a situation whereby Barnet appear to be, much like our tragic hero Hamlet, incapacitated by indecision, when an approach promoting continuity in thinking would have been more beneficial.

‘O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I- Act II, Scene II

A consequence of Hamlets indecision is his guilt over his inaction, which serves to make him only more angry, introspective and impotent, clouding his judgment and actions further. Equally, Barnet have allowed their guilt, also stemming from their indecisiveness, to further impede their performances, resulting in a vicious circle of indecision, frustration, and further clouded judgement. This is best encapsulated by looking at Barnet’s recent 0-4 implosion at home against Bradford.

An early, reckless, red card and goal conceded proceeded to devolve into a shambolic ‘performance’ with two of the side’s most important and talented players, Michael Hector and Izale McLeod, having to be separated by their own teammates after squaring up to one another. Some might call this ‘showing passion’, but I would suggest that their actions were products of rage and guilt, not of an abstract notion of passion. For me this is of the utmost concern, because unless the vicious circle above is broken I would expect incidents and performances such as these to become more common.

‘…Am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season’d for his passage?
No!’ –   Act III, Scene III

Throughout the play Hamlet attempts to reconcile his inner turmoil resulting from conflicting motivations. He wants to kill Claudius, and wants to damn his soul to hell; his desire to avenge his father’s murder is contrasted to his personal ambition to become king himself, as well as his much speculated Oedipus complex.

Much like Hamlet, Barnet have struggled with reconciling multiple motivations, from staving off relegation, to attempting an abortive surge to the playoff places, to reaching the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final at Wembley. It should have come as no surprise that Barnet lacked not only the depth of squad to play so many games in such a relatively short space of time and to get produce good performances and results from all (the Bees played eight games in February) but the motivation of appearing at a cup final at Wembley and then falling at the last hurdle has, in my opinion, had a significant and detrimental effect upon the team.
Not only is this borne out by results since that loss to Swindon (drawn one, lost four, won zero) but has seemingly damaged players motivations, be this conscious or subconscious. After all, how can a trip to Home Park compare to a showcase final? Much like Hamlet missing opportune times to kill his duplicitous Uncle, Barnet have missed a great opportunity to use their cup run as a springboard to a consistent run of results in the league.

Whilst this recent malaise is understandable, it is certainly not acceptable. Barnet have to make sure that their motivations are aligned, and consistent. This begins with aiming to pick up points to arrest their worrying run of form, not spending time fuelling anger, guilt and indecision.

‘Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.’ - Act III Scene I

Sadly for the Prince of Denmark, he only embarked upon a course of action after people began to die; indeed he is the final casualty of the tragedy. This should serve as a warning to Barnet FC, that not addressing the team’s character flaws could well result in tragedy for the club and its fans. Only time will tell if Barnet’s season will finish as the play, or as the ending of that charming Hamlet homage ‘The Lion King.’ The first step is surely recognizing that they need to decide how best to play and get points consistently, rather than react to things now outside of their control.

Written by Hugh Webster, We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger

Hugh tweets at @hughwebster

Home is where the heart is

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

With the dust having settled from the news that Barnet Football Club will not be be playing their football next season at Underhill Stadium, their home of 104 years, it feels like an appropriate time to revisit the history of the dispute between the club and council so far, and to offer some opinions on a matter which has dragged on for almost as long as I can remember supporting the team.

The background to the situation Barnet now find themselves in is lengthy, complicated, and has been covered in some depth, and in a far more impartial manor than I could hope to achieve in a fantastic article by Ian King over at twohundredpercent.net.

Allied to that the Barnet Football Club Supporters Association conducted an interview with Barnet chairman Tony Kleanthous during the 2009-10 season, which provides a full and frank assessment from his perspective.

This leaves many uncomfortable questions for Barnet supporters, the most pertinent of which are:

- Where will Barnet play next season if not at the Underhill?
- Will Barnet still be able to base themselves in the Borough?

The club do not, as of yet, have any concrete plans for where to play their football next season. In an ideal world this would have been set in stone long before now, but the problems this causes have become exponentially more acute. Indeed Barnet’s medium to long term future is put into question, because without the regular income and identity that a home ground provides, it is not immediately clear how the club could meet it’s existing liabilities, or continue attracting fans beyond it’s relatively small core.

This is why I feel that the answer to the second question is even more crucial than the first. Were Barnet to move beyond it’s historical roots the integrity and soul of the club would be thrown into question. By this I mean that Barnet Football Club have a definite character, from their strip, to location, to legendary sloped pitch. If too much of this mix is altered, as seen with the MK Dons, this can have a devastating impact upon a clubs fan base.

I should state now that I adore the Underhill, with all of it’s faults and foibles, and have many, many cherished memories of the ground, from being a mascot on my tenth birthday, to being promoted from the Football Conference. In a perfect scenario Barnet would be able to redevelop the ground rather than search for a new home. This is clearly not feasible. With this knowledge I fully support Barnet moving ground, and have done so for years, albeit with one proviso. They MUST stay within the Borough.

Until the two questions posed above are answered the club and its fans are stuck in limbo, with no home, and with a great deal of uncertainty hanging over them. I do not doubt the sincerity or motives of the club, and there are potential sites available for development, from the much mooted and dissected Copthall Stadium, to the potential for a ground to be built by Barnet’s state of the art ‘Beehive’ training facility.

In conclusion, the best Christmas present that a Barnet fan could receive this year would be some answers to some pretty fundamental questions about the future of our club. Ignorance is certainly not bliss.

Written by Hugh Webster – We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger

Hugh tweets at @hughwebster

Great Expectations and Schrödinger’s Cat

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

It would be fair to say I hadn’t expected this – Barnet sat 23rd in the League Two table. I had prepared myself for a relatively uneventful season of point accumulation punctuated by the occasional loss (away from home, of course) ending up with a comfortable mid-table finish. Why has the reality been so different?

As any fan knows, form, injuries and no little amount of luck all play their part in strong starts to the season, but I feel that there are three specific reasons (beyond playing worse than the opponents) as to why pre-season predictions for Barnet were so inaccurate, and why the Bees have had such a poor season so far.

The first reason is one which resonates with many fans of football league clubs and it is the problem of assessing a potential football season with no observation or measurement, but with hope and emotion. This problem is most elegantly explained through the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat.

In 1935 Erwin Schrodinger proposed an experiment where a cat is placed in a box with a sealed vial of poison that will break open at a random time. Since nobody knows if or when the poison has been released, until the box is opened, the cat can be thought as both alive and dead.

In the same way, there was no way of knowing whether Barnet’s season would match my expectations, best them, or (as if turns out) bear no relation, except by lifting open the box, and watching the season unfold before our eyes.

The box is now open on Barnet’s season and it is abundantly clear that, as the league table demonstrates, Barnet have not improved enough relative to other teams in the League.

Barnet have some quality players, such as striker Izale McLeod, but the squad is small and because of the nature and size of the club, there is little or no money to strengthen through the transfer market. When the manager, Lawrie Sanchez states that: “That defending isn’t good enough for League Two. I can’t find two in the centre-half positions that work. New players need to be brought in” that would mean not only finding money for their wages, but identifying targets then hoping they fit in and play well. As the Schrödinger’s cat paradox exemplifies, this is a potential risk the club cannot afford to take.

Barnet are not burdened by an excess of wealth, and the club’s best chance of building a competitive team is through the club’s ‘Beehive’ academy. Realistically this will take many years. It is also clear that Barnet don’t have the resources or squad to compete, relative to other teams in the League, on a week-in week-out basis. Three victories and ten defeats clearly exemplifies this.

The final point regarding Barnet’s start to the season is one of mentality. The most appropriate description of Barnet this season comes from the knowledgeable Kristoffer Hylland who used the term ‘naive.’

Nothing better describes Barnet when they concede a goal and are loosing. Heads drop (literally and metaphorically) and any semblance of working the ball around the pitch, exploiting space and movement, are lost in the rush to find a route one or long ball solution to their deficit. As a fan, this is incredibly frustrating to watch as it is usually ineffective in providing a goal and leads to the team losing possession frequently and needlessly.

The team appear to be allowing previous results and performances to dictate how they respond to current adversity, and this is where we must conclude by learning the lessons of Schrödinger’s cat.

The paradox applies not just to pre-season predictions, but to each of Barnet’s matches so far. The sixteen games the Bees have played should not be taken as a sixteen game streak with themes running through them (except from the context of the League table!) but as sixteen specific individual events, with a win or loss one week not making a particular result the next any more likely.

Intangibles such as ‘form’ as well as winning and losing streaks are added retrospectively and have no bearing on each specific 90 minute game. If Barnet were to recognise that the game is neither won or lost until the final whistle, and that conceding six goals in a previous game previously is superfluous in terms of the next 90 minute event, don’t expect results to improve.

Written by Hugh Webster – We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger

Hugh tweets at @hughwebster

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

“The more things change, the more they remain the same”

So here we are – eight games into the season and nine points to show for it. But is this a good start to the season? Or does this represent a missed opportunity?

I will talk you through my thinking as to why I consider Barnet’s start to the season to have been a start worth celebrating.

The Good:

Why do I think that these first eight games are a cause for celebration? A cursory glance at the League Two table from the same point last season will reveal some genuine progress.

We have a goal difference which is seven goals better, and a point total which is three more than at the same stage last season. Both of these are encouraging, but I would argue that the most telling difference from Barnet’s previous start to the season is league position. Not only are Barnet not in the relegation zone (!) they are a full four league places and four points clear of 23rd place.

I sincerely believe that if Barnet can avoid the déjà vu of dropping into the relegation zone early in the season – and with it the added pressure and stress – they can avoid it entirely.

Barnet’s victory over Morecambe and draw against Rotherham (currently first and second in the table respectively) demonstrates that the Underhill outfit are capable of competing with the best that the league has to offer. With both results coming away from home these will be four of the most psychologically important points the club may well win this season.

With such a small budget and as a consequence a small squad, Barnet have always struggled with consistency, and it is through collecting points against the top sides which can provide the belief within the team they can get results against any other side on any given day. After all, it took a managerial cameo from Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Allen at the death to provide Barnet with a similar boost last season.

Finally, as I suggested in my first article, Izale McLeod can be the difference between Barnet having a good or poor season. That he is joint leading the League 2 scoring table speaks volumes, not only about his ability, but about how important he is to Barnet’s prospects of grinding out wins. Relying upon such a player can be something of a double edged sword however and with success of any kind, there is always a counterbalance. These successes should not mask the fact that there have also been some disappointments in Barnet’s early season

The Bad:

Due to the size of the squad and the disproportionate effect that injuries can have on such a small group, without McLeod Barnet are simply not as good. Having failing to beat Accrington Stanley (who had two men dismissed, one in second half injury time) Barnet boss Lawrie Sanchez commented after the game upon the absence of McLeod, commenting that:

“We didn’t create and missing a player like Izale McLeod, you can’t not miss a player of that quality”, going on further to state, ”we haven’t got the biggest squad in the world and we had run out of ideas to be fair.”

I don’t wish to simply state the obvious – that without a very talented player the team are not as effective – but that they are so reliant upon his goals, Barnet can’t expect to compete without his presence. He has scored more goals than the club’s next four top scorers combined. Little wonder his is the first name on the team sheet I am looking for! If he is injured or leaves the club in January, based on the start to the season, the side would not be equipped to score goals on a regular basis.

Linked to the game against Accrington is the biggest concern Barnet are facing, from my point of view, which is their home form.

The statistics look better after last night’s 2-0 home victory over struggling Plymouth Argyle, but one home victory all season so far has been utterly frustrating, if understandable.

It is understandable on the basis that Barnet have a small squad, that they are inconsistent and that the only home defeat has come against third-placed Port Vale. The Bees are simply conceding too many goals at home and as a result, chasing games. Of course I am pleased that we are drawing games that we would have lost last season, but I feel that we could do better.

This why I feel that Barnet’s start to the season has been a good one. My concerns and criticisms are things that can be rectified as the campaign progresses and are an inevitable consequence of having a player of such calibre as McLeod, plus the almost unbearable optimism I felt when Barnet beat the League leaders away from home. Most results after that would have been something of a disappointment.

The Ugly:

As is tradition at the Underhill, away from points, performance and position, one subject looms large at the beginning of every season – the stadium.

Here is an official statement from the Barnet chairman Tony Kleanthous on the current state of affairs, and it doesn’t make for pretty reading.

I don’t have anything to add to the statement, save my hope that a resolution can be found that keeps Barnet within the borough.

Unfortunately for all those connected with Barnet, no matter how good our start to the season can be considered to be, this long running dispute continues to cast a long shadow over the future of Barnet football club.

Written by Hugh Webster – We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger

Hugh tweets at @hughwebster

A New Season: A New Hope?

Monday, July 25th, 2011

There is no doubt that here at Barnet we love a drama.” Tony Kleanthous, Barnet FC Chairman.

I suspect that if you were to ask any Barnet fan of their reaction to the dramatic (to say the least) climax of the 2010-11 League 2 season, two answers would predominate. It is these two themes which, I feel, neatly encapsulate not only Barnet’s aspirations for the upcoming season, but also what it has meant to be a Barnet fan in the last few seasons.

Déjà Vu

As last season drew to a close the feeling of déjà vu was palpable for a great many Barnet supporters, as memories were cast back to the preceding 2009-10 season.

After 13 games without a victory, including a particularly abject run of 5 straight defeats Barnet were in serious danger of relegation. This led to the sacking of Ian Hendon as manager and the return of Paul Fairclough as caretaker-manager for the final two games of the season.

Barnet were able to preserve their league status courtesy of a final day victory at home against Rochdale, in a game which finished 1-0.

Hopes that last season would be a little kinder to supporter’s blood pressure and fingernails were soon dashed. New manager Mark Stimson struggled to produce points or consistency of play, and was sacked by the club after 22 games, with Barnet languishing in the relegation zone (albeit on goal difference.)

By the time the last game of the season was upon us, Barnet had employed their 4th manager of the campaign in Guiliano Grazioli.

Preceding this was the surreal 3 match cameo-management of Martin Allen, which provided 7 invaluable points, and a very sour taste in the mouth when he joined Notts County with no prior warning or notice.

I really ought to point out at this juncture that, in my experience, as a supporter there is nothing more stressful than having your team’s league football status being decided on the last day of the season. This is exacerbated 10 fold when your future is not in your own hands. The situation was stark. Barnet needed a victory against Port Vale, who themselves had beaten Morecambe 7-2 the previous weekend, and Lincoln had to lose to Aldershot.

It is very difficult to express the emotions of the last day of the season. There was of course some relief that Barnet even had a chance of league survival. This was especially keenly felt because Barnet had overcome a 4 point and 6 match deficit to give themselves this opportunity.

Predominantly, however, there was immense fear and trepidation that we were in the relegation zone on merit, having generally played sloppy football all season, and that even a win might not be enough.

I shall not give a match report here (but the Guardian provided a fantastic picture gallery and match report of their own). I can say what I, and other Barnet fans were experiencing after those agonizing 6 minutes of stoppage time in the second half, which were Relief and euphoria.

Optimism

This brings me to the second theme of the last season and the upcoming campaign. I feel that there are genuine grounds for optimism.

This, I hasten to add, does not mean that I think that Barnet will be challenging for promotion, but it does mean that I think that Barnet supporters have reason to believe that we will not be involved in a relegation battle, for two key reasons.

The first and most important of these reasons is the appointment of the supremely qualified Lawrie Sanchez as manager. It became apparent under the (admittedly brief) tenure of Allen that Barnet had a squad that were capable of winning regularly, and more importantly, were difficult to beat.

Even a cursory look at Sanchez’ track record at Wycombe, Fulham and with Northern Ireland demonstrates a manager used to working with relatively few resources, and with particular reference to his stint with Northern Ireland, a manager who is capable of motivating his players to reach the upper limits of their potential.

To have a manager with Premier League and International experience at the helm is genuinely exciting.

The other reason pertains to the players, who for one reason or another, underachieved last season, but have much more to offer. Of these players none will have as great a say on Barnet’s fortunes in the upcoming season as Izale McLeod.

A former million pound striker and England U21 international, his career has stalled somewhat due to injuries, but undoubtedly has the potential to trouble any defence in the league when healthy. His current record of 14 goals in 29 games for Barnet (a goal every other game) is indicative of what he is capable of.

Coupled with Mark Hughes (a full international for Northern Ireland) and former youth internationals such as Liam O’Brien and Darren Dennehy, it is clear that this is a squad with more talent than it has been letting on.

One player which I expect to play significantly more in the upcoming season is Mauro Vilhete, a Portuguese forward who is Barnet’s record holder as their youngest ever football league player, and product of our ‘Hive’ youth facilities,.

He is a player with enormous potential, and has been called up to a training camp with the Portuguese U18 national team. I am sure that I speak for all Barnet supporters when I say that I am eager to watch him develop over the course of the next season.

Looking Forward:

So where does this leave us in terms of hopes and expectations for the 2011-12 season?

I honestly think that Barnet are well placed to comfortably avoid relegation and build for the future. Whilst the traumatic past couple of seasons are still fresh in the memory, the upcoming season does not fill me with trepidation, but with optimism.

With the new management team of Sanchez and Grazioli, the quality of the spine of the squad, and the potential of the ‘Hive’ producing more players on a regular basis as time passes, I would challenge any Barnet supporter not to look towards the future with a smile.

Written by Hugh Webster – We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger

Hugh tweets at @hughwebster