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Saturday 3rd November 2012 ko 15.00

FA Cup First Round

BARNET 0

OXFORD UNITED 2 (Constable 56 Rigg 80)

Att 2,246 (834 away)

Entry £21

Programme £3

Tea £1.50

Teamsheet FREE

I have connections with this part of North London, my grandfather grew up in Sebright Road, just a stone’s throw from Underhill. Back then Barnet was a village in Hertfordshire, set on the lip of the artesian basin that London itself sits in, and was connected to the metropolis by the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway. Nowadays Barnet is part of Greater London, swallowed up by the big city and the railway is a terminus of the Northern Underground line. As games are played at the local football ground the trains rumble in and out of High Barnet station above the pitch. Seeing an underground train from below is rather counter-intuitive, but does make a trip to Underhill unique.

Barnet’s location is probably its biggest stumbling block. I’m not sure whether my grandfather ever watched a game at Underhill. He was a Tottenham fan, and I suspect then as well as now that many locals eschew the fare below the tube lines, and take the trains south to the bright lights and glamour of the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal. The Barnet fans I know still refer to the club as a non-league outfit playing in the Football League, and each season maintaining that status has become more and more difficult. The last two campaigns have seen the club maintain their league status only on the last day of the season.

It all seems such a long time ago when, as student I took the train north, and watched Barnet play Chesterfield en route to winning Division 4. Back then ticket tout chairman Stan Flashman would sack ebullient manager Barry Fry every other week, but the Bees buzzed and the little ground positively rocked.

Soon enough all of this will change. Barnet are on the move, to their training ground The Hive, in Canons Park, originally ear-marked for Wealdstone, but available with them being safely esconced at Ruislip Manor until 2018. It won’t be the same, it’s around 7 miles west, and such things as identity and place are important at this level of the game. Still for this season, visitors can still enjoy the trains, and the infamous Underhill slope, but with the melancholy knowledge that next year Underhill will be another housing development.

The other question is which division will the club be in? While the club is well used to struggling, being bottom of the league with a mere 10 points does not point to a club likely to maintain its status. Relegation hasn’t been accepted as inevitable though, and 39 year old Dutch legend Edgar Davids has been hired as player-coach, and performances have improved, with 7 points being earned from a possible 12. With Davids living locally since a stint at Tottenham, it looks to be a mutually beneficial arrangement with Davids gaining vital coaching experience and the club getting the benefit of his experience both on an off the pitch.

The trouble was, it didn’t work for them on this cold Saturday. They faced an Oxford United team in patchy form, and shorn of all their loan players bar one (Lee Cox). There was a mystery around in-form striker Tom Craddock with club pointedly giving no information as to why he wasn’t in the squad. For Barnet Davids opted to name himself as only a subsitute.

It didn’t matter, as it appeared the Bees forgot it was a knock-out game and adopted a defensive 4-5-1 formation with the lumbering presence of former Fulham striker Collins John the sole out-and-out forward. A no point did Barnet look like scoring, just one reasonable chance in the first half, but United’s midfield of Peter Leven and Adam Chapman recovered from a scalded nipple, had little or no opposition. A goal had to come, and it came unusually for United from a corner. Peter Leven opted for the inswinger, and James Constable’s movement beat a static Barnet defence, and he powered a header home from 8 yards.

It took Davids until the 73rd minute to introduce himself, to a loud cheer from the stand, but little impact on the pitch. The tie was soon was completely beyond Barnet as Constable’s sprayed pass from the right found Sean Rigg, who’d timed his run to perfection on the left, and he drilled a low shot across Sam Cowler in the Barnet goal.

That was the end of proceedings in any meaningful sense, but at the final whistle I lingered for a few minutes. A few more photos yes, but to say goodbye to an edifice with real character and history. Trips to Barnet will never be the same.

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