It's Alright, We're Downhill Second Half...
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It couldn't have been any different... By: Eric Hitchmo 24/04/2013
Wycombe Wanderers H
20/04/2013   (Click date for match details)
League 2012-2013
W  1- 0
HYDE '81
Attendance: 6001  (857 Away)

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Unmistakeably Barnet.

Whether it be the queues to get in the ground causing a kick off delay, the queues to get a pint in The Pavilion, the football putting us through all sorts of horror until the very last second or the East Terrace bundles and atmosphere, Underhill's send off could not have been more Barnet if it had tried. It felt like the sort of script you might write if you had been going to Barnet for years, yet at the same time it still seemed so far-fetched and unfathomable that you'd be laughed at if you ever dreamt up such a mish-mash of silliness.

Where do you start with this one? My friends and I are of similar age, bar the odd individual of a more antiquated time, and we have been attending Barnet for varying percentages of our lives. As I alluded to last week, we all have Barnet in common. We all met through Barnet, our friendship was through Barnet, so we were going to give it the send off it merited, despite a polarised opinion of what our future holds. Underhill had earned such a day, and I observed countless numbers of similar such groups of varying age in and around town during the day. Truly, the occasion had brought us all back together, it couldn't fail to be special.

With this in mind, it would have been rude to have broken the habit of a lifetime and by 11 o'clock we had found ourselves a perch in the glorious April sunshine in front of one of our old haunts, The Weaver. This was via a blinding fry up in The Hole in The Wall cafe, I might add. Pints sunk, photographs taken, memories shared, it was clear that this wasn't the sort of day that we were going to forget any time soon.

You could sense a feeling of anticipation around the place. More and more people joined, old faces who I'd not seen in some time could be found soaking up the day. For a short time at least, most of the town seemed to wrapped up in its football club again. How sad it is then that it happened to be because it was the final time. Whether or not that fact is justifiable would inevitably be the subject of many a discussion throughout the day, but not just yet at least. There was the matter of the final game to complete yet.

And what an important final game it would be. Yet again it was guaranteed that our Football League survival would be going down to the wire, and with the situation as it had been at the bottom of the league, the opportunity to pick up three points was not something we could afford to pass up. Wycombe's season was up, the teams around us were picking up points all over the place, to go to promotion chasing Northampton needing a win would leave us perilously close to the drop. It had to be done today, not only for the footballing side, but of course for the old sentimentals who would love to give the old place a winning send off. Hurrah and so say all of us.

By 2pm, we were all handsomely lubricated, and decided to move on to the ground and have one more in the Pavilion. Quite unlikely with the queues. As admirable as the club's request for fans to get into the ground early was, it couldn't have been up against a tougher task when lovely sunshine, an open green area and beer were within touching distance of the gates. The East Terrace queue soon snaked round towards the Main Stand, and kick off was inevitably delayed. This however did allow us to cram ourselves into whatever space possible on the heaving terrace. Younger and shorter individuals would spend the majority of their afternoon staring at the backs of those in front of them. The whole place was packed to the rafters, if you'd like a cliche.

The game started with Barnet on the attack. The game continued with Barnet on the attack. Meaningful chances were in plentiful supply, and the crowd responded with the volume and fervor you might expect from such an occasion. It was a fun place to be, singing, shouting, and bouncing around 'like the good old days', if you like. Still, Barnet couldn't find a way through the Wycombe defence, continually met by a goalkeeper who appeared intent on spoiling everyone's day. What a bad sport.

As predictable as it was, results around the country were not going our way in the slightest. With a 15-20 minute headstart, things were beginning to get a little bit tense. What should have been an enjoyable afternoon where we could sit back and bask in the memories of what many describe as a second home was tempered by nailbiting and tension. We absolutely had to score, and no matter how we tried, that break would not present itself. Changes were made, the crowd continued to support, the dominance was still ours. Wycombe's fans sensed the odd opportunity to remind everyone of our situation with some cheeky gestures, as their team threatened to be the pantomime villain that nobody enjoys.

Just when you think that Barnet are yet again set up to let you down, they just pull something out of the hat and bring back the feeling of joy that has been in scarce supply in recent years. I can't decide what sums up Barnet more. The ability to bring utter despair, or to jump from that despair to rapture in the blink of an eye. Jake Hyde was to be the man this time, after some fine architecture from Luke Gambin whose presence has been most welcome. His low, driven centre was met by Hyde who finally broke the resistance of that bloody goalkeeper and gave us one last moment of East Terrace madness to saviour. Countless times I have felt that feeling of a goal going in on a packed terrace, it was nice to get that one more. The mind goes off on its own for a moment, your body sways from the force of everyone else doing just the same. It was madness, and Barnet had surely won the last ever game at Underhill.

Now this is where it gets plain silly. Wycombe were not interested in scoring and hadn't mustered anything close to meaningful in the entire game. With moments left on the clock, a marauding run into the box was softly ended by Tom Flanagan and the visitors were awarded a penalty. Sheer disbelief. Of all the things that I've seen at Barnet, this one was up there amongst the most ludicrous. I hadn't even had time to digest and understand what was going on before Joel Grant had stepped up. Surely, this couldn't happen. The last kick at Underhill could nail a huge coffin into another survival bid. I'm not sure many in the crowd were really aware of what was going on. Joy to despair in a heartbeat.

Not even the maddest scriptwriter could think this up, he wouldn't have dared to think that Graham Stack was going to save this penalty. With two firm claws pursed together, he palmed away that ball to his right hand side. Bonkers. A topsy-turvy, rollercoaster, upside down, plethora of absurdities. What on earth just happened? It sounds like the sort of thing you'd hear your mate come in to the pub in the morning and say 'oh I had this dream about Barnet last night, you'll never guess...!'. Once I had gathered my thoughts and composure having once again lost it on the East Terrace, I realised what had just happened. One man entered the field of play to hug Stack, I bet he didn't feel like the only one doing it. Bloody funny, that.

Just a minute was left, and it floated past. Barnet had got the win that was so desperately required and had done it in their own way. Not in any sort of footballing style that blew the opponent away, more like putting their dedicated supporters through the most tortuous of mills.

Again, another club request fell on deaf ears and fans streamed onto the pitch to celebrate. I caught hold of Graham Stack and kissed him. Twice. I told him he was a 'fucking legend'. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, and I was hardly in a position to come up with any coherent prose to sum up my emotions.

Emotional is what it was. Once the euphoria and adrenalin had ebbed away, and the players had completed their lap of honour, the pitch stood empty, and like a big slap in the face, realisation hit that this was it. As a home for Barnet Football Club, Underhill had ceased to be. I, like many others, stayed and looked for a while. I didn't say a great deal, I just looked and lapped it up for the last time. I accepted that for many months and years previous, I had probably taken the place for granted by my actions, whether it be by leaving a game early or simply sitting there with boredom. I can't say I regret that though. Despite that feeling of emotion having lost Underhill, I still recognised that the last few years had not been enjoyable. My indifference towards the club after continual footballing failure could not simply be wiped clean because of one fairytale afternoon.

What this leaves me with is strange. I am not as angry or betrayed that Barnet are leaving Barnet and going to play football in Harrow as I might have been had my passion remained as strong. Nor am I convinced that The Hive is going to be the answer to all of our problems and I'm not at all excited by the prospect of it. The shift in the balance of my opinion has been gradual but true, and with all factors considered, I cannot support this move where I would have done before.

The absolutely key point for me is this subject's divisiveness. There are more than enough voices to suggest that there is not complete support for this move. Many are absolutely against it. Many of these individuals are people I have known for a long time, and some of them I count as my closest friends. These people are within the hardcore 1,000 or so who are there rain or shine, and if a significant portion of that number will not move (and I believe it will be significant enough) then that feeling which made Saturday so special, the sense of togetherness and familiarity, will slowly but surely wither away, and the club will not feel the same.

It could well be the simple fact that Barnet are not playing in Barnet will contribute to that sentiment. Whilst it is not that far, and whilst similarly discussed options like Copthall were the same sort of distance, it's just not Barnet, is it? No one in their right mind would say that Barnet should play their football in Harrow. It really must be a last resort, and despite the fact we've been digging for 20 years with very little of substance to show for it, I don't believe that all avenues have been explored, nor do I believe that Barnet Council have been as obstructive as stated. Don't get me wrong, Barnet Council have been almost entirely unhelpful to the club and their actions at times nonsensical and despicable. There is no questioning that, however, I can't help feeling that the continual public bickering and finger pointing has been incredibly unproductive and those efforts could have been spent building bridges, rather than burning them down.

I don't believe some of the nonsense spouted about the chairman, nor do I believe he is a man in it for personal gain. The well documented and photographed reactions on Saturday and over the many years previous don't suggest that to me whatsoever. I would however question the decision to move from Underhill and I would question its necessity at this time. Underhill is run down and unfit for Football League purpose, yes, but all things considered, moving us to Harrow I feel will be more detrimental in the long run. Those like me who have drifted away may be convinced that this may finally be the time to pack it all in, as their is no really tangible incentive to follow.

I may well be, and hope to be proved wrong. In an ideal world, we would move temporarily, as has been stated and move back to Barnet within a swift timeframe. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen and will surely be under intense scrutiny by those most against it. For many though, it may signal the end. Now. That's why it cannot be right.

All of that was forgotten for a moment amidst a hazy evening in the Pavilion, where it had become a tad easier to drink the club dry of all alcohol under the sun. Details became a bit fuzzy, but it was a fine way to end such a fantastic day.

Underhill was a place where I met my closest friends and has given me many of my most cherished memories. They cannot be taken away from me, nor can they be taken away from you. I'm sure we've spent a lot of time replaying those most special, unforgettable moments in our head in recent days and weeks. We've all been part of something pretty unique that a great deal of people cannot relate to, or even begin to fathom. Committing to a football club like we have can have its drawbacks, but its benefits outweigh them innumerably in the people you meet, the joy it can bring and the stories that can be told.

It's what makes football the finest, most beautiful game there is.

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All Articles By This Author:

24/04/2013 Farewell
19/04/2013 Underhill
03/04/2013 Away
02/02/2013 Questions
21/12/2012 Miserable
07/11/2012 Corner
21/10/2012 Win
15/10/2012 Burst
08/10/2012 Glimmer
04/10/2012 Same

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