Monday 27 April 2015

Barnet FC Back in the League but not in the London Borough of Barnet

On Saturday, I left the borders of the London Borough of Barnet, visiting The London Borough of Harrow. I was visiting The Hive, the "temporary" home of Barnet FC. It was the last day of the Conference Season and Barnet had to at least equal the result of Bristol Rovers FC to gain promotion back to the Football League. I was slightly nervous about going. Although Barnet have had a brilliant season, the two games I've attended they've lost. The first was back in 2014 when they lost by the odd goal to Wrexham. I thought Barnet were pretty awful on that occasion. The next game was against Grimsby Town, when Barnet were even worse, losing 1-3. Barnet had been relatively comfortable  up until then, but that result allowed Bristol Rovers back into the race. In fact every game I've seen this season has resulted in the team I wanted to win playing badly and losing. I support three clubs. My "main" team is Manchester City, who I've supported since a boy. I've always supported Barnet as my local "non league" team and Watford as my local club. As I work on Saturdays, I don't get to many games. As both Watford and Barnet have been promoted this season, it has been a good season for my 2nd and 3rd teams. As regards City, keeping things in perspective, when they were playing Gillingham in the 3rd tier play off final back in 1999, I'd have settled for Champions League football, so I shouldn't be too greedy.

Fortunately Barnet did not fluff their lines this time. They put in a Champions performance. Man of the match was Mauro Vilhete who capped a brilliant performance with two goals. The atmosphere was fantastic and at the final whistle the ground exploded with a mass pitch invasion of fans celebrating. It took an eternity for the pitch to clear. To the annoyance of the fans in the main stand, the presention boards were put up so that the fans couldn't see the presentation, with huge cries of "Turn it round" and "you don't know what you're doing" ringing around the ground. Whilst it was clear that the club wanted the TV pictures to have a packed stand as a backdrop, I felt it was disrespectful to fans who'd paid to watch. It seems that in this day and age, fans have become satge props and TV is the boss.

So Barnet are back, but they are not are they. The relegation from the League coincided with the move from Underhill in Barnet to The Hive in Harrow. The Hive is a fantastic complex, but the bottom line is that the club are not in Barnet. When the Tories won the council election in 2002, they declared war on the club. For reasons I have never quite fathomed, the council decided that Barnet is not a football town. I suspect much of this was snobbery from the likes of ex Tory Councillor Brian Coleman, who made it quite clear that he thought football was not for middle class Tory voters. Attempts to improve Underhill were blocked and the club was eventually forced to look elsewhere.

The sad thing is that the Council let their prejudice and snobbery override common sense. Having a successful football team is a great advert for a Town or City. Look at Manchester. Whilst Birmingham is London's 2nd city, Manchester is globally known for its football clubs. This has helped the city to attract inward investments. Every time the football results are read out, towns with a football team get their profile raised.

On Saturday, thousands of people turned up for the match. The club employs dozens of stewards, bar staff, groundsmen, coaches, etc. All of this brings prosperity to the local area. Shops, pubs and restaurants get a boost as people need to eat / drink before and after games. Mill Hill has seen a similar boost from Saracens.

Another interesting difference is the fact that Harrow seem to have a far better relationship with Barnet fans in regard to parking. The "Saracens exclusion zone" CPZ is a nightare for residents and business. It is badly thought out and badly implemented. A five hour exclusion period when 1/2 hour would suffice is perhaps the most bonkers policy that Barnet Council has yet to come up with.

In the program for Barnet FC, there is an appeal for cash to help raise a planning permission for a return to Barnet. The club have said that if fans can raise £75,000 for a planning request, then they will submit an application to return to Barnet. I happen to think that Barnet Council owe the fans a debt of honour to facilitate this and move the club back. The purpose of Barnet Council is to serve the locality and make things better for the people who elected them. Whilst there are many priority calls that you could argue would be a better use of  £75,000, if each of the Tory councillors gave up 10% of their allowances for the next 2 years, this would easily raise the sum. As they forced the club out in the first place, it is the least they could do. I am sure pigs will fly before that happens though!

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