Truth be told, I used to pride myself on being an optimistic football fan. I believed in giving signings time to bed in, managers time to develop a squad in their image and the notion of blindly supporting your team.
However, this began to change a couple of years ago when I first started to find football frustrating. If I could see that Man Utd weren’t safe at 2-0 and that their complacent, low tempo passing was giving teams a way back into the game then how couldn’t Sir Alex Ferguson? More worryingly, what if he could see but simply couldn’t fix the issue?
When I first started to identify as a Barnet fan, this only worsened. Why couldn’t the fans back the team instead of give them grief? Why did these league two footballers show so much promise under certain circumstances and fail to put in the effort required to round themselves off (ie. Why were these league two footballers flawed)? How could no-one see that stability was what this club so desperately lacked?
Here I am, a few years down the line but still asking myself the same questions. The difference, however, is that I’m no longer blindly following any team. It might seem like that has no effect but, oddly enough, it does. Finally I find myself acknowledging the most annoying parts of football and accepting that they’re wrong.
Next season will see Barnet playing non-league football for the second season in a row, the second season outside the Football League in my brief tenure as a fan. As an aside, I think Richard Money hit the nail on the head when he said that the term non-league was inaccurate and that ‘semi-professional’ was more accurate.
Oddly enough, I must confess that I’ve enjoyed a lot of this season where others may not have. While being in a lower division is a bad thing on paper, it hasn’t really impacted upon me as a follower of the team. It’s been brilliantly refreshing to compete, winning and controlling games at times. That might have happened because we’re in a lower division but it’s not like we were playing against the Barcelonas of this world last season, was it? On an individual basis, our squad was equally entertaining as Barnet sides of the recent past, with the usual selection of young, vastly talented players plying their trade here before inevitably going on to make larger waves within the game. In terms of the infrastructure, the move to The Hive benefited me personally and I can’t think of a reason, nostalgia aside, for preferring Underhill.
This season really did give us a chance to take stock of what we had and regroup. After getting battered at the foot end of League Two for far too long, it was a chance to lick our wounds and rebuild. It speaks volumes that this squad, considerably higher in quality than the one built over Summer/Autumn 2012, ultimately wasn’t good enough to hold a lasting challenge for promotion this season. That’s a sign of how depleted we’d been over the past few years. Barnet FC: Duct tape and a prayer.
Despite all these positives, some elements of this season still perplex. If you enjoyed the optimistic, all-is-rosy complexion thus far you should stop here. Thanks for reading.
While the following may seem depressing, I’d consider it more as constructive criticism. As someone who cares about the club I know I’d feel a lot more secure if I knew the club’s stance on what I’m about to highlight. Perhaps I’m speaking prematurely and Mr Kleanthous will be covering some of this ground in his end-of-season statements.
Firstly, the philosophy of this club. Last year we announced our intention to become the “Crewe of the South”. A plan of that scale takes more than two seasons to come to fruition yet somehow we’ve produced a fair few youth talents in that time. Even more surprising, then, that with Martin Allen’s hire we look to have back-pedalled on this. Or have we? The closest we’ve come to official confirmation is one line, hidden in a press release, about moving in a different direction.
Our style of play was promising this season. We forced Cambridge, high-fliers at the time, to change their style on their visit to The Hive. More to the point, you could actually see a style and pattern of play. We had an identity. The coaching that took place during the week was actually shining through come matchdays. Sure, it wasn’t perfect but it needed tweaking, not an overhaul.
This links into a larger point, one which is extremely worrying. What’s the plan? We live in a society which plans as much as possible. Education? It’s called “The National Curriculum”. Business? Unless you want your funders to laugh off your requests, you have your “Business Plan”. Finance? Take your pick from any of the various tools available for financial planning. Football? The FA just backed the EPPP and rewrote the rulebook for youth football across the nation.
Does this club have a development plan? What is it? Given how hard it is to plan for your future when you don’t even know which league you’ll be in — thus what your budget will be like — what about individual development plans for our players? I read a really interesting article written by a Manchester United fan about development and it gave me pause to think about our little club.
It’s easy enough for us to get snooty about the loan system and refuse to use it to buff up our first team squad but why are we sending our players out on loan for a month at a time? Realistically, how much does a youth player gain from four games at a lower division? That’s not me being facetious, I genuinely don’t know. If it’s a significant gain then why don’t we partner with some clubs and fully utilise the chance to give our players first-team football and, equally, if it’s not that useful, why do we do it at all?
There are very few absolutes in football. I’m not saying that the Dutch style of football is better than Allen’s direct play into the channels. I prefer it, yes, but I’m not so arrogant as to say that it’s inherently better. However, I’m concerned that we made such a drastic switch less than two years after investing so heavily into a long-term plan. Results would take a while to come at the highest level but it looks like our academy teams were reacting well.
To summarise this point, it would be great to know what direction this club is taking. It would be even better to know that the club has a development plan in place and is working towards it. Perhaps the plan itself isn’t for public consumption any more but knowledge of its existence would give us a boost. Let’s not be a nomad with no plan. Who’s getting us back into League Two, how are they doing it and which players will stick around to keep us there?
Moving away from that, another bugbear is communication. The club’s communication is much better now than at any other time I can remember. Not only are articles being posted on a daily basis, there’s some substance to them and the club’s sharing information as opposed to fluff. However, it would be nice to see more. There was an article at the end of the season discussing the performance of the academy teams over the year. Why isn’t this a five – ten minute recap video posted monthly? This interests me a multitude more than listening to the players give their two minute cliché-ridden preview to the next game. There are only so many ways I can be told the next game will be a challenge, you know. The little features like joke interviews (such as the ones where the players had to elect teammates in certain categories such as “Worst Dressed”) are a really nice touch, more of that please!
Our match-goers (I hesitate to call some of them ‘fans’) don’t need much of an excuse to have a pop at our players. Anyone who’s been to a game knows this. Why, then, was one of our key players playing injured for such a long time without official confirmation? To this day I’m not entirely sure any official Barnet FC entity has actually referenced KMB’s knee injury. While he was out there getting stick for being lazy and/or not committed, someone at the club could’ve said something. The tragedy of this is that KMB actually likes this club and wants to be here but some, coming to their own premature and misguided conclusions, would have no idea.
Another debate that’s continued without the club weighing in much is about the impact on our new neighbours. We’ve heard a lot about the political situation and the qualms of the local residents but the club has responded infrequently. One question that many fans of the team ask is what the club is doing to improve relations with the local community. Why doesn’t the club talk about the fantastic work of the Community Trust? Having personally dealt with the club’s community trust I can say that, from my perspective, it’s been an absolute pleasure. The club is trying to give local youths a place to play football for free on various days, the opportunity to watch games and to actually get engaged. That’s fantastic. Why don’t we hear more about it?
On that, somewhat positive, note I think it’s time to tie this up. Despite not reaching the play-offs it was a good season (especially when compared to others in recent years) and next season is already looking promising with the trio of Stephens, Villa and Yiadom announced as staying. If my Saturdays weren’t so hectic I’d be grabbing myself a membership.
Here’s to hoping that 2014/2015 sees the first team mount a serious and lasting challenge for promotion with some foundations of play in place. We’ve battled relegation and lost, we’ve battled the council and lost, we committed to a new style of play and gave up without much fanfare. Enough turmoil, let’s have a period of stability please.