The roots of football in Barnet date back to 1882 when Woodville FC were formed. That club then became New Barnet FC in 1885 before forming as merely Barnet FC (Version 1) in 1888. They played in New Barnet before moving to Ravenscroft Park in Queens Road. Having been part of the North Middlesex League and the London League, that club folded in 1902. Although it used the Barnet name we know today, it isn't directly connected to the actual Barnet club that exists today, however did have an influence upon the club that was actually formed.
In parallel, Barnet Avenue FC (formed 1890) and Alston Works AFC (formed 1901) were separate clubs, but when the original Barnet club folded, the Avenue side renamed themselves as Barnet FC (Version 2) in 1904. Despite this, it was the Alston Works side that probably were the originators of the Barnet we know today. Alston were dental manufacturers and their works team played in Amber and Black - the modern day Barnet colours. When they won the London League in 1906-07, Alston Works chose that moment to move to a dedicated ground in Underhill. Five years later, they merged with Barnet FC (formerly Barnet Avenue) to become known as Barnet and Alston FC. After the end of World War I, when football resumed, they became known simply as Barnet FC (version 3) with the Underhill ground and the Amber and Black being maintained from the Alston side.
In 1912, Barnet had joined the Athenian League, staying there for 53 years, winning the league title seven times in the process. They won the FA Amateur Cup (a competition ultimately superceded by the FA Trophy) in 1945-46, beating Bishop Auckland at Stamford Bridge. During the following season they also staged a footballing first - a live televised football match between Barnet and Wealdstone that the BBC took on in what was ground-breaking television at that time. It almost worked, except that the BBC had to abandon the transmission in the final ten minutes as it was getting too dark for their cameras to pick up the ball!
Barnet's The Hive as viewed as you walk down the entrance road.
Photo © 2016 Ciderspace
In 1965, Barnet turned semi-professional, joining the Southern League. Promotion as Champions of Division 1 in 1965-66 meant that they joined the Southern Premier League, and so for the first time they crossed paths with Yeovil Town on February 11th 1967 - the start of a long association between the two clubs that was only significantly broken when Yeovil Town entered the Football League in 2003.
By the 1970s, Barnet were becoming one of the bigger forces in non-league football, finishing runners up in the FA Trophy in 1971-72 and winning the Southern League Cup in the same season. They suffered a brief relegation in the mid-1970s but were immediately promoted in time for them to become one of the founder members of the Alliance Premier League (which became known as the Football Conference League and is now known as the National League). Just prior to that, a certain Barry Fry became their manager, in what would be a fifteen year association with the club, broken only by his 1985-86 spell with Maidstone United.
Under Fry - aided and abetted by controversial livewire Chairman Stan Flashman - he gave them three Conference runners-up slots. The third and final of those saw them finish runners up to Darlington in 1989-90, but during the following season Fry took them up as Conference Champions meaning that in 1991 Barnet became members of the Football League.
Barnet's The Hive as you reach the car park area.
Photo © 2016 Ciderspace
Barnet's Football League experience was to be a turbulent one. On the pitch, scorelines such as 4-7 and 5-5 showed Fry's attacking style that saw goals galore at both ends. Off the pitch matters were exciting but in the wrong way. Flashman was a former ticket tout, who had no qualms in bending the rules in any way that he could. Financial issues concerning the club accounts and players wages were starting to show though, and right at the tail end of the 1992-93 season Barry Fry jumped ship to join Southend United. He'd done well to survive given that Flashman had reportedly sacked him eight (!) times during his reign as manager, only to reinstate him each time, but it seemed that Bazza had had enough despite leading them pretty much to promotion that season. His assistant Edwin Stein guided them over the finish line to take them up to Division Three to commence their one and only season at that level.
Stein also joined Fry at Southend over the summer, and it was easy to see why as off-the-field things unravelled. Their goalkeeper Gary Phillips became their manager and Barnet were put up for a motion of expulsion from the Football League at an EGM due to the non-payment of their players and other issues. The League tribunal nullified their players contracts, leaving that promotion-winning side in tatters and it was no surprise that Phillips - later joined by former England goalkeeper Ray Clemence - couldn't stop the inevitable drop.
Flashman also left the club and Barnet then spent seven more seasons back in fourth tier football before trouble struck again. John Still had been their manager until midway through the 2000-01 season when they had the bright idea of appointing the big name of Tony Cottee as their player-manager. He was to win just six matches in charge, before the Barnet board reversed their change, sacking Cottee and putting Still back in charge. By then it was too late - Barnet finished 24th and lost their Football League status after ten years at that level.
The other problem Barnet faced was their Underhill ground. Old, rambshackle and on a massive slope (those who made much of the old Yeovil Town Huish slope had never played at Underhill!) the ground was only borderline Football League standard, and each time the League tightened up on their ground regulations, Barnet slipped below that standard. They had plans to upgrade Underhill, but were involved in a political game of football as their local Borough Council flipped between Conservative and Labour majorities. With local residents objecting to Barnet's redevelopment plans, but Bees fans supporting them, the application bounced back-and-forth each time there was a local election, with Barnet frequently fobbing off the footballing authorities with the old classic "it will be sorted next year" line.
When Paul Fairclough led Barnet to the Conference title in 2004-05 - top scorer and former Glover Giuliano Grazioli finished with 29 goals - they managed to pass the Underhill ground and the club back into the Football League. That was to present them with eight more seasons of League football, nearly always at the wrong end of the table. Although they managed a peak of 12th during 2007-08, their finishes of 21st, 22nd and 22nd between 2009 and 2012 showed they were clinging on at the edge of a precipice - on all three occasions they needed a final day result to stop them getting relegated.
By 2012-13, their luck ran out. They'd appointed a high profile manager in Edgar Davids during October 2012 as the former Barcelona and Ajax midfielder took over the reins. However, just like the Cottee appointment just over ten years earlier, high profile doesn't always bring you success - Davids became the man that saw them relegated for a second time at the end of that campaign, finishing in 23rd place.
Barnet then spent two years back at Conference level before Martin Allen came in as manager in March 2014 - his fourth spell as their boss, having had some mixed times with the Bees. Whatever their fans might have thought of him when he returned again, they were singing his name by the end of the 2014-15 season when he gave them the Conference title and took them back to the Football League for a third time. As such, Barnet hold a unique position in football - the only club to be relegated from the Football League three times and the only club to win the Conference title three times.
Off the field, Barnet's stadium problems continued, with a dispute breaking out with Barnet Council over the lease on their Underhill stadium. In July 2012, Harrow Council gave permission for Barnet to set up a new training ground at The Hive Stadium - formerly the Prince Edwards Playing Fields. This had originally been earmarked as a new ground for Wealdstone FC, but when their investment partners folded, Barnet stepped in and took over the site. A year later they left Underhill, breaking their 106 year association with the site. They've been given a ten year lease on the site, effective from June 2015, which may mean that in the future they may face problems once again, but for the time being it will be their permanent home.
Barnet's East Stand - the smaller of two side seated areas.
Photo © 2016 Ciderspace
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