It’s difficult to tell from watching them play football, but Barnet are a club who have moved up in the world. The last time I saw them, back in 2009, they were still playing their matches at Underhill. That was a ‘proper’ ground, which is football luddite-speak for anywhere in desperate need of an upgrade. Fast-forward ten years to 2019, and their base is The Hive, a hugely impressive 6,500-capacity stadium with marker-pen-orange seats, comfortable bars, a gym, a Starbucks, community pitches sprawling all over the place and a great example of modern terracing behind one goal.
It’s a beautiful facility, certainly the best I’ve come across in non-league, and surely something to aspire to for any small-but-ambitious club. Were it not for the genuinely horrific pre-match music and the fact that they put butter on their hot dog rolls, I’d find it virtually impossible to think of anything negative to say about this place.
What’s perhaps surprising is that Barnet’s move here doesn’t really seem like it’s helped them much. When I visited Underhill in 2009, they were still a Football League club. OK, one that had made a habit of clinging onto their league status by their fingernails, but a Football League club nonetheless. Since then, they’ve yo-yoed up and down a few times, but are now in their second successive season in the National League after only managing to finish twelfth last term. Looking around, and then seeing the current side struggle to an insipid goalless draw in front of just 1,052 fans, it’s hard not to feel that this club should surely be doing better than this.
Perhaps part of the problem is the sheer distance from their traditional home. The Hive is six miles from where Underhill was, and on public transport it takes upwards of an hour to traipse from one to the other. Then there’s the cost. £22 feels like a lot of money to watch a game of football at this level, regardless of how buttery the hot dogs are. And of course there’s the competition. North London is Spurs and Arsenal territory, and it must be harder than ever for Barnet to entice locals Hive-wards in the face of sickeningly glamorous nearby rivals lifting their skirts at anyone who happens to catch their endless TV coverage.
So, undoubtedly, a lot of credit should go to the fans who bothered to turn up to this one. They even tried to make the occasional bit of noise, despite being given absolutely nothing to cheer about by their team. Some wannabe bad boys behind the goal, desperate for attention and probably bored to tears, strived to make their own entertainment, keeping the ball when it came their way and generally trying their hardest to annoy the wholly disinterested stewards.
It would be great to think that, with a bit of work behind the scenes and maybe some luck on the pitch, this could be a club that grows to match its fantastic stadium. It’s really sad to say, though, that it feels a little unlikely.
Barnet 0 Solihull Moors 0
Saturday 28 September 2019