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May 5th 2001 is one of the more memorable days in Football League history for at least the supporters of two small clubs. On the last day of the season in what is now called League Two saw two sides draped in history, Barnet and Torquay United embroiled in a winner takes all relegation match. Barnet stood just a point behind Torquay United as the two clubs met at Barnet’s Underhill stadium on the final day of the season, with the winner retaining their place in the Football League. Three early goals from Jason Rees, Kevin Hill, and David Graham gave Torquay United an unassailable lead – even a second half fightback couldn’t prevent Barnet slipping back into the Football Conference after a 3-2 defeat.
A good friend of mine, who saw his Torquay side victorious on the day, has called the day the best of his life and has spoken at length of his admiration for Barnet and their supporters at Underhill. He also recalled the two sets of supporters embracing and swapping shirts at the end of the match, to mark the historic occasion. While Torquay went on to gain promotion to League One a few years later, Barnet battled away in the Conference, a relegation that many would debate re-vitalised the club’s fortunes. Crowds began to rise again, and after a succession of new managers Paul Fairclough came in and made an instant impact. He won promotion in his first full season as Barnet went up as champions of the Conference with 86 points in 2005. Torquay United, ironically, themselves fell though the trapdoor in 2007.
The promotion eclipsed the disappointment the club had endured in missing out the season before in the lottery of the play-offs, as Shrewsbury Town turned around a 2-1 deficit to win 5-3 on penalties. With Fairclough in charge Barnet hit the ground running, and found themselves in third after their first five games in League Two. With attendances peaking over 3,000 the club were firmly back where they felt that they deserved to be. Comfortably staying up in their first season back in the Football League, they followed it up with several mid-table finishes. With Luton Town, Rotherham United and AFC Bournemouth all falling foul of unprecedented points deductions at the hands of the Football League last summer, Barnet could have expected to look forward to a comfortable season in League Two. Things haven’t quiet gone to plan however, with Rotherham overcoming their 17 point deduction and overtaking them, while Bournemouth, who were deducted the same amount, lying just five points behind them this evening.
Under normal circumstances, Barnet would be cast adrift at the bottom of the table. Indeed, their last win came against Bournemouth on Boxing Day, while Fairclough was still in charge. With the man who got them back into the Football League gone, its been left to assistant Ian Hendon to steer the club through to the end of the season, something that is becoming a struggle. Hendon’s introduction, while a gamble due to his lack of experience, was always going to sit well with the fans after six years of service as a player. The new man is yet to pick up a win in charge, and his team has often failed to help itself. threw away more points at home to relegation rivals Grimsby Town. The home team led twice – 2-0 and 3-2 – but still contrived to throw away two points as the match eventually ended in a 3-3 draw.
They aren’t the only side currently in this predicament, with Grimsby, Accrington Stanley, Chester City, and of Bournemouth embroiled in a tight relegation battle, with Luton Town cast adrift at the bottom of the table. For the time being, however, their fate remains in their own hands. They have yet to host both Bournemouth and Chester City before the end of the season. However, attendances have dropped to the levels of their last relegation and with fortunes not much better and knowledge of the resurgence they encountered last time they were relegated, would dropping down a level actually be a way of moving the club forward?
It would obviously be overstating the case to say that relegation would be a good thing for the club and with the history of financial problems at Underhill, it could leave Barnet threadbare. We’ve all seen what relegation has done to the likes of Rushden and Diamonds, and Barnet will be keen to stay away from those issues. What, however, are their causes for optimism? Bournemouth have previous experience of a relegation battle (albeit an unsuccessful one last season), but they put together six wins in their last eight during that run, and are showing mid-table form this season. Barnet seem likely to go to the wire this season, and if they are relegated this season it could scarcely be said that they didn’t deserve it.
Written by Nick Howson, who we hope will joining this site as a regular contributor
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.