Two Men In Search Of the Beautiful Game head north to Bramall Lane to witness a good old-fashioned giant-killing.
Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks
No one likes getting up early, not really and let alone on a Sunday. Which for me is about Jus-Rol croissants on the sofa and finishing Match Of The Day, because I fell asleep watching it, the previous night and I’m dying to know what Martin Keown thinks about Bournemouth’s display.
In much of Europe football on Sunday is quite normal, who didn’t spend their youth watching Atlanta Vs Sampdoria before their roast. Only because of the power of the TV schedulers has it become more common here and in the non league world, football on the holy day, still feels like a bit of novelty.
Waiting for me at the end of my road in his car, I pull up in front of Tom, he takes the few steps from his car to mine, a few words are exchanged and his shoes are soon off, and he’s draped his large winter jacket over his knees like someone with a tweed blanket on a carriage ride and is grasping for the chair recliner handle down to his left.
It being the first time we have seen each other since the New Year, we have plenty to talk about as we join the M1, following the heading of straight up, which will not change for about the next two and half hours. Tom’s NYE sounded, interesting. Much gin was consumed, not normal everyday gin, but high end, distilled in the upturned hat of a stormtroopers helmet kind of gin and his evening almost came to a very abrupt end, when someone suggested a “fiery sambuca” party game.
The topic of cheese consumes most our time between junction five and the Watford Gap, where for so many like Tom the true North begins, we stop briefly to grab a coffee, served by a man with a very curious voice. Tom and his other half have only just finished what by all accounts was a deli counter worth of fromage. A breakdown in communication, meant they both hit the the dairy aisle pretty hard and ended up with quite the selection. Tom’s favourite, Port Salut, with it’s strange orange wrapper, he admits isn’t really proper cheese, but a glorified “mini Babybel”.
Crying Fabregas and of course the whole Greggs vegan sausage roll thing cropped up too, as did the fact that Tom’s impending wedding is causing no end of friction in casa del Sparks. Soon though the talking stops as we are both overcome with an unrelenting feeling of deja vu when we spot the twisted spire of Chesterfield’s Church of St Mary and All Saints under a very changeable sky.
Regular readers will remember this is not the first time for us in these neck of the woods this season, in fact Yorkshire is quickly becoming our second favourite football county, after Essex of course. Although technically the last time we were driving through Chesterfield it was to see a team named after one of the counties most famous cities, but who actually play in Derbyshire. With North Ferriby already under our belt, plus a more few planned visits for later this season, it is all getting quite familiar.
Today though I can confirm we will 100% be in Yorkshire, seeing a team named after the city they play in, which is the same, only with a slight difference, as the other team we saw here last time, but who actually play in the city they’re named after.
If anything the sun has warmed and the sky has brightened the further up we’ve gone. Tom even found it necessary to de-snood he was so hot, thanking his lucky stars he didn’t bring his “long johns”. Sitting in the car park of a Morrisons on the outskirts of Sheffield, waiting for Tom who has darted to the loo, having spent the last twenty minutes squirming, and convulsing, his giant cream covered mocha having gone right through him, I have to roll down my window as I’m close to getting a sweat on.
Springing out the front doors of the supermarket like a new man, I scoop him up and we are soon back underway.
The closer we get to today’s ground, the less confidence I have in my Sat Nav, as the houses get closer and closer together, the streets get narrower, and quieter and there is no way surely there is a 32,000 seater stadium around here. A hulking Barnet FC (BFC) fan, today’s away team, striding up the street, he is of Hafþór Björnsson proportions, with his orange and black scarf around his neck, gives me hope and then all of a sudden a break in a seemingly never ending row of red brick terraced houses, it’s there, looking totally out of place and right at home, all at once, Bramall Lane.
Just the other side of a low slung wall, the steel struts of one stand rise up into the clear blue sky. The closer we get, the more red and white of Sheffield United FC (SU) comes into view. Many of those fans in scarves and shirts are loitering outside the local chippy, while a couple set up a trestle table on the corner of one road, covered in the kind of unofficial merchandise one can expect towards the tip of the football pyramid.
Top flight football team, built up residential area and easy parking are not three things that normally appear in the same sentence, well today they do. Not wanting to go on about it too much, but it was so easy to find a spot to leave the car, on a side street less than a five minute walk from where we wanted to be. I’m thinking the fact it’s a Sunday, a 14:00 kick off and not the most glamorous of ties, all have their part to play. Passing the people selling the Minions covered SU scarves, skirting along a much higher red brick wall, we are soon standing outside the Tony Currie stand.
Two large statues are the first thing that catch my eye, them and the huge round sparking club crest reflecting the bright suns rays. Tom of course sees none of this, he has his football romance blinkers on, all he can see is the “super store”. He is able to suppress his need to shop for long enough, to allow me to satisfy my own itch, “programme two pounds”.
Madonna warbles over the speakers, the security guard in his crisp white shirt welcomes us, as we step into what is just a bit different from the club shops we are used to, a lady with a box full of pins and a couple of old scarfs behind the bar. Tom is quickly taken by the mint green SU keepers shirt, before disappearing, and leaving me surrounded by foam fingers.
“You can buy everything here” says Tom, beaming, showing off his pin, pointing at the, “golf tees” and “tote bags”. I as many of you may well know, am I big fan of what I call ‘football tat’, a chipped mug, an old shirt a poorly made mouse mat, however everything in here is as Tom put a bit too “swanky” for me, a bit too well presented, clean and new, so I leave empty handed.
Not being our usual overly early selves, I would have expected with not long to kick off, to maybe have seen a bit more life in the streets around the ground. Everything is here that screams major football venue, but the roads are lifeless. Where I’m sure normally there would be great throngs of people, there are only dribs and drabs. One burger van is preparing for the day, but I can’t imagine on this showing so far, they will be doing much business. The dot matrix sign announcing the fixture, in the shadow of a towering stand with forged in steel written across its side, seems a waste of time. Many of the skinny red doors with the turnstile beyond, are closed, and why the local police force thought coppers on horseback were necessary, I’ll never know.
The sound of bagpipes was not one I expected to hear today, however a lone pipesman has taken up position behind a red bucket, collecting for charity. It may well be the case that Bramall Lane will hardly be packed today, however the sight of a BFC family, sporting not one, but two homemade tinfoil cups, one an absolute giant, justified the time spent in the car alone.
It’s depressing how the interior of large all seater stadiums are all almost identical, bare concrete, small TV’s showing Sky Sports News, the odd flourish of colour in an attempt to brighten up the place. It is not until you take the few steps up to the opening to your block, that if you’re like me, you
get that sensation, the very same one I got when I first saw the hallowed pitch at White Hart Lane, a sensation that is very difficult to put into words.
With each step you see that little bit more, it’s all about the slow reveal and then all of a sudden it’s there in front of you. The emerald green pitch, the dugouts, all the little details that make it the ground it is, like SUFC spelt out in white seats in the stand opposite us. A multitude of red and white flags top the stands to our left and right, like candles on a birthday cake and front and centre the red clock that sits proudly with gold roman numerals and the date the club was founded, 1889.
“Sit anywhere you want” says the beardy steward at the top of the steps, “if you wanna stand, go at the back”. With the middle of the upper tier of the away end already well occupied, we ascend the frighteningly steep steps, crampons are advised, and plonk ourselves down in one of the seats on the the edge of the crowd. Mulling over the words of an old work colleague and friend, also called Daniel, who we bumped into outside, who was looking I think it’s fair to say a little bit worse for wear, he reckons there will be “800” BFC supporters who have made the trip up the M1 today. He also shares with us a brief moment of nostalgia, of away days of yesteryear, “to think 14 years ago we took 6,000 to Old Trafford”.
Almost just a mere spec on the touchline below, a man with a mic and clipboard, tells us that SU are “delighted to welcome Barnet” which is received with a considerable amount of cheers from the travelling fans and shouts of “come on Barnet”.
Tom is “envious”of those home fans who are able to bask in the early afternoon sun. We are now and will be for the remainder of the day, shrouded in shade, which in combination with the sheer nature of the stand, makes it feels a little bit like we are clinging on to the side of the Eiger.
As every good stadium announcer should be, the font of knowledge informs us, that it’s the “first ever meeting between the two sides” in the FA Cup, however despite this, there is still a curious connection between the two clubs, the stand the announcer is standing in front of, is named after the SU “legend” who is the uncle of the current Barnet first team manager.
Each BFC player gets a fervent cheer when his name is read out, before the stadium music is cranked back up to a level that makes it difficult to think and one BFC fan with an orange scarf tucked in his belt, despite having his choice of seats to sit in, decided to nigh on sit on my lap.
“Not a lot of choice” says Tom, having returned from his hunt for food. Unfortunately it seems the higher up the pyramid you go, the fewer options or variety of things to eat you get, it’s all a bit bland, all a bit mass produced, it’s all a bit boil in a bag and try and shift two thousand units. Little chance of getting a Burger Monsters Belly Buster here, little chance of a whiteboard ladened with eight different types of burger on it. Instead it’s simply either or, “pie or hotdog”. Tom says his pie is “cold” and I reckon the best bit about it is probably the cardboard tray it came in, with forged in steel on the side. The lack of “no chips” means Tom has already decided that we are are “gonna have to stop on the way home”.
“United, united, united we stand” sing who we are reliably informed is Judas Priest, by the man with the mic who makes another one of his short cameos between songs, who has a voice that I’m sure was honed by years of local radio. “He’s absolutely brilliant live” he tells us, he being “Sir Roderick Stewart”, who will be playing at Bramall lane in the summer. “You wanna go see Rodders?” asks Tom.
Presented to the BFC supporters by a large sword carrying pirate, the BFC mascot applauds the travelling fans, who respond in kind, as well as more shouts of “come on Barnet”, all while a few black and orange balloons start to gently bob about. Behind him the BFC players depart, waving to the fans as they do, their warm up complete and a low rumbling rendition of “bee army” serenades them as they disappear down the tunnel.
“Let’s have a countdown to kick off” suggests the voice over the PA, the big screen to our left goes dark, and the sound of an ever quickening heartbeat starts to play. Moody stirring music accompanies the montage that follows, doing its bit to get the home fans in the mood. The BFC supporters continue to sing, the three of four next to us, we’ve moved to the very back of the stand, are banging the wall behind them, while singing, “bee army, bee army”. A song which quickly joins that of the Hampton & Richmond Borough fans,“come on you beavers” and Tonbridge Angels, “come on you angels” as the nicest and least threatening in all of football.
All but drowned out by the rousing music, they don’t let this put them off, they sing regardless, “we love you Barnet we do”. Getting ever closer to kick off the sprinklers come on, giving the pitch one last soak, the red FA Cup hoardings are carried out onto the pitch and I notice down to our right, perhaps BFC’s most well known fan, Village. Still sporting his Father Christmas hat. Sitting near just a couple of his extensive collection of flags, it looks like a cuddly toy fox sitting on the chair next to him.
The temporary goals for the warm up are carried in. The music blaring still doesn’t deter the BFC fans, “Wembley, Wembley, we’re the famous Barnet FC and we’re going to Wembley”. One supporter is whirling his scarf above his head, and among the now sizable crowd, which I’m sure is very close to exceeding Daniels suggestion of “800” I see a border collie stuffed toy, also in a Father Christmas hat, being hoisted above one mans head.
It is certainly not a Kasabian song that I’ve been looking forward to hearing, but it is one of theirs that plays as the teams walk out. Both sides applaud the welcome that they get, the BFC fans belt out “come on Barnet, come on Barnet” as a flurry of balloons cascade forward. Each team huddles, while the tail end of the SU supporting bands tune finishes. For me it’s The Greasy Chip Butty song I’m here for, the SU club anthem. The first lines of which are played over the PA, before it cuts out and the fans carry on acapella, and although it’s not being sung by many, “Like a packet of woodbines, like a good pinch of snuff, like a night out In Sheffield” it’s one of those nuances that for me makes football so fascinating and emotional.
It’s a rampant first ten minutes on and off the pitch for the National League side and its fans. More scarves than before are stretched out above the heads of the fans, their singing is constant, a baritone “bees, bees” that you can feel in your chest and with only two minutes gone BFC have already had a shot, admittedly its wide, but it shows their intentions. They are not here simply to make up the numbers.
“If you love Barnet stand up” is the latest song, but everyone in already on their feet, despite the instructions of the beardy steward. The lack of noise coming from the sparse home crowd, also hasn’t gone unnoticed, “your support is fucking shit”.
For a split second the hundreds of BFC fans thought their Christmases and Birthdays had all come at once following a glanced header on about four minutes, that ghosted past the SU keeper and into the back of the net and for a brief moment they thought they had gone in front. The scorer realises it, but it feels a long time before the fans do who are still jumping and pounding the back of the stand. The BFC number 27 can’t bring himself to look over his shoulder at the linesman who has raised his flag.
What’s telling in the moments after the goal is disallowed, is that the BFC fans are not overcome with
grief, they are not depressed or feel hard done by, but quite the opposite, their songs grow louder “oh North London is wonderful”, with now even more of them are on their feet, then before.
Over the din of the crowd Tom tells me Bramall Lane reminds him of “Charlton”, because it’s “red, white and empty”. Two quickfire shouts for BFC penalties confirm the start of this match as absolutely chaotic. The first follows an excellent ball over the top, that sees one of the rapid BFC front three off and away, but what is sublime recovering tackle and not a foul, denies him a shot. The second just inside the area looks a little less clear cut, but is also waved away.
An away day beyond the Watford gap for any team from down south, would not be complete without the chant of “you dirty northern bastard” on at least one occasion. The irony being that the southern fans, always pronounce bastard, like a northerner. An SU foul in midfield brings about the songs first outing.
BFC go close once more with a shot over the bar. Their fans are still going great guns, “Underhill, Underhill, we’re the famous Barnet FC and we come from Underhill”. On the pitch though they are not having it all their own way anymore. SU are slowly getting a grip on the game and are probing at what until now has been a resilient BFC defence, which is thoroughly appreciated by one fan, “fuck them up, get into them”.
The BFC fans ask, “can you hear the Sheffield sing?” and then what I think is the most damning, they offer up their services to the apparently shy home crowd, “shall we sing a song for you?”. Again trying to talk over the clamour, Tom points to a glistening, sumptuous looking pie on the big screen, one of the near constant rotation of adverts, “my pie didn’t look like that”.
Another burst into the SU box from one of the BFC three pronged attack, however this time the last ditch tackle is not so well timed, and the referee has no hesitation pointing to the spot. Allowing themselves a moment to celebrate the awarding of the penalty, one man rubs his hands together with glee, but its not to long before they are calling for the dismissal of the SU defender, “off, off, off” they chant, punching the air, but it’s only a yellow, “booooooo”.
Although he is the full length of a football pitch away, the BFC fans want to do everything they can to give their man the best possible chance, so quiet is requested, “shhhhhh”. For the first time today the BFC supporters fall silent, some people clearly don’t know what to do with themselves, however the hush doesn’t last for long. BFC’s number 10 has just slotted the ball into the side netting, not far from the left hand of the SU keeper who guessed the right way, and the celebrations for the offside goal, are made to look like how someone might react if they found a pound down the back of the sofa.
The scarves being whirled above people’s heads are being done so at such a rate they are a blur. The crowd boils, jumping, hugging, sheer pandemonium. The scorer falls to his knees, his hands pointed to the heavens, his moment of reflection is short lived as he is soon mobbed by his teammates, one quite literally knee sliding into him.
Some fans thoughts have already turned to “Wembley, Wembley”, however they are almost brought crashing down to earth only two or three minutes after going in front, when a clumsy BFC challenge on the edge of their box, is only inches away from undoing all their fine work. “Looked like a pen to me” says Tom. The referee blows up, all those around us faces are contorted with anguish, but the minuscule dot of foam from the referees spray can, signals the foul was just the other side of the white line and it’s a free kick.
A free kick that comes to nothing, and each and every BFC supporter can breath again, “1 – 0 to the Barnet boys”. The visitors have a plan and by god are they going to stick with it, spraying balls out wide, their number 10, who is pulling all the strings, has so far has been faultless, and either side of him they have a couple of devastatingly quick forwards. The diagonal ball from the defence out to the wings has worked for them more than once, but this time the wide player takes just one too many touches and is dispossessed in the box.
“Who cares about horse riding in Italy?” asks Tom, the advert for an equestrian holiday one of the many on loop. Tom thinks they are used as some kind of distraction, something to stop the score appearing on screen. Like a scene straight from Yankee Stadium, a man appears below us, holding aloft a programme, trying to sell them to the crowd, who are far too busy singing, “you are my Barnet”. Most chants seem to be emanating from the gruff voiced BFC Capo down to our left, every shout sounding like it’s doing permanent damage to his vocal chords
“Unlucky” says one fan, a good exchange on the edge of the SU box results in a shot but it’s over. Again someone asks “stand up if you love Barnet” again those who are not already, which now is hardly anyone, do so. It’s quite the stark contrast as the odd chair bangs shut, looking at the stand opposite us, which does not have a single person in it.
A single handful of homemade confetti is hurled into the air, then flutters down slowly around the person whose pocket, and the people either side of him, that it just came out of. With more in reserve, he does it again. A lone female voice like clockwork lets out a “come on Barnet” and the man next to her replies without fail, “come on Janice”.
“Can we play you every week?” ask the BFC fans, when a long range SU shot goes well over. Although the game has slowed dramatically on the pitch, no one could have kept up that tempo for a whole forty five minutes, the BFC fans are still motoring, “glory glory Barnet FC”.
The home fans booo their teams lack of endeavour, in possession they want to see the ball go forward, but instead its rolled back to their keeper. When they do get it forward they don’t exactly have their shooting boots on. A back post attempt at a shot is horrible, and ends up going behind the player who swiped his foot at the ball, which as you can imagine gets unrelenting volume of sneering, “weyyyyy”.
Still confident that they are “going to Wembley” the BFC fans on the performance so far have every right to think so. They have restricted SU to simply passing the ball around in front of their two solid all blue banks of four. When they do launch the ball forward its lacking any of the accuracy required, much to the delight of the BFC supporters, “same old Barnet, taking the piss”.
Into the final five and the BFC defence is putting out fires everywhere. To say they are hanging on might be a little unkind, but they are certainly under the cosh. Attack after attack is squashed, while the fans again sing about the fact “no one likes us”. “Two minutes of added time” says the man with the clipboard, SU surge forward again, but there is always a player in blue to snuff out the danger.
The blast of the referee’s whistle brings a few sighs of relief, but also the resounding feeling from the BFC fans of, we are halfway there. By no way is it a fluke they find themselves in front, they have been the better side in every department and their fans know it, “come on Barnet, come on Barnet”.
“Why would you go out and play football in the rain?” ponders Tom, the sprinklers are back on, but a few players are still warm up on the pitch. Some iffy dance music shatters the pleasant murmur of people chatting, and the man with the mic tells us “Sheffield United women are drawing with Spurs”. He then proceeds to read out the results to some kind of fan match day gambling that wasn’t available to the away supporters, which gets the expected unsympathetic comment from Tom, “you didn’t win!”.
The music takes a couple of funny turns before the players reappear, first a bizarre cover of The Human Leagues, Don’t You Want Me, then on the big screen appears who Tom refers to as the “northern Katy Perry”. A young lady neither of us are familiar with and the quality of her video, is somewhat up for debate, “why is she standing in front of those Amazon pickup lockers” says Tom, “cheap video I suppose”.
“Who are ya, who are ya” chant the BFC fans when SU return to more Kasabian, and are put through some sprints on the touchline. BFC appear to the familiar chant of “come on Barnet”. The man with the clipboard hopes we “enjoy the second half” before the The Greasy Chip Butty song starts to play, cutting out like it did before, leaving the fans to finish it off.
Considering what I imagine was quite the rollicking the SU team got at half time, they were second
best to everything in the first half, it’s no great surprise they are straight on the front foot at the beginning of the new half. Whispering, Tom leans over, he thinks it’s just a matter of time before the hosts score, and ruin the party, “I think they’re gonna win 2 – 1”.
The BFC fans are a little slow back to their seats, many of the late arrivals are holding something to eat, that they’ve ordered from the extensive menu, “pie or hotdog”. Those in place for the restart are soon back to singing, just as they had been nigh on the whole first half, “come on Barnet, come on Barnet”.
If the FA Cup could be won simply by how amazing your players hair is, then SU would already have the trophy in the bag, their number 20 has the most amazing flowing locks, that bounce about while he runs. The locals are getting increasingly frustrated with their team and the BFC fans can sense it, and are more than happy to rub it in, “your grounds too big for you”, “you’re supposed to be at home”.
A goal for the home side though feels like a matter of when, not if, another last gasp tackle by a BFC defender stops a certain goal scoring chance, and Toms premonition seems like coming true, sooner rather than later. However BFC are far from out of it, ten minutes of the new half gone and they very nearly double their lead. Another rapid counterattack, a ball across the six yard box, that is only prevented from being tapped in, by the outstretched boot of a sliding SU defender.
The corner is well delivered and the attempt at a clearing header almost creeps under the bar, only the fingertips of the keeper, keeps it out, setting up BFC for a second set piece which leaves every BFC player and fan thinking ‘how?’. Maybe no more than two foot from the goal line, a BFC player at the far post, the ball dropping kindly for him, can’t sort his feet out. Instead of poking the ball in the empty net, he seems to stand on it instead, allowing an SU player precious seconds to hoof it clear.
He can’t believe it, he clasps his hands to the back of his head. The BFC fans can’t believe they have not doubled their lead, which they would have more than deserved. Some fans bend over double exacerbated, some hold their hands up to their face, some just look sick at the sight of the missed opportunity.
Deep and low the BFC fans chant, in the truest sense of the word, the clubs nickname, “bees, bees”. I’m starting to lose count of the number of SU attacks the BFC back line have extinguished, and there’s not even fifteen minutes on the clock. “Tighter” shouts one fan, demanding even more of his team. However among all the near chances for SU, BFC are still creating their own, “shoot” shout the people around us, “unlucky” says one as the effort goes over.
A high pitched squeal of “come on Barnet” from one person makes Tom ask, “is that a child?” when in fact I think it was just a very excited adult. Boo’s ring out from the BFC supporters, one of their players is down, and the SU ones clearly have no intention of putting the ball out of play, “you dirty northern bastards”. One man instead of singing it, chooses to wolf whistles it, with four fingers in his mouth.
Eventually the balls goes out and the player can be attended to. The home fans jeer at the sight of him making his way to the touch line, the BFC supporters applaud him, before having a jab at the muted crowd, “we forgot that you were here”.
The always hummed Entry of the Gladiators that accompanies any kind of a mistake at a football match, rears its head when SU are almost caught out by over playing it at the back. “Bee army” sing the BFC fans, before all letting out a sizable “ohhhh” when a SU shot skims the bar as it flies over. The chance causes a commotion among the home supporters, the BFC fans are quick to put them back in their place, “sit down”.
Ready to come on is “the famous Billy Sharp” as Tom points out. The local hero who I assume his manager wanted to rest for the visit of a lowly non league side, is being chucked on to try and save the day and in front of us apparently one of the Three Tenors has arrived, the delivery of the songs and chants like something right out the Last Night of The Proms.
A BFC shot from the edge of the box, through a sea of legs, very almost catches out the SU keeper, who sees it at the very last moment and manages to push it wide. Not long after and SU start one of their now far more familiar challenges towards the BFC goal, only for a well timed trip or professional foul in midfield cutting it short.
“I know we should be winning by more” says a man half shouting into his phone behind me and he’s not wrong. SU’s latest shot is tame and gets an apathetic “weeyyyy”, but BFC are having less and less of it their own way. With fifteen minutes to go, the home side are finally showing some of that calibre that makes them a Championships side, stroking the ball around with an air of confidence.
Such is the desire of the BFC players to slow the game down, it is they shouting loudest when an SU player is injured, for the ball to be kicked into touch. They would be more than happy for the referee to halt play, to allow some respite. One man hums the funeral march as the downed SU player is attended to, when he gets to his feet he cries, “Lazarus has risen, hallelujah”. Plácido Domingo takes it things step further letting loose a couple of his own very dramatic, “hallelujah, hallelujah”.
SU have well and truly forced BFC way back into their own half, the fans try to relieve the tension they must all be experiencing, with a few more digs at the home fans, “are you Wednesday in disguise” and “you’ve come to see the Barnet”, but it’s going to be a very nervy final quarter of an hour. “Get it out” cries one fan, an SU cross into the box, is knocked down by the keepers attempt to catch it, but the SU player it falls to can’t control the ball. The BFC backline having once again smothered a SU attack right at the last.
When BFC do get the ball, their counter attacks are lacking some of that zip from earlier in the match, to be fair to them they have not stopped running, so undoubtedly there must be a few tired legs out there. Still in possession after what looked like a promising attack had fizzled out, the ball is eventually delivered into the SU box but the flicked header hits a defender.
Each “come on you bees” from now on, is less and less assured and more and more panicked.
“Justice” shouts one supporter, when the ball strikes the referee and bounces back into BFC’s possession, having just awarded SU a free kick for a very dubious looking foul. SU are getting closer and closer, a header goes just wide, “ohhhhh” gasp the home fans, however the chants of the BFC supporters, “we love you Barnet we do”, remain just as loud.
With just over five minutes plus added on time left to play, BFC are so close to a full blown cupset, but have to stay switched on. The last thing they want to do is be the orchestrator’s of their own downfall. A blind back header from one defender nearly puts them under all sort of unnecessary pressure, but they get away with it this time and then, as they have all afternoon fly up the other end and have a decent looking shot blocked.
Into the final five and BFC have been forced back almost onto their own goal line, their fans continue to distract themselves with a endless amount of different songs, “que sera sera” as well as an en masse version of, “oh when the bees go steaming in”, one fan standing on the small back wall, clings onto the roof of the stand half stooped, giving everything he has into every single word. Still with time to play one supporter has seen enough and can’t take any more, “blow your whistle ref”.
“We can see you sneaking out” sing the BFC fans as the clock ticks down, some home supporters have taken all they can bear and more and more orange and black scarves are now popping up above the crowds heads, taught between outstretched arms. “Squeaky bum time” says Tom as he always does in times like these. One SU player shaping up to head the ball in the box, is struck by it, more than making any kind of meaningful contact with it, and the chance goes begging.
BFC are well and truly camped out around their own eighteen yard box, nerves around us are starting to fray. When an SU attack breaks down the sarcastic jeers are tinged with a heavy dose of relief.
SU have just hit the bar, a close range header has just been tipped onto the woodwork, and the next few seconds almost happen in slow motion, as the ball bobbles along it, before dropping back into play. Only for time to return to normal, when it’s headed out for a corner.
“Five minuets of added time” announces he with the mic, which is not received well by the BFC fans, booooooooo”. One last invitation to “stand up for the Barnet boys” goes up, but its a wasted effort, there is not a person in sight not upright, fidgeting and counting down the seconds. Into what must have been the final moments of the match I’m able to tick off ‘grown up in a silly wig’ in my I Spy Book of the FA Cup, when I catch a glimpse of someone in an orange one. There is time for one last declaration of their devotion for their team, “we love you Barnet we do” before all hell breaks loose.
Among the leaping and embracing fans, the scarves now going around at close to light speed, and with people close to falling over, having to be steadied by their neighbours. I find myself concentrating on one man, his emotions close to getting the better of him. Standing still, his hands covering his face. All while one of the most concentrated outpourings of joy, I’ve ever seen at a football match goes on around him.
The response of the players is not all that dissimilar, the keeper after his last minute heroics is the main focus of his teammates attention. An outbreak of knee sliding sees more than one BFC player approach the away end sliding across the turf. The BFC manager in his orange tie shakes the hands of his victorious players, who punch the air, soaking up the moment, the fans telling them, just how they feel, “we love you Barnet we do”.
Another knee slide from the BFC captain, because why not, brings the celebrations to an end. The players walk off to one last song, “que sera sera, whatever will be, will be, we’re going to Wembley”, almost everyone to a man is still in place, rooted to the spot, paralysed by sheer excitement.
The high spirits don’t stop on the concourse as we make the slow descent down to street level, the singing continues, one man is strolling around with a large flag over his shoulders and the fans gather in an impromptu street party, the coaches ready to whisk them off, but surely there is enough time for one last sing song,”twist a little closer, let me know that your mine”.
“We deserved it” said one man on the way out, reporting back to someone on the other end of this phone, who perhaps couldn’t make it today and how true that was. BFC put on one of the finest performances of a non league side against a league side there is ever likely to be. I’m not sure if its going to join the highlight reel trotted out each season, around this time of year, but it should. “its the magic of the FA Cup” said the man with the mic at one point today, and oh he was right. Don’t listen to anyone who says the FA Cup is dead, yes it may be being pulled from pillar to post, games on a Friday, games on a Sunday, odd kick off times, but at its core the true essence of what is my favourite cup competition, and what should be yours too, is alive and well. Nowhere was that clearer to see than across the face of every fan and player today.
Sitting in the car, Tom searching online for the closest McDonald’s, I cant work out why the BFC sing “no one likes us”, I live in Barnet and its really nice and as Tom put it, “who doesn’t like them, they are so polite”.
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