No 155 Barnet
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The Independent Online
A warm, comforting feeling glowed inside me when it was announced, only days before the start of the season, that Ray Clemence had vacated the manager's position at Barnet in order to assume the role of goalkeeping coach in Glenn Hoddle's new England set-up.

Not that the sensation was brought on by pride at seeing Barnet's first graduate to England international duty; or even by malicious satisfaction at hearing of Clemence's departure. After all, he had inherited arguably the worst team ever to grace the Football League, seen them relegated by 25 points, and subsequently transformed the club into strong candidates for promotion from the Third Division.

It was just that Barnet somehow felt like Barnet again. After two and a half years of relative stability, here was a good old-fashioned crisis to bring memories of the halcyon Fry/Flashman era, with its innumerable sackings and winding-up orders, flooding back. The sweet stench of turmoil seemed to be filling the air around Underhill once again, and boy it felt good to be back.

To add to the drama, a swift glance at football's unemployed list briefly sparked excited mutterings about a possible replacement for Clemence. Surely George Graham would relish the opportunity to begin his managerial recuperation at Barnet, less than 10 miles from his London home. Perhaps Johan Cruyff, freshly sacked by Barcelona, was in fact visiting England in order to hold secret talks with the Barnet chairman, Tony Kleanthous.

Alas, no. Kleanthous instead promoted Clemence's No 2, Terry Bullivant, a "veteran'' of over 150 games with Fulham, Aston Villa, Charlton and Brentford. Bullivant has made a promising start to his first managerial job, typified by the narrow 1-0 defeat at West Ham in the Coca-Cola Cup last week. He has a number of talented players in his squad, among them tenacious midfielder Phil "OJ'' Simpson, pony-tailed striker Sean Devine and goalkeeper Maik Taylor. Bullivant has even smashed the club's transfer record to bring Cyprus international Costas Costinou to Underhill for pounds 60,000.

Promotion is unquestionably within the team's grasp, provided they complement a mean defence, which has conceded only four League goals this season, by scoring more regularly.

Although Devine has worked manfully as a lone forward, Barnet's striking options have been hampered by a bizarre injury to Lee Hodges, scorer of 18 goals last season. Hodges' brief appearance as a substitute at Upton Park on Wednesday was his first since suffering a groin injury when he slipped in the shower while on holiday over the summer. Such farcical episodes are, of course, not wholly uncommon at Barnet given the club's penchant for the perverse and unexpected. Several seasons ago, when the Bees were battling for promotion from the GM Vauxhall Conference, central defender Darren Angell was sidelined after falling down a manhole.

Barring any other unfortunate slips, Barnet fans can look forward to the remainder of the season with more optimism than for several years. Once we have endured the traditional FA Cup first-round defeat by Woking (our conquerors in each of the last two seasons) we can concentrate solely on the League, safe in the knowledge that the next crisis is just around the corner. But then again, Barnet just wouldn't be the same any other way.