Football: Fan's Eye View: No. 21 Barnet

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The Independent Online
SUPPORTING Barnet at the moment is rather like leaping off a 50ft diving board in front of a large crowd of admiring spectators, only to discover half-way down that somebody has drained all the water out of the pool.

It hurts, you feel humiliated, and events are completely out of your control; you simply close your eyes, grimace and wait to hit rock bottom. Earlier this month, with the unceremonious sacking of manager Barry Fry by chairman Stan Flashman, perhaps we reached it. Barnet fans waited patiently for Jeremy Beadle to arrive . . . but I think it's fair to assume he would have turned down the manager's job anyway.

Another not wholly unexpected twist was added to the pantomime when Flashman reinstated Fry 10 days later. Fry, of course, couldn't refuse and gladly swapped an afternoon on the terraces for a regular spot in the dug-out. He had joked that if he stayed out of Stan's way, he might keep his job for a few days. It would be hilariously funny, if it wasn't so true.

Mention Flashman's name right now and you will probably elicit a chuckle, an expletive and some reference to his weight (if they are carrying a camera they tend to dive for immediate cover).

Then again, behaviour at Barnet, and that of Barry Fry in particular, is often a little out of the ordinary. After Gary Bull had scored a scorching who-do- you-think-you-are,-Van-Basten?

volley with five minutes of the game remaining at Fisher, to clinch promotion to the League, Fry raced across the pitch to embrace his chairman. He showed substitute Tony Lynch just what he thought of his performance at a pre-season friendly last year by hauling him off and running on to the pitch himself, at the age of 46, and one Christmas he was found by the police driving a tractor across a snow-covered pitch in an attempt to save a game.

In keeping with these bizarre events, three of the current players live in the north and never train with the squad. The sacking was all part of the fun and games at Underhill.

Fry receives a letter at his home informing him he has been dismissed. Could it be a hoax, a mistake? Earlier in the season 'Flashman' had announced on the Clubcall line that he would place spies on the terraces to weed out anti-Flashman supporters, before the real Flashman stated that it had been the work of an impostor.

Somewhere in the midst of the recent commotion are found the players and the fans, and neither has taken kindly to it all. Chants of 'the referee's a Flashman' are reserved for the latest graduates of the Keith Hackett school of refereeing, and Millwall fans had better eat their hearts out because we've got 'Flashman hates us . . . We don't care'. Thankfully, Lincoln and Walsall fans have raised the roof with chants of 'Flashman out', so the world may laugh at you but at least it offers some support in your hour of need.

I'm not sure how English football supporters have taken to the latest episode in Barnet's short but eventful League history. If nothing else, these shenanigans have been entertaining, rather like the team, who are currently second in the Third Division and thoroughly deserve to win promotion after all they've been through this season. Ask Barry Fry what defence is, and he would probably tell you it's de thing which keeps de spectators off the pitch, so it's little wonder that some under-privileged kids who spent their early years at Highbury have now seen the light and come to Barnet, albeit still wearing their Arsenal paraphernalia.

For years we yearned for League status, but, to be honest, I think I speak for many fans in saying the step up has been a disappointment: no more pre-match drinks in the social clubs away from home, being caged in and unable to change ends, lower-division clubs going to the wall, and a standard of football which is perhaps only marginally better than that at the top of the non-League game.

Every now and then a strange power forces me to glance at the Gateshead-Slough score on teletext while nobody is looking, but I wouldn't change our new status for the world - now we're guaranteed a place in the most prestigious and famous cup competition in the world - the Autoglass Trophy.

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