Fairclough still feisty as he plots the fall of Fergie

Basement boys Barnet have a manager who has shaken the aristocracy before

Paul Fairclough, the man in charge of Barnet, details his day. "You'd be amazed what I have to do," he says. The hotel costs need to be lowered because "it's just too much for us" and the canine issue is simply a result of not having adequate facilities which is - pardon the pun - a bone of contention for the League Two club who are at war with the local council.

"People say they are not co-operative," says Fairclough. "That's not true. It's not fair. They are downright obstructive." Plans for a new stadium to replace the "antiquated" Underhill, he claims, are constantly held up - "the amount of money we have spent," he sighs - while the implication is that the club have achieved in spite of, rather than because of, the council.

He's certainly a feisty enough character, the manager. Aged 55, he's probably the oldest to embark on a career in the Football League having run away with the Conference with his young, vibrant Barnet side.

"Here is me, at the age of 55, standing opposite him," the Liverpudlian says of a much-anticipated meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson on the Old Trafford touchline on Wednesday. "I've had 16 League games, he's probably had 1,016," Fairclough says. "The man is awesome." Not that he intends to be intimidated. "We're not going to go to United to abuse the opportunity," he adds, sensing also that the match, for which Barnet expect to take 4,000 supporters, will be significant for their opponents after their faltering start. "We're not going to go and not come outside our half," Fairclough continues. "We're going to entertain. We're going to try and win the game."

So much so that after the impressive victory over Bristol City in the LDV Vans Trophy last week, Fairclough was asked whether - if he had to choose - he would take three points against Mansfield Town in the League or a victory over United. "I'm supposed to say 'give me the three points any day'," Fairclough says, mindful of his club's plight near the bottom of the League after a "rude awakening" of the demands involved following their step up after a four-year exile. "But," he goes on, "if I'm honest I can't say that. We'd love to beat United and obviously there would be spin-offs. It would really boost the confidence of the players."

Fairclough acknowledges that they need it. He has complete faith in his team - "they've given us a magnificent ride" - but admits they are still "acclimatising". In terms of talent, there is no contest against some of the "functional footballers" they face. But it's also about experience and consistency. Indeed he just has two players - striker Giuliano Grazioli (left) and club captain Ian Hendon who is a "terrific influence" but also one who can give the "hairdryer treatment" - with any significant League experience.

"Most other teams have quite a few old heads," Fairclough says.

His own experience, therefore, is vital. Fairclough began his playing career at Liverpool under Bill Shankly, but it didn't work out and he went on to university, playing football for non-League clubs such as Wealdstone. By 28 he had his coaching licence, "and I thought I was going to be the next Alf Ramsey". It didn't happen.

"The football fraternity is incestuous," Fairclough argues. "It's like the Freemasons. You have to be a member to get in. Every door was slammed in my face. I won four championships in six years but didn't get any recognition in terms of someone saying we would like you to run our League club."

The most bitter lesson was at Stevenage, who were in the Second Division North of the Isthmian League when he took over, then, nine years ago, won the Conference but were denied promotion because of inadequate facilities. It hit Fairclough hard. "A nasty blow, a serious setback. I did the role of victim for a while and wallowed in that."

During that time there was also a high-profile FA Cup run that culminated in a fourth-round defeat away to Newcastle United. "I like having a strategy for every scenario," says Fairclough, a former sports consultant. For that game he even discussed with the players what would happen "if Alan Shearer scored inside the first three minutes". He did, and Stevenage dealt with it to earn the replay at St James' Park.

If that sounds like the sort of preparation undertaken by Jose Mourinho then Fairclough, who remains the manager of the England non-League team, is also associated with Arsène Wenger, having scouted for Arsenal. Not that he will be turning to the Frenchman for advice right now. "I've not got £1m footballers," he says. A conversation has been had with Alex Inglethorpe, whose Exeter City earned a Cup replay against United last season.

The League Cup meeting will, however, be settled on the night. "It's a game which will be the biggest some of my players may ever play in," Fairclough says. "Hopefully, they will go on to greater things but they might not." For the manager himself it is also "a dream come true" and an opportunity well-earned. "We won a championship on picking up dog muck," Fairclough says. He hopes to leave United a nasty surprise too.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own