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.

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

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence