The clubs have never met before and only one Barnet player, former Tottenham trainee Ian Hendon, has even played at Old Trafford, but another has giant-humbling experience. Guiliano Grazioli scored for Stevenage Borough when they took Newcastle United, Alan Shearer et al, to a replay in the FA Cup seven years ago. Tonight he hopes to mark his 100th match for Barnet by going one step further and knocking the giant out, ideally with his 62nd goal for the club.
"We've got to try and emulate what Stevenage and Exeter did," he said, while en route to Manchester yesterday. "The main thing is not to let the occasion pass us by but to enjoy every moment. We've a young side and some of these lads could go on to play at Old Trafford regularly but I've been in the game 10 to 12 years and it's the first time for me so I'll be savouring it. It's nice to play 100 games for my local team and even better to reach it on such a stage."
The manager, Paul Fairclough, who steered Barnet to the Conference title last season, was also in charge at Stevenage for that tie. An imaginative coach, he has repeated one of the ploys he used ahead of the St James' Park replay. To help a squad more used to playing front of 4,000 he arranged for the team to train against a backdrop of a recording of the Old Trafford crowd made during Saturday's match against Tottenham. Loud enough to provoke a complaint from a local resident, Grazioli said it "showed us how loud we'll have to shout to make team-mates hear you on the pitch."
Hendon's Old Trafford appearance came in the 1992 FA Youth Cup semi-final when his Tottenham team were beaten by a Manchester United side which included Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt.
There will be a few United youngsters on-field tonight but neither that, nor a recent slump in Barnet's form - "I think Old Trafford's been in the back of a few minds," confessed Grazioli - has dampened the enthusiasm of their supporters. More than 4,000 travelling fans are expected to attend including some flying in from Japan, Australia, Canada. There is also one from Spain, who is hoping the tie does not go to penalties - his return flight is late tonight.
Barnet, being eternally short of a quid, have understandably cashed in. The team will tonight wear black-and-violet coloured shirts, a nod to the original colours worn in 1888, and the club have issued a limited edition of 500 replicas each complete with a certificate of authenticity signed by Fairclough.
"They look like the shirts worn in Sky's Dream Team", said Grazioli. The perfect apparel then, for confounding reality in the Theatre of Dreams.Reuse content