When the battle of the Bees kicks off on Monday night, one Barnet season ticket holder at the game may think for a brief second that if things had been different, he could have been sitting in the away end instead of in his regular seat in the Hive’s Legends Stand.
My uncle Tony Melnikoff, a Barnet fan and regular at home games for more than 30 years, grew up supporting Brentford from north London just to be different at school, but switched Bees when he became a parent and moved to live within 10 minutes’ walk of Barnet’s previous home at Underhill.
Here he looks back at that time and gives us the lowdown on Brentford’s fourth round opponents.
Q – Why, living in north London, did you start supporting Brentford and then switch your allegiance to the side we know as the “Fake Bees”?
A – I began supporting Brentford at primary school, because all my classmates supported Arsenal or Spurs, and I always wanted to be different! Meeting your dad a few years later was a complete coincidence, and I used to go by train to Brentford Central and meet him there. My first game was a 4-1 win against Notts County. I think County’s goal was scored by Jeff Astle.
I can also name the entire forward line (as it then was called) of the team that won promotion from the old Division Four a few years later … Block, Brooks, McAdams, Dick, McCleod. The next season we signed Mark Lazarus, and re-signed Jimmy Bloomfield … arguably Brentford’s best-ever player.
I carried on supporting them for many years, until my kids arrived and we moved to Barnet, a few minutes’ walk from Underhill in 1978. I began watching the occasional game then, though I was still watching Brentford more often.
Eventually though I was swept in by the Barry Fry/Stan Flashman revolution. My first game was a 0-0 draw against Brighton in the FA Cup. Brighton then signed Graham Pearce and Robert Codner, our two best players!
I was a regular at Underhill by the early to mid-1980s and have been a season ticket holder since the mid-1990s.
Q – How would you assess Barnet’s season so far and what were the pre-season expectations?
A – Generally disappointing. We lost a few of our best players at the end of last season, including John Akinde, but the players who remained, hopefully with a few decent signings, were good enough to challenge for a quick return to the League.
Expectations dipped when Martin Allen decamped to Chesterfield. and John Still brought in too many sub-standard players and chose those over the players remaining from last season. We have also not been helped by injuries.
Q – How much of a surprise was it when John Still stepped down and, given his departure from Chesterfield the previous day, did you expect Martin Allen to return?
A – A massive surprise. There were rumours of Martin Allen returning, but chairman Tony Kleanthous announced immediately that Darren Currie would be interim head coach, and he was made permanent manager this week. I suppose Allen could still return if we’re struggling, but I hope not.
Q – What changes, if any, has Darren Currie made to the side or formation?
A – He’s only been in charge for a handful of games, but more co-ordinated attack and less hoofball. He’s also kept a settled side, and brought back some of last season’s players.
Q – Apart from giving you personally a longer journey to home matches, what difference has it made to Barnet playing at The Hive?
A – It’s a much better ground, with far superior facilities. But it’s not in Barnet, and is away from the traditional fanbase. This perhaps explains why attendances are down, even in the League.
Q – How seriously are Barnet taking the FA Cup this season?
A – Very. We haven’t once played a weakened team!
Q – Which Barnet players should Brentford fans watch out for and what style of football do Barnet play?
A – Most fans would probably pick Dan Sweeney, our midfield “dynamo”. He drives many of our attacks, but is liable to foul and get booked.
I’d go for Jack Taylor, attacking midfielder. Young talent, probably destined for better things.
Craig Robson, central defender or midfield, holds our defence together. (occasionally)
Q – Do you recall any famous Barnet FA Cup matches from the past, were you there and what happened?
A – We don’t have too impressive a record in the FA Cup. Besides the draw against Brighton, I remember watching us come from behind at Underhill to win 2-1 against Colchester, who were riding high, either at the top of what is now League One, or even in the Championship. Jamie Cureton had given Colchester the lead, but Ismail Yakubu scored a late winner for Barnet.
Q – Do any previous Barnet-Brentford matches stand out in your memory?
A – The 5-5 draw in the League Cup is one but I was in Los Angeles at the time and I recall you emailed me about it.
We haven’t played that many times. I do recall a League Two game, I can’t remember the result (possibly 0-2), when Luke Medley ran clear of the Brentford defence, rounded your goalkeeper, then skilfully slotted the ball into the side-netting. To this day, whenever a Barnet player does likewise, it’s called “doing a Luke Medley”.
Q – What are your best and worst moments supporting Barnet?
A – Best: Winning 4-2 at Fisher Athletic to be promoted to the Football League for the first time. Subsequent promotions a close second.
Worst: Probably losing 2-3 at home to Torquay for our first relegation back to non-league. Other relegations close.
But possibly even worse, Barry Fry (finally) leaving to join Southend, and most of our players walking out for not being paid. A week or so before the start of the next season (our only one in League One) we had a playing squad of six.
But for the heroic efforts of super “double Bee” Gary Phillips to cobble together a team of sorts, we may well have gone out of existence at that point. The events of that time inspired a book which I have on my shelf, “Barnet FC: The Club That Wouldn’t Die”.
Q – Can you give us a predicted Barnet line-up and formation?
A – Changes are inevitable as goalkeeper Mark Cousins is suspended for the match, while Medy Elito and Josh Walker were both stretchered off in the first half. With other injuries and the limitations of our squad, it will be hard to make many more changes.
Cousins’ red card at Braintree last Saturday was especially harsh. The player he fouled went on to put the ball in the net. But the ref pulled play back, awarded a penalty, then sent off Cousins. I thought a red card should be for denying a scoring opportunity. It was the ref who did that … and they did then score the penalty against our rookie goalkeeper making his debut!
Charlee Adams, our ever-present defensive midfielder, will also miss the game having picked up two yellow cards in the FA Cup so far. The fact that we’ve played five games to get this far, and you only one, seems to have eluded the FA!
We really will be struggling to put together a team!
Q – What would you prefer – victory over Brentford or a spot in the play-offs?
A – No question, a play-off place. But automatic promotion would be preferable.
Q – And finally, who are the real Bees?
A – Real Bees are amber-and-black, not red-and-white!
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