When Barnet were relegated from the Football League in 2013, they also lost their long-term home of Underhill. On the eve of a vital fixture to regain league status, the Bees are still stuck at the Hive, away in Harrow. Jens Raitanen reports.
Barnet may be one day and one game away from an automatic return to the Football League but the Bees still have a bit of a Hive problem.
‘As far as I’m concerned it is almost a crime that Barnet FC aren’t playing in Barnet,’ said Derek Rocholl, a former director of the Barnet Supporters Trust.
As if two seasons in the non-league Conference Premier weren’t enough, Barnet have spent them both at the Hive Stadium in Harrow. Though full league status will be regained if Barnet overcome Gateshead on Saturday, their homeless problem also needs to be resolved.
Founded in 1888, historic Barnet were based at equally historic Underhill for most of that time –until the move to Harrow, and relegation, in 2013.
And it isn’t just Barnet’s old stadium that has been abandoned. This February, the Old Red Lion pub next door closed down through lack of match-day income. ‘We’ll be watching and waiting to see what the developers propose,’ said a somewhat rueful Nicholas Jones of the Barnet Society. Under the motto ‘Your Friendly Local’, the pub had been in business since 1890. ‘Clearly this was an important community asset.’
No better time, then, for Back2Barnet campaign to come to the fore. Formed by the Barnet Supporters Trust, it is looking to ‘encourage the council to come to agreement over an area in Barnet where the club could build a new stadium,’ says Rocholl.
‘The main objective right now is to generate enough money to pay for a planning application back in Barnet and then we go from there,’ he explains.
‘The owner supports the campaign. He has always had the ambition to have a purpose-built stadium in Barnet.’
Gaining promotion on Saturday would create a dilemma – Barnet’s licence at the Hive does not allow them to host professional football. Rocholl isn’t worried, though.
‘I’m pretty sure that can be overcome,’ he says. ‘The agreement between the club and the council stipulated that Barnet would have temporary permission to play league football at the Hive for a period of ten years.’
‘The reason it was never ratified in 2013 was because we were relegated. I can’t see it being an issue if we get promoted.’
As for the lack of a pre-match pub, Back2Barnet are trying to convince the council to give them a lease to the cricket ground at the Pavilion. Set alongside Underhill, it was used in the past as a social and community centre for Barnet supporters.
What will happen to the old Underhill site itself is another matter. ‘There is still land available there and Barnet FC belong in Barnet, they don’t belong in Harrow,’ insists Rocholl. ‘The club should be playing in their own town. Everybody should be working to bring them back home.’