Sunday, 20 March 2016

No. 91: The Hive [Barnet]

Saturday, 19th March 2016
Barnet v. Oxford United [League Two] 0-3
The last League ground in the capital, and also the newest of all Football League grounds - it was North London and Barnet this weekend for a visit to The Hive.

Well, I say Barnet, but The Hive is actually around 6 miles from Barnet FC's old ground of Underhill, somewhere between Harrow and Edgware, just above the North Circular.

Travelling to watch Barnet at Underhill for non-Londoners used to involve a seemingly never-ending ride to the end of the tube's Northern Line to High Barnet station. I'd twice in fact misjudged the transit timing and ended up watching the game kick off from the tube train as it pulls in above the ground in full view of the pitch.
Canons Park Tube - Gateway to The Hive.
These days, it's a relatively short hop from Baker Street on the Jubilee Line to Canons Park, the nearest station to The Hive, which I made early to arrive with a good few hours to explore this unknown to me part of north London.

I've written a few blog entries now for London ground visits, and a common problem I've found when trying to do the pre-match 'cultural bit' for games in the capital is that most grounds are in cultural deserts.

Now, that's no fault of the clubs themselves of course, and I'm not trying to say that this makes the places shit or anything! It's as you'd expect really - the clubs grew up in residential areas where folks could enjoy a leisure pursuit at the weekends. Being 30 minutes' tube ride from the cultural capital of western Europe (Sorry Paris, it's true) means it's hardly necessary/likely to have museums, and trendy restaurants somewhere like Canons Park.

So Barnet/Canons Park people - don't feel bad at not having anything for me to do - I understand. And actually, if I'd bothered to get here early enough and done my homework, I could have had a wander around the "registered Grade II Historic Landscape" of Canons Park itself, and the 'remarkable church of St Lawrence" adjacent to it.

But as it was, I went and had a greasy spoon fry-up and spent all afternoon getting pissed in a shit faux-Irish pub. You can't always keep it cultural folks.
Canons Café Fry-Up Brekky: Lovely Stuff.
Next to the tube station is a row of shops, within which was the Canons Café - where I started off with a healthy breakfast of fried pork and potato products, which happily lined my stomach for the rest of the day.

Pre-match refreshment options were not in abundance - I'd already been told I couldn't use the bar at the ground as it was home fans only. Thankfully I ran into a chum who was just heading into a bar a few doors down from the café, so with little else to do, shutting myself away in a dark bar with a few dozen other Oxford fans seemed the best bet.

My friend had brought a guest along who was also close to finishing his 92 - Barnet being no. 90 for him. It brought up the discussion on what the rules are for what counts/what doesn't count as a 92 visit.

He believed that any visit to watch a sporting event at a ground counted, no matter what it was. So, watching a Wasps game at Coventry's Ricoh Arena would count. Or seeing a reserves or youth team game also counts. Or, for example, watching England play at Villa Park - also a tick on the way to the 92. I politely listened but internally I was vigorously shaking my head disapprovingly at this gentleman's scattergun approach to the serious business of 92 collecting.

My own view is, if you are going to do it at all - do it right. And since the whole point of categorising a ground as 'one of the 92' is that it's the home of a particular club - I think you have to see that club playing a home game there.

I think to not feel like you are cheating you'd want to make the visit a 1st team fixture too. Counting anything else would feel a bit seedy, wouldn't it? Like convincing yourself a greasy fry-up is an acceptable healthy breakfast. Further still, if you want that 92 Club tie, the 'official' rules state it has to be a competitive fixture too - so pre-season friendlies don't count either.
Entrance to The Hive Concentration Camp Complex.
Personally - I think it's really whatever you want it to be, if you even give a shit. No-one else can judge you but yourself, so if you think a rugby game counts, then that's your call.

But shame on you if you do, all the same.

Suitably moistened, it was time to head to the ground just a few minutes' walk away from Canons Park across the training pitches of The Hive Complex.

The complex was opened in 2009 as Barnet's training facility and centre of excellence, built partially with Football Foundation money from land granted by the London Borough of Harrow.

It was never intended to host Barnet's first team, but following long-running disputes with the London Borough of Barnet to allow redevelopment of Underhill, Barnet chairman Anthony Kleanthous moved the club to The Hive following the end of the 2012-13 season.
The Hive. A Training Complex in a park.
The move was still initially meant to be temporary pending building a new stadium somewhere in their home Borough, but the Barnet fans I spoke to believed they'll be at The Hive for some time to come.

Rickety old Underhill is apparently still standing some miles East in Barnet itself, used currently by the London Broncos Rugby League team as their training ground. Personally I'd rather be re-visiting characterful yet dilapidated Underhill rather than the Lego kit-like temporary appearance of The Hive, but I seemed to be alone in this.
North Stand Terrace: Entry for Away Fans at The Hive.
One Barnet fan I spoke to pre-match said "You could eat your dinner off the toilets here - you couldn't do that at Underhill!". Well, I guess when I get to the stage that eating food from a toilet basin is top of my wish-list for a ground visit, The Hive will be up there.

Until that day though, I can do without grounds like this if I'm honest. Sure, it's neat and tidy, and the main (West) stand with its 2,700 orange seats could probably be described as a decent one a lot of grounds would be proud to have. And hey - they've got terraces you can stand on! Always a bonus.
Oxford Fans in the North Stand Terrace.
But the temporary feel of the tiny metallic North Stand Terrace that the Oxford fans were housed in really had a Mickey Mouse feel to it - especially during exuberant bouncing from the expectant away following - I thought my knees had given way but it was just the stand buckling beneath us. If a few others had joined me in the Canons Café for a gut-buster I don't think the stand would have held.

The East Stand is basically the back of the main gym and office complex, with six rows of seats bolted on to the pitchside of it to make it look like part of a football ground.
East Stand, The Hive.
But hey, I'm clearly just peculiar, as most Oxford fans I spoke to seemed to not mind it, and with planning permission already granted to extend the North Terrace to a 2,000 all-seater, it looks like Barnet are planning on hanging around here for a while.

Onto the game itself, and despite Oxford's position second in the table and sparkling away form, it wasn't going to be a walkover - Martin Allen's teams always seem a struggle to play football against and their home form is second only to runaway leaders Northampton in League Two.
The Hive's West Stand, and a man dressed as a Bee.
Sure enough - it was a real physical battle in the 1st half and Barnet rattled the Oxford defence with aerial threats for the first 45 minutes. There were a lot of nervy fans in the away end that were thinking Oxford may struggle to get anything out of this game.

In the end, Oxford's class did tell and once nerves were settled by Callum O'Dowda's first goal as he was quickest to react to a loose ball in the area, Oxford took charge of the game. Barnet's early dominance had been subdued by a classy and dominant performance in the 2nd half.
Barnet Pressure in the First Half.
The 0-3 scoreline was probably a little unfair on Barnet in the end, and it's easy to see why Martin Allen has built a bit of a fortress out of this former training complex turned Football League ground.

Sitting in mid-table now, Barnet are sticking around in the Football League for another season at the very least, and I'd wager a few more than that too - so visiting The Hive will be a regular destination on the 92 Club route for a few years yet.
Oxford Players Celebrate a Goal with their Fans. South Stand Terrace behind.
It may not be for everyone, but it isn't the worst experience of the 92, and I suppose being able to eat food off a toilet is a plus point of sorts, isn't it?

For me, it was no. 91 and now it's onto Colchester - the town of my birth - next Friday to complete my 25-year journey since I started my Football League odyssey as a 12 year old. I simply cannot wait.

With thanks to Steve Long (@BeSteveL)

NEXT UP - THE FINISHING LINE! No.92: Colchester United Fri 25th March!