Barnet v Brentford

Barnet v Brentford – 28 January 2018

It’s not unusual to see flashing lights hovering in the faint orange sky of London at night. They are usually planes in the distance or occasionally a police helicopter. As I weaved along the thin concrete path that dissects Barnet FC’s training pitches there was an unfamiliar light in the sky. It remained steady in one place over the ground. Appropriately, for the occasion it buzzed as it’s controller held it in place while it filmed the arriving fans, also humming with excitement, from above. The drone and the fans below it were all anxiously awaiting the ‘Battle of the Bees’ as Barnet welcomed Brentford in the last FA Cup Fourth Round fixture of the weekend.

The swarms were largely located outside of the Hive before the game as fans of both sides searched for the various entrances to the ground’s bars. The competition’s organisers were once again maintaining the inconsistency of the draw for the next round. Tonight it was happening just before kick-off. Phones were checked and screens were surrounded as it was announced the winners would have a trip to Swansea in February as their prize.

Score: 3-3
Competition: FA Cup Fourth Round
Ground: The Hive
Attendance: 6,215 (ground record)
Ticket: £15
Programme: £5!?
Refreshments: N/A
Dogs spotted? No just Bees

How did they get here?

My decision to attend this game was largely due to Barnet being the last non-league club left in the cup. It was an excellent achievement considering last season no sides from outside of the Football League made it past the Second Round. Barnet are currently 17th in the National League, having a mixed season following their relegation from League Two last season. They’ve enjoyed some cup success this season meaning they have four or five games in hand and an opportunity to push up towards the playoff places.

John Still was in charge of the side earlier in the season as the North London Bees started their FA Cup adventure in the Fourth Qualifying Round against fellow National League club Braintree Town. The Essex side were promoted from the National League South last season. They were no match for a side that had been playing two levels above them a few months previous. Barnet won 4-2 and earned a First Round tie with League One Bristol Rovers. Barnet produced the first upset of their cup run with a 1-1 home draw before sensationally beating Rovers 2-1 on their home ground.

Barnet v Brentford
Barnet have an early corner

Barnet then faced fellow non-league side Stockport County, from the National League North, in the Second Round. They returned from the North West with a 1-0 win. They now had the chance to draw a big club in the Third Round. Their reward was another away trip, to Championship high-flyers Sheffield United. On a day of shocks, Barnet overcame the side three levels higher than them with a 1-0 victory. The Bees run to the Fourth Round equals their best ever cup performance. They made it to the same stage twice in successive seasons in 2007 and 2008.

Brentford’s run to the Fourth Round has been somewhat easier. The West London Bees entered the cup at the Third Round stage with a 1-0 home victory over League One Oxford United. Brentford’s previous best run the cup has been several trips to the Quarter Final stage. The most recent of which was in 1989 when they were knocked out by Liverpool.

My previous Barnet games

Only one ‘Bees’ in London

The two London ‘Bees’ have previously only met once before in the FA Cup. Brentford were victorious in a 3-1 win on that occasion. Barnet have only ever beaten their nickname-sakes once, a 6-3 Autoglass Trophy victory in 1991. It seemed the odds were stacked against the non-league side but a record crowd crammed into the Hive to get behind them. The home terrace filled up early while the rest of the crowds, enjoying the bars, swarmed out into the stands as the game kicked off.

The crowd, on average, was young. The club has clearly done a good job tapping into the community. Plenty of vocal teens were out to support their local club, some clearly sharing their love of Barnet with one of London’s Premier League big boys. Youngsters in Chelsea scarves and Spurs hats joined together to stamp their feet in the main stand and goad the away fans with chants of ‘only one Bees in London’.

Brentford are currently 18th in the Championship, 13 places below Sheffield United who had come unstuck against the non-leaguers in the last round. They showed their class, however, in the opening exchanges and were able to create several openings. Barbet had a header against one post while Odubajo saw his superb curling shot rebound off the other. A couple of well-timed tackles from home crowd favourite Dan Sweeney were also required to deny the visitors.

Brentford struck, however, five minutes before halftime as Olly Watkins picked up the ball midway between the centre circle and the box. He quickly got the ball under control and then unleashed a fiercely accurate drive into the bottom corner. Coulthirst had a couple of openings just after but the home side were unable to apply the finish.

Barnet v Brentford
Home fans celebrate a Barnet goal

After the break, Barnet looked unfazed by the scoreline. The crowd were still right behind them. Their support was soon rewarded. Mason-Clarke stormed down the right-hand side. His cross found Coulthirst who was able to poke home the equaliser. The crowd went wild and North London teens streamed down the aisles onto the concourses next to the pitch to celebrate. They were barely back in their seats when Coulthirst had them up again. He fired home a loose ball to give Barnet the lead.

The home side had turned the game on its head in the space of a few minutes, but Brentford still had plenty of threat. It was a piece of skullduggery, though, that got them back into the game. What appeared on the night to be a soft penalty was later revealed to be a clear dive. Maupay stepped up, however, to level the game from the spot. Brentford then looked like they’d won the tie with a goal of real quality. Canos got on the end of a clever passing move, danced into the box and finished with composure.

The visiting fans were now hailing themselves as the capital’s only honey-making, flower-pollinating insects. There was still more to come, though, as Barnet were awarded a free-kick within shooting range. Up stepped Sparkes, who came to the club along with John Still from Dagenham & Redbridge in the summer. He curled in a sublime free-kick to send the game to a replay.

Celebrations continued around the ground as both sides came away with something from the game. They’ll hope for a repeat of this excellent game in West London in a week’s time. Barnet showed off all that is great about the non-league game with an excellent crowd and a superb performance. Another clear sign that the magic of the cup is there is you’re willing to swap the sofa for the turnstile.