The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

SO, it’s good­bye to Un­der­hill. And, let’s be fair, good rid­dance. Bar­net’s home of 106 years is a fan­tas­ti­cally at­mo­spheric old place, its ram­shackle stands and in­fa­mous slope evok­ing a by­gone era.

But that, sadly, is the prob­lem. Bar­net’s acad­emy, led by the im­pres­sive Paul Fair­clough, is cut­ting edge. They have a for­mer Dutch in­ter­na­tional in the dug-out, ex-Pre­mier League play­ers on the pitch.

Ev­ery­thing about the club is 21st cen­tury. Ev­ery­thing ex­cept Un­der­hill. It is a relic. Old, crum­bling, ex­posed to the ele­ments – a Non­League ground at a Football League club.

For years, Bar­net have strug­gled to meet ground­grad­ing cri­te­ria, fix­ing flood­lights, im­prov­ing seg­re­ga­tion, erect­ing ever more stands (they now have an in­cred­i­ble seven). But it al­ways felt like try­ing to save the Ti­tanic with a rusty bucket. Now they have a chance to fi­nally start afresh, to re­grow the club. Bar­net is home to some 40,000 peo­ple, yet only about 2,000 ever bother to watch their lo­cal team. Even if Arse­nal and Wat­ford are on the doorstep, that is a dis­mal turnout.

Poor crowds mean poor rev­enue. Poor rev­enue means a poor team which, with the limited ap­peal of a trip to Un­der­hill, keeps more peo­ple away and the club stag­nates. In each of the last three years they have sur­vived on the fi­nal day.

Yet if Bar­net can build a new ground (they will spend next sea­son at their Hive train­ing ground while look­ing for a site) it could change ev­ery­thing.

Just ask Brighton who, since build­ing the fab­u­lous Amex, have gone from League One strug­glers to a team chal­leng­ing for the Pre­mier League.

It is not just the num­ber of seats or the fa­cil­i­ties. It is about the feel-good fac­tor that comes with see­ing a club move in the right di­rec­tion. In­ter­est ig­nites. Fans bring a friend, or their kids. Play­ers want to be part of it.

Ob­vi­ously Bar­net aren’t Brighton. They may never reach the Cham­pi­onship play-offs. But they might get to stop fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion year af­ter year, which was the only prospect at crusty old Un­der­hill.

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