There’s a certain age you have to be in order to recognise Barnet as traditional rivals. Id say it is between 38 and 41, or thereabouts. If you’re that age then most likely your first matches were the GMVC season and, if that was when you first got introduced to the Imps, you’ll know that is when our paths first crossed.
The opening game of that season we visited Barnet, a cruel twist of the knife from the fixture lists as Barry Fry’s side were favourites to go up. We still had half a squad and we’re soundly beaten 4-2. The reverse match took place just a few months later, a fiery encounter in which Barry Fry was escorted from the pitch by police. You all remember it, for a fresh-faced little boy like me it was my first glimpse of real passion. In the absence of Grimsby matches and before both Boston games, Barnet became our rivals. We pushed them hard all season and ended up being promoted after overtaking them with one game to spare. A couple of season’s later, they came up and beat us 6-0 at Sincil Bank with the prolific Gary Bull amongst the goals. Whilst that game was a hard one to take, the pain convinced me that having a second top-flight team to support was pointless. Only Lincoln mattered and only Lincoln have mattered ever since (to the pupils of Mrs Miller’s class who I’m told wait for an email from Gary Hutchinson every day, there’s a lesson there. If you’re an Imp, you’re an Imp. Forget the Premier League.)
We always l talk about the times they’ve ‘done us over’, most notably 2010/11 when they survived on the last day over us, but in 2000/01 we did similar to them. Early in the season we surrendered a 3-0 lead after 24 minutes, losing 4-3. By April 2001 the two of us were locked in a relegation battle but Peter Gain and Tony Battersby ensured we stayed up thanks to a 2-0 win. Weeks later, Barnet were relegated.
Yes, in my eyes Barnet have always been there, they’re not the new breed of clubs to emerge from the trapdoor the Football League opened in 1987, in my immediate Lincoln City history those amber shirts have been a constant thorn in our side. Tomorrow will be no different, in truth this season has been no different. Back in September (pictured top) we were 1-0 up after seven minutes and should have been five up at half time, but they were sensational in the second period and unlucky not to draw level. This, just days after Simeon Akinola’s transfer had fallen through, another dubious link between our two clubs.
History means everything and nothing in the same instance. There’s a reason the club have reduced the historical stuff in the new programme, because they believe it is all about the here and now. Sure, professors of Imps culture can sit around discussing Peter Gain or Dick Kryzwicki as long as we want, but nothing that has happened before January 20th 2018 will affect tomorrow’s result. Barnet are bottom, but that means little when a new manager comes in and takes over. League position often means nothing at all, football isn’t about league positions until May. Tomorrow is about eleven players and in John Akinde, Barnet have possibly one of the best centre-forwards in this division, bottom or not.
I’m a big fan of the prediction model created by www.footstats.com, although I do always take the outcomes with a pinch of salt. Based on the various parameters they use, they believe a 1-1 draw is most likely tomorrow. I’m moving towards a draw also, not because of some stats programme but because of the new manager’s influence. Graham Westley isn’t a particularly liked man in football and last season he all-but relegated Newport before Michael Flynn saved them. However, he did take Stevenage through the divisions and he knows what is needed to survive. Newport isn’t an easy place to attract players, but at Barnet he should have a pick of non-league and higher level talent who want to remain in the capital. Underestimate this man at your peril and expect a tough game tomorrow.
In terms of team selection, Danny has one of his first real headaches of the second Frecklington era. He’ll want to accommodate Freck, Bozzie, Woodyard and probably Wilson too, but who loses out? Jordan Williams and Danny Rowe were both superb against Notts County, but surely Harry Anderson, our own bull in a china shop, won’t be left on the bench? Where do you squeeze these players in, which ones will miss out? Or, to put it another way, which ones will Barnet have to be wary of coming on after seventy minutes fresh legged and full of direct running?
When on our travels, statistics still tell us we’re most likely to concede in the first half and score in the second, but this is the Lincoln of old, the pre-transfer window side. we’ve evolved so much in the last few weeks that the stats, unreliable at the best of time, are completely irrelevant now. Tomorrow isn’t about anything that has happened before, it’s a new day, a new dawn and one we should relish. If we played as we did against Notts County and Barnet do not see an improvement under Westley then we might just edge it. We do have one other weapon on our side.
Tomorrow could feel very much like a home game. Barnet isn’t that far down the A1 and it seems 1,900 agree. I’m not sure there’s any more superlatives to coat our support base with, 1,900 fans travelling away in the middle of January is just surreal. Barnet’s average attendance is 2,000, if we suppose 200 of those are travelling supporters each game, we’ll outnumber their fans. In their own ground. This isn’t North Ferriby, this isn’t non-league, this is a Football League club taking more fans to a match than their hosts. Sure, it’s been done before but it reflects on the incredible journey we’re on.
Danny said it himself, why would anyone get off the Lincoln Loco when it is travelling this fast? He’s committed to this fantastic club, just as Nicky is and just as our fans are. I’ll be there, I can’t wait and the other 1,899 fans coming with me will feel the same. The form book might point one way, managerial change might favour Barnet, but nobody should under-estimate the power of nearly 2,000 fans invading a club and turning an away match into a home game. Sing proud, sing loud and let’s take a giant step toward League One together.
Thanks to Graham Burrell for the match photos