Football in Barnet can be traced back to the formation of the original Barnet FC in 1888, who plied their trade in the London League until folding in 1902. Local rivals Avenue FC subsequently took over their name and their Queens Road ground before merging in 1912 with near-neighbours Barnet Alston, a works team playing in a distinctive black and amber kit and who, in September 1907, established a ground at Underhill where the current club still plays.
Founder members of the Athenian League, Barnet & Alston reverted to the name Barnet FC after the First World War and enjoyed moderate success, finishing outside the top half just once in the 1920s and recording a Herts Senior Cup triumph over St. Albans City during the same period.
The emergence of local boy Lester Finch at outside-left coincided with consecutive Athenian League championships in 1931 and 1932, the first seeing Barnet win all but four of their twenty-six matches. Finch went on to become the greatest amateur player to feature for the Bees, an England wartime international cap alongside the likes of Eddie Hapgood, Sam Bartram and Stan Cullis testament to his ability.
Although the Second World War curtailed competition to regional Cups, of which Barnet won more than their fair share, the resumption of the League in 1945-46 saw three major trophies find their way to Underhill in consecutive years; two more League championships in 1947 & 1948 and a 3-2 win over amateur giants Bishop Auckland at Stamford Bridge in the 1946 FA Amateur Cup final, the Bees also losing to Leytonstone in the Final of the same competition two years later. Barnet were also featured in the BBC’s first ever ‘live’ televised game in October 1946 against Wealdstone and also became the first English club to play Hong Kong opposition, beating the League winners 5-3 the following year.
Success eluded the Bees throughout most of the following decade, although another Athenian League title in 1959 dulled the pain of Wembley Final defeat against Crook Town in the Amateur Cup the same season. Two further consecutive League successes in 1964 & 1965, plus a narrow 3rd Round FA Cup defeat to Preston North End, were the catalyst for the Bees to turn professional, which they did when joining the Southern League First Division in time for the 1965-66 season. A 10-1 rout of Hinckley Athletic at Underhill in Barnet’s first game whetted the appetite for a third successive League title, and elevation to the Southern League Premier Division at the first attempt.
Another Wembley Final in 1972, a 3-0 defeat to Stafford Rangers in the newly-created FA Trophy, and an epic Cup battle with Queen’s Park Rangers the following season proved to be the highlight of a quiet decade that saw the likes of Bob McNab, Terry Mancini and the mercurial Jimmy Greaves appears for the Bees. Barnet became founder members of the Alliance Premier League (later re-named the Conference) in 1979-80 but new manager Barry Fry’s attempts to re-build the team saw the Bees flirt with relegation almost constantly during the early part of the decade.
Saved from receivership the club persuaded Fry to return to the Bees from rivals Maidstone for what proved to be a tumultuous ten years at Underhill. After finishing runners-up three out of the previous four seasons Fry finally led Barnet to the Football League after a dramatic 4-2 final game win at Fisher Athletic. The Bees’ maiden season began with an extraordinary 7-4 home defeat to Crewe Alexandra and ended in play-off heartache, losing to Blackpool over two games that Barnet dominated. Promotion to the third tier was achieved the following season but, following off-field turmoil which saw the club escape expulsion and lose virtually the whole playing staff, new manager Gary Phillips was unable to prevent the inevitable relegation back.
Under Ray Clemence and John Still the Bees quietly established themselves in the fourth tier, twice making the play-offs, before being relegated to the Conference in May 2001 following a dramatic 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Torquay, who saved themselves in the process. Barnet’s stay in the Conference was short-lived however as, following play-off misery at Shrewsbury in 2004, Paul Fairclough’s first full season as manager saw the Bees win the title at a canter, securing their League place after a 3-1 home win over Halifax.
Firmly established back in League Two, and with two consecutive F.A. Cup 4th Round appearances enhancing the Bees’ reputation, Fairclough’s continuing success at developing raw talent, often plucked from non-league, for the black-and-amber cause ensures that Barnet’s small but vociferous fan base are ever optimistic for future on-field success. Last season saw the Bees finish in the top half of the table, in 12th place.
The 2008-09 season started poorly for the club and it wasn’t until late September before the team recorded its first victory in any competition. Manager Paul Fairclough subsequently brought forward his announcement to step aside and become a club director with special responsibility for a training ground complex that will help develop young players, in favour of Ian Hendon who took charge of the first team. Ian subsequently was awarded the manager’s job and successfully steered the club comfortably away from any relegation fears.
In 2009-10 Barnet at one stage deservedly topped the League 2 table but after a series of poor results League status was only guaranteed on the last day of the season under re-installed caretaker boss Paul Fairclough who took charge for the last two games of the campaign. This season also saw the launch of The Hive, a state of the art training facility, which was opened by England manager Fabio Capello.
The 2010-11 season saw Mark Stimson newly installed as manager. After a busy close season in which many new faces were brought to the club hopes were high at the start of the campaign. However serious long term-injuries to several key players thwarted Barnet’s ambitions to start the season well and just into 2011 Stimson’s contract was terminated with Paul Fairclough taking over once more, this time in the capacity as Temporary Manager. With just eight games remaining of the season Martin Allen was asked to return to the club as Manager and he was able to inspire the Bees in his first game in charge to a creditable 2-2 draw against table-topping Chesterfield after Barnet at one stage were two goals down.
Allen stayed for just three matches before he moved in somewhat controversial circumstances to League 1 Notts County, themselves also in relegation difficulties. Under Allen, Barnet secured seven out of nine points and a resurgence had begun. Giuliano Grazioli and ex-Fulham boss Lawrie Sanchez then steadied the ship and secured some vital victories in the remaining matches to secure League 2 survival. The former Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez was then appointed as Manager in the summer of 2011 with Grazioli named as Assistant Manager.
Lawrie Sanchez however would not be at the helm come the end of the following season. In a disappointing campaign the Bees were always encamped at the lower end of the League 2 table and although there were a number of good displays in cup competitions, notably reaching the regional final of the Johnstones’ Paint Trophy, consistency was hard to come by. Sanchez was relieved of his duties with three matches remaining with Martin Allen again being called up to mastermind a points gathering operation. Barnet needed a victory on the last day of the campaign and duly won at Burton Albion to escape the drop; Allen had again accumulated seven points out of a possible nine; he would move to Gillingham in the summer where he would lead the Gills to the League 2 title the following season.
In the close season of 2012 the entire backroom staff at the club was released as the club entered a new era with a Director of Football being appointed in Paul Fairclough with Mark Robson assuming the role of Head Coach with the emphasis very much on youth. Many of the previous season’s players were also released; including skipper Mark Hughes who had scored the winning goal at Burton as the club’s recruitment policy focussed very much on youth.
In mid-October with the team yet to record a victory in any competition the world-famous Dutch international Edgar Davids was appointed as Joint Head Coach with Mark Robson. This appointment stunned the football fraternity and attracted world-wide media coverage for the club.
Davids became a fixture in the team and soon took sole charge of team matters. Despite many impressive results, including an away win at Gillingham, the eventual champions of League 2, a defeat on the final day of the season saw the Bees relegated to the Conference on goal difference; the poor start to the campaign proving to be an impossible handicap to overcome.
The club also said farewell to Underhill, the club’s home for over a 100 years. In an emotional match – the last but one of the season - the club managed to record a 1-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers and hopes were high that relegation could be again be avoided. However on the last day of the season a defeat at the hands of play-off seeking Northampton Town and with results elsewhere conspiring against the Bees Barnet were relegated.
Despite the obvious disappointment of relegation, with the club moving to a new ground – The Hive – there remains a mood of optimism at the club, boosted by the fact that Davids would again be at the helm for the Bees for the 2013-14 season.