Barnet Football Club



Four Managerial Changes in One Season… Tony Kleanthous speaks to the fans

The season started with optimism. I had invested heavily on refreshing the squad, making a series of signings the previous January and in the Summer in order to give a real push for promotion and achieve my ambition of getting to League One. The youth players at the club had already started to show some potential and my appointment of Rossi Eames as Head Coach seemed to go down well with supporters and players alike, so everything looked promising. A good pre-season meant there was an air of optimism and after a great performance and 4-1 away win at Swindon we seemed set for a real push up the League, what could go wrong…

A few short weeks later we were sliding down the table, the team decimated by injuries. We were live on the TV versus Coventry City and Sky put up a list of nine players that could not make the starting line-up, all were usual starters, the situation was bad. However, a few weeks later players were starting to come back to fitness and surely things would pick up but no matter who was playing the results just wouldn’t turn. Yes, we still had some players out injured but the team that was starting should have got better results and we were constantly conceding late goals, which was infuriating.

I remember walking in the coffee shop on a Monday after yet another defeat and coming across Jamal who was going up to the gym, I pulled him to one side and asked what he felt was going wrong and he said to me “we are all trying Chairman, but with all these injuries it’s been hard”.

Jamal was an honest lad and at that point, I realised that things were worse than I thought and even the players were using the injuries as an excuse. I still had faith in Rossi as a Coach so started to think of how I could help him by bringing more experience to the backroom team.

I mentioned this to a couple of agents and Mark McGhee was put forward as a possible candidate, having just stepped down from assisting with the Scottish national team. I knew Mark from his days at Millwall and we met up with his agent at a London hotel the Sunday after losing to Colchester, yet another home defeat. With nearly a thousand League games under his belt, there was no doubting his experience and knowledge of the game and having worked under Alex Ferguson, he knew a thing or two about forming a winning mentality.

We talked about the facilities at Barnet, the investment in the team both on and off the field and the foundations that were in place. I told him that we had a good Coach and wanted someone to work with him to get the best out of our players and also look at all the technical aspects of the club to see where it was going wrong. He called our set up a “project” that he felt he could help shape in order to get us doing as well on the field as off it, so he agreed to join the Club, initially as a Football Consultant as neither of us liked the cursed title, Director of Football.

My plan quickly fell to pieces when I unveiled Mark as a new member of the management team to James, Rossi and our coach Alex Armstrong. Within moments Rossi announced he was standing down, unbeknown to me his father had received abuse at our cup match away to Blackburn Rovers and that was a line in the sand for him, he was not going to change his mind. There was no time to look for someone new so I turned to Mark and asked if he would step up and help out in the short term. He was a trooper and immediately agreed although this was quite a commitment bearing in mind he was travelling in from Brighton each day. We quickly agreed on the deal and he got stuck into the role with gusto…

Rossi had been with me seven years and I didn’t want to lose him so I kept him on with the Youth section and after a few more bad results Mark let Alex go. He switched the team around but stubbornly the results did not improve with questions raised over the fitness of some of the players and the commitment of others. We were trying to find a long-term replacement for Rossi and James had already lined up three top managerial candidates but we were now rock bottom and the atmosphere had turned really sour. The job was starting to become a poison chalice and many thought it a risk to their careers so we were getting rejected. When you have been here as long as I have that’s hard to swallow, to me it’s the best Club on the planet but not everyone loves your baby the way you do and I was stunned at the difficulty in trying to land a high calibre successful coach.

By now the goodwill of supporters had been exhausted and rightly so. They all wanted to know what the hell was going on at their Club so in an effort to be transparent I did a Q and A but this just led to more division as every word was dissected and things read into replies that were not intended. The trouble is that so much goes on behind the scenes that you just cannot talk about so you try and keep the answers as vanilla as possible but fans are not stupid and they know when somethings not right in the background.

I knew Martin was available and we met for breakfast one morning. We always get along great, he is an interesting character but a man with a genuinely good heart and he cares about the Club. I should have given him the job there and then but at that time I was still thinking we could make the playoffs and he was trying to convince me we were going to be fighting relegation. With hindsight he was right and I was in cuckoo land but as always when it comes to all things Barnet, I struggle to accept anything negative and my enthusiasm gets the better of me, I should have listened to him.

I soldiered on trying to think of a solution and had a chat with Barry Fry who immediately recommended Graham Westley. I knew our supporters would not take to Graham as he had managed our local rivals but I had known him a long time and he always came across to me as thoughtful and committed. I also called Paul Fairclough, who is always there to lend a helping hand, for his views on our position. He immediately identified the need for a high impact manager so I ran the idea of appointing Graham by him. He echoed my sentiment regarding the fans response and we talked about other possibilities but I was left to conclude that Graham was the best available choice.

By now results had fallen off a cliff and we needed to make a quick change, before the transfer window closed. I didn’t tell Mark of my views on Graham but instead asked him to talk to him and form his own view of whether he would be the right person to take over. Within a day or two Mark came back and reported that he believed he was the right man for the job and wanted to appoint him, this echoed my own view. We met early one morning, agreed the deal and made the announcement. Here we go again…

The reaction was immediate and strong, this was not a popular appointment although some would give him the benefit of the doubt for at least a few games. Of course, if we win you’re a hero and if we lose you’re a villain, we kept losing so by now I was very much the villain. To a certain extent, I can understand some of the upset and abuse but have to say I am just staggered by the rubbish and lies on social media that is fed to our supporters and how some people get away with so many defamatory comments. By all means blame me for the bad managerial appointments but I do not get involved with the team selection or recruitment, we have great relations throughout football, this is not a master plan to be a National League team and no one has run away with any money in fact we have invested more in the playing squad than ever before…..we are having a bad season and that’s the bottom line. I find it hard to believe that anyone really thinks I would ask a coach to sign a mediocre or injury prone player, it’s just what sometimes happens in football, mistakes are made and they are costly!

In fairness to Graham, he has been absolutely great to work with and the team ethic has definitely improved under him, who knows, if I had made the appointment at the start of the season we could well have been going for that promotion today. However, statically no one has achieved even a one point per game return and that means relegation so after two successive poor home performances and with the season running out, I had to go for one last throw of the dice.

This meant turning to the only man I know who can hopefully restore some belief and get the wins we need to salvage our League status. Sitting on my hands and doing nothing was not an option so here we are again, another Monday another manager, Martin is back. His remit is simple, clear the decks, get everyone focussed and win matches!!!!!

I am writing to you first thing on Monday morning because you all need an explanation and you deserve to know what’s been going on.

We can have the post-mortem at the end of the season when we can all take stock but for now, I urge you to get behind the boys the way only you can. It really makes a difference when you’re vocal so I hope the issues that have dogged us this campaign can be put behind us for a couple of months and we all can just support the Club we all love.

Come on you Bees!!!