Rachel looks back at Barnet 2001
It was the best of days, it was the most nerve jangling of days. The trials and tribulations of being a Torquay United supporter were never more so embodied than on that warm sunny spring day in May 2001. It had been a season that found Torquay floundering at the wrong end of the Division 3 despite an impressive squad of players at a time when our Football League position, held since 1927, was proudly intact even if there had been a few close shaves with or without the help of the jaws of a police dog with relegation in the club’s history. Following an away defeat to Carlisle, chairman Mike Bateson’s patience had run out and Wes Saunders’ sacking saw the introduction of former player Colin Lee as interim manager with 9 games to protect the club’s ever present league status. The decision to change the coaching team had rendered 4 draws, 2 wins and 2 losses, including a morale bashing loss to neighbours Plymouth Argyle. So onto Barnet, 24th v 23rd, where Torquay only needed 1 point to secure safety, but a game Barnet needed to win.
Road works and detours had hampered an already lengthy journey to North London from Paignton, but with work colleague, friend and driver Martin as companion there was plenty merriment to pass the hours and calm the nerves. We arrived in good time, even finding an all day parking space in a local pub which we were soon to discover was a home supporters watering hole, framed and signed Barnet shirts, past and present players photos and a swelling number of Barnet fans. The atmosphere was friendly and we found ourselves an inglenook to sit in with a pint and a shandy respectively, talking through the ifs, buts and maybes of the game ahead. The importance of the match was not lost on either of us before a further pint (it may have been 2 more, the passages of time have blurred that bit!) and an orange juice set us up on our way for the short walk to the ground.
A stream of fans of both clubs were making their way and we veered toward the away end of Underhill Stadium which was a Meccano set of scaffolding with a sprawling sports playing field in the foreground and big oak trees to the right. The tension was rising together with the temperature in the glorious weather and although I’d given up smoking for the Millennium, an offer of a roll up was taken!
The game kicked off and Torquay were immediately on the front foot, attacking towards the away end of a ground that clearly had some history of subsidence, an early blow for Barnet with their keeper going off injured, and with tension came Torquay pressure and a piledriver of a goal from Jason Rees, then another wave of attacking intent saw the legendary Kevin Hill leap like the Magic Roundabout’s Zebedee to head home to double our advantage. A penalty save for Torquay compounded the euphoria and before we had a chance to settle the imperious David Graham made it 3 on the stroke of half time. Inevitable chants of “we are staying up……” rang around the shaky scaffold stand and fans unable to get into the ground perched on trees were waving their yellow and blue scarves as the belief spread to outside the ground where ticketless Torquay Utd fans were out in numbers.
The football cliché a game of 2 halves came into semblance as the 2nd half kicked off and Barnet on the charge, their tactic was get the ball to dangerman Darren Currie and it was 45 minutes of nerves, roll ups and cricks in necks as an aerial assault on Stuart Jones’ goal that finally reaped it’s reward with a Barnet goal attributed as an OG and the high balls into the box continued and there it was, a second goal for the now desperate home side after Torquay keeper Jones was clobbered and the loose ball found the back of the net. Heart stopping tension but a chance to put the game beyond any doubt fell to big John Gayle who against the run of play found the ball following a route one punt, but with time, space, one on one, he missed a sitter.
The tension was broken somewhat by the sight of a couple of streakers that prompted a Sid James Babs Windsor interchange between myself and Martin. Phnar met Phnar. Police intervention, nudity covered, delay over, and what lifetime guarantee on the ref’s watch finally prompted the final whistle. Dazed rapture, joyous scenes as what seemed like the whole of the away end on the Meccano stand, me and Martin included, were on the pitch running around like wild dervishes, embracing players, more reserved when the exalted Colin Lee approached fans grinning from ear to ear and over there too, high emotions that to this day in reminiscence can provoke a warm glow.
Finally the crowds dispersed, a scramble back to the Meccano stand, queues for the loos and the exit, the short stroll back to the pub car park, a minor skirmish breaking out outside the over ground tube station entrance that soon fizzled out, then homeward bound.
With diversions leading our journey through the capital for an extended sightseeing tour and with the low sun setting across the Thames iambically at the point we approached Waterloo bridge, that famous song about a burgeoning love affair will forever be associated with that incredible day, although with every respect to the wonderfully talented singer/songwriter, Torquay United are more in keeping with the Cathy Dennis version than The Kinks. A classic day, an epic song, a love affair that remains through and beyond the bittersweet of the proceeding years.