Underhill stadium, the former home ground of Barnet FC, is about to be sold and one of the proposals being sounded out with the planners is that it could become the site of a new free school.
Back2Barnet campaigners hope that some of the money freed up by sale of the site might be allocated by the club’s chairman Tony Kleanthous towards the cost of building a new local stadium.
Barnet FC played its last game at Underhill in April 2013 and has moved to the Hive Football Centre in Camrose Avenue, Edgware, because Barnet Council made no move towards resolving a disagreement over a possible lease for the additional land required for expansion.
But in recent weeks, in another hopeful sign, the council has given permission for a nearby Green Belt open space, bordering Dollis Brook, to be fenced off for use as a football ground by the Hadley Wood Sports Trust.
Back2Barnet’s campaign director Gerry Bates says these two developments have spurred on their efforts to get the “Bees back to Barnet, where they belong”.
Fund-raising is being stepped up in the hope of securing sufficient money for an application to be made for planning permission for a new football ground on the former playing field of Barnet Cricket Club, which is next door to the Underhill car park – the land that was previously at the centre of the long-running dispute between Barnet Council and Mr Kleanthous.
“If Barnet Council can now give Hadley Wood Sports Trust permission to fence off what was once the Old Stationers Football Ground and what has been an open space for the last seven years, then perhaps the planners will now look more kindly on our application,” said Mr Bates.
“Hadley Wood FC is now planning three new pitches within a few hundred yards of Underhill but in 2006 Barnet FC failed to get permission for a replacement stadium at Underhill and that dispute culminated in the move to the Hive.
“We always knew that the chairman Tony Kleanthous intended to sell the site of the Underhill stadium and we now understand it could become the site of a new free school.
Bees back to Barnet, where they belong
“The chairman made it clear at the time that any funds from the sale of Underhill would be used to pay off the club’s overheads but that any remaining funds would be put aside for a new stadium back in Barnet.
“So our aim is to raise awareness to the possibilities that are opening up and do all we can to build on the fund of good will that local supporters still have for the possibility of getting the Bees back to Barnet.”
Mr Cooper has been a committed supporter since his schooldays. “My first home game at Underhill was in 1965. I walked along Mays Lane with my father and I have only missed six or seven home games since 1968.
“But that’s the problem with the move to the Hive.
Local dads aren’t prepared to take their kids all the way to Edgware. It’s very sad but I would estimate that we have easily lost 400 to 500 local supporters who no longer turn up for home games.
“We know how strongly local football enthusiasts feel about the loss of their professional team after over a century playing at Underhill.
“It is such a shame. Barnet are now top of the Vanarama Conference League, eight points clear, and we could win promotion to Division Three of the Football League, so we are not going to give up now.”
Mr Bates hopes the prospect of promotion might help their campaign.
“Barnet have only a ten-year lease at the Hive from Harrow Council and there is no provision at the Hive for the club to play at the higher ground standards required by the Football Association, which makes it all the more important that the chairman plans for a return to Barnet.
“Even if Barnet did have to be saved by Harrow Council several years ago because of the row with Barnet Council we will go on supporting the club, and we realise that if the opportunity arises to get the Bees back they will need to be in a good financial position.”