By Kevin Mooney
Over the years, Arsenal fans have been able to comfortably expect a few certain realities each season. Beautiful football. Advancing in the Champions League. The youth squad competing with the big boys in the Carling Cup. A well-publicized match with League Two power, Barnet FC.
Each year, Arsenal travels up the road to play Barnet at their home ground, Underhill Stadium. It has become the Club’s warm-up match ahead of their training camp each July. But how did an annual match between one of the world’s biggest clubs and a small team from one of London’s outer boroughs come to pass?
Arsenal and Barnet FC have developed a special relationship over the past several years. It is an association rooted in practicality. Arsène Wenger has always been known as a stickler for his teams playing on a high-quality pitch, and that is not limited to first-team matches.
Since regularly playing reserve matches at the cavernous Emirates Stadium is a bit unrealistic, finding a ‘home stadium’ for Neil Banfield’s squad became necessary. The combination of location, a capacity of around 5,500 and a playing surface that meets with Wenger’s incredibly high standards made Barnet’s Underhill Stadium a perfect fit.
But there is one quirk. Despite the quality of the pitch, Underhill is famous for a rather wicked north-south slope. When Barnet re-joined the Football League in 2006, the League had to change its standards on the maximum slope allowed to accommodate the entrance of the Bees into Division Two.
According to Barnet’s official website, “It is said that on a windy or rainy day in years gone by it was imperative to win the toss and play up the hill in the first half or suffer the consequences late in the game.”
Underhill’s slope aside, the reasons Barnet’s home has been a great fit for Arsenal’s reserve side also make The Bees an ideal partner for a warm-up match to each new season. The fixture has even developed into a much-anticipated match for both sets of fans as an unofficial end to the off-season. In recent years, the match has also given fans a chance to catch the Arsenal debuts of players like Aaron Ramsey and Thomas Vermaelen.
But don’t think this match is always a cakewalk for the bigger club.
Last season, Arsenal conceded a goal late in the second half to hand a draw to the home side. And in 2008, Barnet looked for a shock upset by taking the lead in the first half. It wasn’t until halfway through the second that Arsenal equalized and then eventually won 2-1.
Arsenal takes on Barnet FC at Underhill Stadium July 17th at 10am ET and you can watch a live video stream of the game on Arsenal TV Online.Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 12 Jul 2010