I know days spent at League Two fixtures are usually thick with existential metaphors, but on this particular outing the air was positively laden with them.
The Hive is a short walk from Canon’s Park tube station, the penultimate stop at the northern end of the Jubilee Line. Approaching from the south, the journey was ripe for a detour to a top notch café for some worldie coffee. Quite frankly, my experiences this season have left a deep rooted distrust regarding high end coffee options in the vicinity of football stadiums. Taking this opportunity, then, was a must.
I set out early on a wonderful spring day with the intention of visiting Kaffeine in Fitzrovia. From there, a walk in the sunshine to Baker Street would take me onward to this mouthwatering fixture.
Immediately out of the gate, a cancelled London Bridge train forced me on to a Blackfriars alternative. These trains crawl at the best of times, but when the reason for the cancellation was at East Croydon and trains were bottlenecking to get through on both sides, a relatively short journey tripled in length.
Alighting at Baker Street tube station, I was left with a Sophie’s Choice predicament: grab a lunch of sustenance, or make the longer walk for quality coffee. There simply wasn’t time for both. With bile rising in my throat, I chose the former. Remember this story the next time you criticise a mob of rampaging football hooligans. The majority are morons, yes, but you can never be sure if some of them have just had the possibility of a fine artisanal coffee pulled out from under their nose. I was about ready to set fire to some bins and smash a bus window, but the wholemeal, steak and pinto bean burrito I picked up eased me somewhat. The usual high street dross was there before me; Starbucks, Costa and Pret were all shunned for the more humble Eat. In all honesty, it was a decent cup. Flat white.
You can’t always get what you want. I already knew that. Dad says as much whenever he asks if I’ve got a vein on my bicep yet before showing me his on a shirtless flex.
Things took a turn for the better when I saw that Barnet had had the foresight to decorate the bar tucked beneath the away stand in a minimalist theme. Leaning heavily on Shoreditch hipster vibes, it was all unpainted walls, exposed wires, and ceilings without, well, ceilings. The taps in the toilets even had warm water. Sadly, however, there was a sign attached to an adjoining stand advertising the availability of Starbucks. Almost immediately, my counterculture, underground football haven had been swallowed up by rampant capitalism.
The remainder of the stadium is functional. The West Stand is the largest of all, and of a similar height to the North Stand in which I was sat. The South Terrace behind the opposing goal barely broke above the crossbar and the East Stand is more akin to a few rows of seats tacked on to the back of a warehouse. It soon became apparent that the players’ tunnel was little more than a double-doored fire exit in the far corner of that selfsame warehouse.
Sadly, much like the planet Mercury, The Hive has no atmosphere. The fans in attendance give off the impression that they were merely walking by and thought I wonder what’s going on in there? There was no real centre of fans, no area of congregation for beer soaked geezers furious at life, no comical lower league ultras.
Crawley, however, have such figures to spare, notably a group of young lads, equal parts hammered, pilled off their nut, or just happy to be there. One of them was escorted out mere seconds after entering, for what, I don’t know. Hero. Those that remained didn’t know where to direct their abuse and so decided on a small congregation of rightly bemused fourteen year old (estimate) boys.
Inexplicably, these lads charged to the front of the stand when Crawley scored their first at the other end of the ground. One lad’s momentum sent him tumbling over the railing onto the pitch. He was duly escorted out, too. Hero.
The highlight of the first half was a spectacular overhead equaliser from Simeon Akinola entirely out of place in such surroundings. You know what they say, if Hristo Stoichkov had done that…
The most crushing of the metaphors doled out was saved for the second half. After Enzio Boldewijn restored Crawley’s lead, a spectacled young boy, surely only eight or nine, bedecked in a Crawley replica shirt, ran to the railing, reaching out his hands toward one of his idols. Boldewijn saw this, and tenderly embraced the young fan. Their connection, as fleeting as it was, could have been brushed in Botticellian strokes.
Then reality came storming up behind in the form of the rampaging lads, engulfing the poor boy in a crush at the railing. Boldewijn was there’s. Your phone is there’s, and your wallet. Your seat is there’s. The world is there’s. When they dispersed, the boy returned to his seat, dishevelled and dazed, his father patting him on the shoulder, grinning; it’ll only get worse from here, son.
During the melee one of the rampaging lads took a tumble down the stairs and damaged his wrist. He was escorted out by a first aider. Hero. He clapped the fans as he went, like a substituted legend soaking in the adulation of the crowd one final time.
Wanker!, came the bellow from the upper rows.
The remaining lads asked a steward to take a photo of them while the game played out before them. Flags were unfurled, arms stretched wide. A strong instagram game never wilts in the face of an actual game of football.
While potential filters were being mulled over, Barnet equalised in the 88th minute. Saturday was arm day for dad. Trains were fine going home.