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Kisses, alcopops and relief flow as Barnet live for another league day

"Whatever happens at full time please can everyone stay off the pitch," implored the stadium announcer.

Kisses, alcopops and relief flow as Barnet live for another league day But as Barnet secured a 1-0 win against Port Vale to stay in the Football League a small corner of north London stormed Underhill's sloping green. Men kissed women, men kissed men, even the police officers got a peck as shirts came off and Barnet's heroes were hoisted into the air.

Giuliani Grazioli – Barnet legend and the man who inadvertently became the club's fourth manager of the season five games ago when Martin Allen unexpectedly quit after 19 days in charge – was swarmed by adoring fans.

Relief, happiness and a large dazed grin washed over him as he tried to describe the feeling of engineering Barnet's great escape. "Being here as a player and winning promotion was amazing," said the striker who scored 29 goals in 2005 to win Barnet promotion to the league, "but this surpasses everything. That may sound strange to some people but as a player you rely on yourself whereas today I had to rely on the 11 out there and the subs.

"Yes I'm getting the acclaim at the front, but I've not done anything, I've not been the one who stepped over the line. I've tried to keep it calm and cool but deep down inside I've been struggling."

"I've got to thank Aldershot," he added cheekily, of the side that beat Lincoln 3-0 to put Barnet's fate into their own hands, "but I knew my boys would put a performance in."

The result would affect many more than just those living in this leafy part of north London. Flags from around the world adorn the Village Shop that sells Barnet memorabilia next to the stadium, a veritable Bees' diaspora. But why would people from Sweden or Japan support Barnet? "Well, why not?" came the indignant shopkeeper's reply.

Before kick-off there was a tangible air of nervous anticipation around the ground. Barnet had been here before, having survived relegation on the final day of the season last year. Supporters gathered sipping beers on the grass in front of the Pavilion, anxiously waiting for the match to start. "I feel sick," said one.

In the tiny players' lounge an injured Steve Kabba, the former Sheffield United striker, gripped the bar and looked miserable. "I just wish I was out there playing," he said. If omens were anything to go by the game did not start well with Mr Bumble, the Bees' mascot, accidentally stamping on former £1m striker Izale McLeod's foot. The ex-Charlton player hopped away in pain.

Certainly it was an uphill struggle in the first half – but then it always is at Underhill's extreme sloping pitch. There were chances apiece for McLeod, Mark Byrne, Daniel Leach and Mark Marshall but none would go in. From the dugout Grazioli and Lawrie Sanchez – the former Fulham manager and Barnet's football consultant – looked on, hands nervously poised to their mouths, twitching, fiddling, shouting advice. Every chance was met with a rake of the hair and an "Ohh!" from the crowd. But while the attempts rained in on Port Vale's goal, and the visitors barely reciprocated, come half-time the scores in the relegation deciders read 0-0.

One minute into the second half and McLeod was brought down by Gareth Owen for a penalty. Barnet's leading scorer stepped up to take the kick and netted to ecstatic applause.

In the stands nervous fans didn't know where to look, their attention flickering between the action on the pitch and the score at Sincil Bank. With half an hour to go news slowly worked its way around the ground, Lincoln – who had taken just one point in nine games – had given away a penalty. Another goal came to tie things up for Aldershot, but there were hearts in mouths at Underhill as the Port Vale captain, Marc Richards, came close to scoring.

Barnet, try as they might, could not increase their lead and with six minutes of injury time announced an agonising wait ensued for the final whistle, as the Barnet bench complete with reserves and injured players looked on.

The roar at full-time was incredible, and delirium ensued. "We love you Graz!" shouted the crowd while the players celebrated with ciders and alcopops. At this end of the league champagne does not flow, even in moments such as these, a cool reminder of just how much was financially – let alone emotionally – at stake for Barnet over this result.

In pictures: Tom Jenkins at Underhill

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Anna Kessel at Underhill Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 7th May 2011 20.33 Europe/London

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