I came to work in London about 15 years ago and despite visiting lots of grounds and clubs in and around the M25 over the ensuing years, only one club really has gained my ‘support’ during this time, that is Hendon FC.
From my first visit to Claremont Road ( I think the season before the doors were locked and Hendon departed for the last time) in 2007, there was something about the club that held my attention and over the last ten years i have become a regular mid week supporter both home and away ( Saturday’s tend to take me elsewhere with the groundhopping).
They have been an eventful ten years, that have seen the club play ‘home’ games at many venues (Wembley FC, Harrow Borough FC, Staines Town & Northwood amongst those i remember) as Gary McCann put together teams year after year that battled against the odds and that kept Hendon as the longest serving members of the Isthmian (now Bostik) Premier division.
Last season, was probably one of the most enjoyable in all that time, as McCann put together an excellent side, full of attacking intent and goals, who reached the divisional play-off final, only to suffer the heartbreak of a penalty shoot out defeat away at Dulwich Hamlet.
Unfortunately as feared, the play-off failure led to the break up of an excellent team, including a fearsome forward line led by leading goalscorer Niko Muir who has made a goalscoring start to life in the National League this season with Hartlepool United. In fact, it became more than the loss of a few decent players, as the long serving manager Gary McCann also decided to move on to pastures new at Hampton & Richmond Borough and took a number of players with him.
When new boss Jimmy Gray was appointed in June 2018, he was in fact left with literally no players and a need to completely rebuild the playing side of the club just a few weeks before the 2018/19 campaign began. The pre-season friendly programme (of which i saw a few) saw a multitude of trialists and new faces come and go, as the new boss tried to find a squad that would give the club a chance of being competitive.
This task was made more difficult by off the field matters, as following the major restructure at Steps 3 & 4 of the non league pyramid, Hendon were switched to the Southern League Premier South, ending their 55 year stay in the top division of Isthmian League football. So 2018/19 sees the club embark on a new journey, with new players, a new manager and plenty of new grounds to visit.
Hence why i ended up watching Hendon on their opening Saturday of the season, with Frome Town’s quirky Badgers Hill ground a new one for me too. The game kicked off in light drizzle which grew steadily heavier as the afternoon went by and with so many new players amongst both teams, the game lacked any real quality if i am honest but from a Hendon point of view , the team was solid and organised and that gives a base to build on as they go forward.
The second half had a little more goal mouth action and Hendon took the lead just after the hour with probably their first real shot on target, when debutant Ricardo German curled a shot over the heads of a few defenders from inside the box which nestled in the roof of the net. That really should have been that, as Frome Town themselves had shown little goal threat throughout the game, however sometimes you can just tell in situations like this that a goal will come out of the blue and it did, as Hendon failed to clear a corner and following a game of pin-ball in the box, the ball eventually was deemed to have just crossed the line by the linesman and Frome Town had their equaliser with a couple of minutes remaining.
So a point most Hendon fans would have taken at the start of this journey into the unknown but a point that Jimmy Gray and his team will be disappointed didn’t turn into all three, as it probably should have done.
Hendon will doubtless remain a work in progress for much of the early part of the season, as they try to find the right balance in a league that offers a new challenge. It will be interesting to see how they go.
The game was also unique for me i think on the programme front , with the matchday programme definitely the first i can ever remember that got both teams wrong…. the devil is in the detail.