Hendon FC: Time To Go Home

by Jul 19, 2016Latest, Non-League0 comments

In an age during which perpetual self-improvement has become something akin to a religion, the art of stasis has become an increasingly rare sight. It can feel almost surprising to find something exactly where we left it, as though time has stood still in a bubble around it. But perhaps we should celebrate this more often than we do. In 1964, Hendon Football Club, one of the great stalwart names of English football, transferred from the Athenian League to the Isthmian League. This was a club that had enjoyed not inconsiderable success during the previous decade or so, winning the Athenian League three times between 1953 and 1961 and reaching Wembley in the final of the FA Amateur Cup three times, winning it once, against Kingstonian in 1960, and would go on to do so again in 1965 and 1972.

Fifty-two years later, the club remains a member of the top division of the Isthmian League. Never promoted and never relegated over the course of a little more than five decades, Hendon won the league twice, in 1965 and 1973, but these wins both came long before promotion was on offer to the winners of the division. There have been close shaves at the bottom of the table, too. In 2006 the club finished the season in a relegation place but was reprieved by the resignation of Canvey Island, two divisions above them in the Conference National, whilst last season they finished in nineteenth place in the table, comfortably clear of the relegation places, even before the demotion of perennial non-league basket-case Farnborough cut the number of relegation spots in the Premier Division of the Ryman League from four to three. On the whole, though, most of the last fifty-two years for Hendon Football Club have been tranquil, on the pitch, at least.

If only the same could be said for the club’s position more generally. As we have noted on these pages frequently before, non-league football clubs have become especially vulnerable to property developers over the course of the last three or four decades or so, and this has been especially problematic in London, where a steadily falling attendances and sky-rocketing land values have led to a toxic combination of financially vulnerable clubs sitting – quite literally – on plots of land that are of significant interest to developers who are more than happy to pay a few million pounds to bulldoze a football ground to build on the land. From Wimbledon in the south to Enfield in the north, from Leytonstone in the east to Hayes in the west, the destruction of non-league football’s heritage in the capital has been a recurring theme of the game in recent years, and this was not something that Hendon were immune to.

In the years leading up to the club’s departure from it in 2008, Claremont Road had become a shadow of its former self. First opened in 1926, its descent into disrepair accelerated during the 1990s, in particular following the Arbiter Group’s acquisition of the club in 1995. It would later become apparent that the “investment” in the club from the owners had been in the form of loans which left the club £2m in debt to them, but plans to move the club to the Copthall Athetics stadium in nearby Barnet stalled, primarily over a deed of covenant preventing the stadium and associated buildings from being used for any other purpose than football or being returned to park land, and with neither the owners of the club or the local apparently interested in the club’s long-term well-being, it began to feel as though it would only be a matter of time before eviction occurred, and was finally abandoned after the cost of the move was significantly underestimated.

To no-one’s great surprise, Claremont Road was sold to a property developer for approaching £20 million and it was expected that the club would leave the ground at the end of the 2005/06 season, but it eventually managed a stay of execution that lasted for a little over two years before playing its final match there against Wealdstone in September 2008. With a piecemeal arrangement in place for the rest of the 2008/09 season, which saw the club play matches at Staines Town, Northwood, Wembley and Harrow Borough, the club’s Supporters Trust paid a £10,000 bond to the Ryman League as a guarantee that the club would complete its fixtures for the remainder of the season. A ground-sharing arrangement was then agreed for the club to play at Vale Park, the home of Wembley FC which lasted for four years, followed by a similar arrangement at fellow Ryman League club Harrow Borough. In 2010, the Supporters Trust took ownership of the club.

There is little question that the hard work and dedication of those running the Supporters Trust at Hendon that kept the club alive during these years in the relative wilderness. Running a non-league football club is a hand to mouth existence at the best of times. Running a club with no home of its own and keeping it going is little short of a miraculous achievement. Yet here we are, almost eight years on from that last game at Claremont Road, and Hendon have returned home. The new ground is Silver Jubilee Park, which was the home of another local football club, Kingsbury Town, who merged into a new club in 2006 and left to play in Greenford. There was a little nimbyism from some of the local residents, but there was plenty of support for the plans and the go-ahead to redevelop the site was eventually given, with funding in place with Sport England, the Football Association and a Stadia Improvement Grant for the installation of new terracing, gates, perimeter fencing, turnstiles and seating to bring the ground up to the required standard to host Ryman League Premier Division football, as well as a 3G artificial surface which is likely to benefit the whole of the local community.

Another local club, Edgware Town, had folded in 2008 after their White Lion Ground was sold for housing but reformed in 2014, playing its matches at Underhill, the abandoned former home of Barnet FC last season, winning the First Division of the Spartan South Midlands League at the end of their second season back, having scored one hundred and thirty league goals and having lost just two league games all season. They will share Silver Jubilee Park with Hendon this season. Whether this sharing arrangement will eventually morph into a local rivalry remains to be seen – despite their promotion at the end of last season, Edgware remain two divisions below Hendon at the start of this season – but it’s just possible that north-west London might just get a new rivalry, borne from the travails of two football clubs who were deemed less important than the act of land-grabbing in the capital.

There’s a moral to this story, and it’s one that we have returned to time and time again over the life-span of this website. When the benefactors have failed and those that come into a football club dressed as white knights on chargers have revealed themselves to be interested in little more than lining their own purses, everything falls back on the supporters themselves. That this should be the case is now so commonplace that it hardly even surprises us that, the length and breadth of the country, there are thousands of individuals who volunteer to man the turnstiles, wash the kits, attend the meetings and hunt down sponsorship details. But, if it doesn’t surprise us any more, we should at least doff our caps to those who make these efforts. The names of Edgware Town and Hendon may just be footnotes in the story of English football, but both clubs have stories to tell, histories worth preserving, and now, futures to look forward to. And in both cases this is solely down to the supporters who believed these clubs worth saving when it might have been both easier and more expedient to render them relics of history. They should be hugely proud of what they’ve achieved.

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