It is strange how some football memories, however transient, are somehow retained, whilst others become lost. My overriding recollection of Hendon’s visit to Dulwich Hamlet’s decaying but nevertheless still magnificent Champion Hill Stadium during the 1973-74 season, is not of the result, but of the visitors’ green shirts adorned by two thin white diagonal stripes, forming a sort of sash across the players’ chests. For their part, Dulwich wore an all royal blue kit with a bright pink vertical stripe down the middle of their shirts. Still only in my early teens, I had been persuaded along by a schoolfriend, and although it wasn’t my first Dulwich game, I could not describe myself as a supporter back then. Indeed, my knowledge of non-League football was minimal at best, but I remember the older supporters around us remarking that Hendon were the best team in the league.
Those views were well founded: the previous season Hendon had won the Isthmian League, finishing a whopping thirteen points ahead of runners-up Walton & Hersham, back in the days when clubs were only awarded two points for a win. Just a few months earlier, in January 1974, Rod Haider’s equalizer had secured a remarkable one-all draw at Newcastle United in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup; and on a Wednesday afternoon at Watford’s Vicarage Road ground, over 15,000 spectators watched Newcastle win the replay four-nil. Hendon's First Division opponents had of course suffered their ignominious exit at Hereford two years earlier, and the BBC, perhaps hoping for another upset, broadcast the match live to a large audience rendered idle courtesy of the three day week imposed by the Conservative government. Newcastle went on to lose to Liverpool in the final.
The extensive Hendon Football Club archive reveals that the match at Champion Hill took place on Tuesday 23 April 1974. I had completely forgotten it was a mid-week fixture, and that Dulwich actually won by two goals to one. One might be mistaken for thinking that the season was virtually over at that point, but Hendon still had a further eight fixtures to fulfill, and seven days later they crucially lost at Wycombe Wanderers, who would pip them to the title by just two points. Dulwich ended the season in a creditable fourth place.
More than thirty years would pass before I saw Hendon again, on 20 January 2007 (this time I made a note of the date). By coincidence they were playing their closest rivals from 1972-73, Walton & Hersham, although the circumstances for both clubs, in the bottom three the Isthmian League, were quite different. By now, Hendon’s Claremont Road ground, the club’s home since 1926, was on borrowed time. Already sold to a property developer for just under £20 million, only a restrictive covenant designed the keep the site as a sporting venue was keeping the demolition men at bay.
It had been assumed that April 2006 would mark the last ever match but thus far, there had been a stay of execution. However, with little money being spent on the upkeep of the ground, it was looking decidedly shabby. Hendon had never been relegated and eventually recovered to finish fourteenth, helped by a three-nil win against a hapless Walton side, who ultimately went down. The final match at Claremont Road took place on 20 September 2008, when a four-nil defeat at the hands of Wealdstone served as a disappointing ending for one of London’s most iconic non-League football venues, and rendered a fine old club homeless, destined for an itinerant existence for the next eight years.
Originally formed as Christ Church Hampstead in 1908, although possibly at least a year earlier, the first recorded match took place on Saturday 26 September 1908 against St. Gabriel’s, who won four-nil. In those early days the club colours were blue and white, and the new club began competitive football in the Finchley & District League, changing its name to Hampstead Town prior to the 1909-10 season. By the start of the following season, they had won promotion to Division One of the F&DL and were renting a pitch at the National Athletic Ground at Kensal Rise for home matches.
Before kicking off the 1912-13 season the club moved the Avenue Ground at Childs Hill in Cricklewood, which was to remain its base for the next fourteen years; and in 1913-14 fielded teams in both the Middlesex & District League, and London League, winning both. Hampstead Town were then elected to the Athenian League, only for war to break out just two games into the season. Following the First World War football was resumed, and the club name was changed for a third time in 1926, this time to Hampstead Football Club, which coincided with the move to Claremont Road.
The Claremont Road site was roughly a fifteen minutes walk from the Avenue Ground, and the Hendon Urban District Council had acquired the land following the closure of Clitterhouse Farm which had occupied it previously. The club announced that it needed to raise £2,000 to fit out the new ground, and within a fortnight had raised £571. By May the club was still £200 short of its target and launched a ‘5,000 shillings appeal’. Supporters present at the meeting at the end of the 1925-26 season subscribed nearly 1,000 shillings (just over £83) straight away. On 18 September 1926 the ground was declared open by Lt. Col. C.D. Crisp OBE JP.
Having finished as Athenian League runners-up in 1929 and 1933, there was yet another name change, to Golders Green FC, and it was under this name that the club reached the 1st Round of the FA Cup in 1934-35, losing at Southend United. It wasn’t until after the Second World War, that name was changed for a fifth, and final time, to Hendon Football Club. There had in fact been a previous club by the same name that reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup in March 1883, before losing to Old Etonians; and in 1932 the Hendon club had met Hampstead in two friendlies, the second of which was a fund-raiser for the original club, which folded a few years later.
Hendon finished as Athenian League runners-up three more times, before finally winning the title in 1953, a feat they were to repeat in 1956 and 1961. In 1954 they reached the final of the FA Amateur Cup, but came up against Bishop Auckland, who had already won the trophy seven times. A two-nil victory secured the Durham side’s eighth success (Pathe News footage), and they would go on to win it another twice – the most successful club in the competition’s history – making their last appearance in 1957. In 1960 Hendon made a return visit to Wembley Stadium in the Amateur Cup final, and this time were successful. It was very nearly another defeat however. With just three minutes remaining Kingstonian were winning one-nil before an equalizer from Laurie Topp, who had played in the 1954 final, and a last minute winner by Terry Howard took the trophy to Claremont Road.
A member of the Isthmian League since 1963, Hendon were runners-up in their first season. They finished as champions the following year, when they also won the Amateur Cup for a second time, beating Whitby Town by three goals to one. They reached the final again the following year, but lost to Wealdstone by the same score. The period between 1964 and 1974 was something of a golden era for the club, who never finished lower than sixth, and also won a third Amateur Cup in 1972, at the expense of local rivals Enfield, who they beat two-nil
Hendon have reached the 1st Round of the FA Cup on a number of occasions, and although never able to repeat their historic 3rd Round appearance of 1974, recorded their first victory over a Football League club two years later, beating Reading before losing to Swindon Town at Claremont Road. The 1980s and 90s mostly saw Hendon finish in a mid to lower table position, and the club briefly flirted with disaster in November 1991 when bailiffs were sent by Barnet Council to padlock Claremont Road, following non-payment of rent. As a result the club was dissolved and a company was formed, with Victor Green announced as the new Chairman. Along with his wife and son David, Green held all the shares and claimed to have spent around £1 million wiping out the club’s debts.
A fifth place finish was achieved in 1997-98, when the club also reached the 2nd Round of the FA Cup for a fourth time – going down at Cardiff City after beating Leyton Orient over two matches. In 1999-00 they finished eighth in the table, and lost at Blackpool in the 2nd Round. Financial constraints were always an issue however, and in 2004 a late decision was made not to accept promotion to the newly constituted South Division of the Football Conference, despite a fourth place finish in the Isthmian Premier Division.
Two supporters who have celebrated and suffered in equal measure over the years are Peter Lush and David Ballheimer, authors of the Hendon centenary history, which with cruel irony coincided almost exactly with the last match at Claremont Road. Peter’s first match was the last home game of the 1965-66 season, aged eleven. David’s was on 7 February 1967, but admits that he didn’t start watching regularly until five years later.
I ask them to select their favourite Hendon moments. David, who has been writing match reports for many years and still pens regular features for the programme, ponders for a moment: “I think, and this is an incredibly negative thing to say, the day we stayed up at Slough Town on the 29 April 1986. We had needed to pick up something like twenty-three points from our last eleven games, which was exactly what we did. We went to Slough, who were fourth in the table, for our final game and absolutely caned them four-one. They guy who scored the final goal, Tony Gibson, ran behind the goal and almost collapsed into my arms with exhaustion. It was just a fantastic night. The night we beat Leyton Orient was right up there as well, on a totally positive note.”
Peter picks out the semi-final win against Wycombe Wanderers at Brentford in the 1972 Amateur Cup, amongst others: “There were thousands of Wycombe supporters there. We had about a thousand so were clearly outnumbered, and won two-one with a fantastic goal from Peter Deadman from thirty yards. I also went on the trip to Italy when we won the Amateur Cup*. It was a two day coach trip to get there, but a great memory. Then there was the draw at Newcastle – that was fantastic. That period, from 1971-74 was very good.”
*Hendon travelled to Italy in October 1972 and defeated Italian Amateur Cup holders Unione CV 3 - 1 on aggregate to win the Barassi Cup, and claim the title ‘European Amateur Champions’.
How did the book come about? “I run a publishing company with a colleague, that mainly covers Rugby League” Peter explains. “I spoke to David around 1999 and we had a meeting about doing the history. It just developed from there. I did the period up to 1974, which is when I kind of drifted away from the club for about twenty years. David then picked up from that point. I think the best thing about it for me, was going to see the players who were my heroes when I was a kid. Interviewing them was just fantastic.” “The interview that struck me the most was Laurie Topp, who sadly died at the beginning of this year at the age of ninety-three” adds David. “He was in his eighties when we saw him, and he had very few memories because he gave up on football in the early 1960s; was Coach for a couple of years, but then lost all interest in football. He brought out all his memorabilia which was kept in two black bin liners. As we were leaving he asked if we wanted to take anything, but neither Peter or I could dream of taking any of his personal momentos.”
When in September 2008 the Claremont Road gates were locked for the final time, and a nomadic existence beckoned, the club’s glory days must have seemed a distant memory to its small but dedicated fanbase. At that stage the owners were musical instrument distributers The Arbiter Group. The company had been founded by the late Ivor Arbiter in the 1960s, and following his decision to sponsor Hendon in the early 1990s, the shirts were emblazoned with the iconic Fender guitar logo. When the club found itself less than twenty-four hours from going out of business the day before the 1994-95 season kicked off, Ivor Arbiter bought it and became Chairman. When he died in 2005 however, his company’s interest in the club dwindled. The Claremont Road site was prime development land and the London Borough of Barnet was keen to sell. The Group, who held a long lease, stood to make a considerable sum. A further incentive was that Arbiter’s investment in the club since taking ownership in 2005 had been in the way of a loan from the parent company. As a result, Hendon's liability to the Arbiter Group was in excess of £2 million.
The remainder of the 2008-09 season saw games hosted at Staines Town, Northwood, Wembley and Harrow Borough, after the Supporters Trust paid a £10,000 bond to the Isthmian League as guarantee that the club would fulfill its fixtures; and from that point the Trust began to effectively fund the running of the club, before finally taking ownership in 2010. From the start of the 2009-10 season, Hendon began the first of four seasons as tenants at Vale Farm, home of Wembley FC; and in 2013 the club was on the move again, this time to Harrow Borough’s Earlsmead Stadium. Harrow were accommodating hosts, but Hendon were in desperate need of a ground to call their own. In the summer of 2012 an announcement had been made that the Board was actively seeking to sell the club. Although solvent and debt free, the bottom line was that it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep it afloat, particularly without its own facilities and the ability to generate vital income.
The club’s plight came to the attention of Rob Morris, who had recently sold his successful football coaching business in Hertfordshire. “The idea was to retire and take things easy” he says, “but that lasted about two days until I was bored silly.” “A friend of mine approached me with regards the sale of Hendon Football Club, who had been given about eighteen months until the money ran out”. “I knew that with my background, I could make a bit of a difference, and the first thing we had to do was get them back a bit closer to their roots.”
Rob purchased the lease of Silver Jubilee Park, owned by Brent Council, and the former home of Kingsbury Town FC. Originally formed by ex-servicemen following the First World War, Kingsbury Town had moved to the site, formerly an anti-aircraft station, in the early 1950s. A record crowd of 1,500 had watched a friendly against Spurs in 1980 to switch on the new floodlights, but the otherwise basic and run-down facilities were some way short of meeting the grading requirements for Isthmian Premier Division football. It was however, only about two miles from Hendon’s former home at Claremont Road.
On Monday 18 July 2016, after a considerable amount of work in a remarkably short space of time, Hendon’s long wait for a new home came to an end when former 10,000 metre world record holder, David Bedford OBE, a Hendon FC Director and lifelong supporter, officially opened the redeveloped Silver Jubilee Park ground, partly financed through the Football Stadia Improvement Fund, but also from other sources including Morris and his partner.
As much as we are in Brent here, on the other side of the perimeter fence behind the clubhouse, is Barnet” explains Rob. “Silver Jubilee Park itself, is the park I used to play in as a child. I used to live just up the hill, and went to the primary school which is also just at the top. So there were a number of things that attracted me to the whole project.” …
“Kingsbury Town were the first team that I used to come and watch. Then they fell on hard times and the London Tigers came in, and merged with them to form Kingsbury London Tigers. I think they lasted here a couple of years before they left, got their own ground, and reverted back to the London Tigers. And was when Kingsbury football died a death – there were one or two Sunday League sides that played here, but it wasn't really used at all. The people who owned it were more publicans, who were using the facility for the hall and the bar area. So we have really brought football back into the fore here.”
“The first thing I had to do was to put down the artificial surface. I say “had to do it” because for me it is the only sustainable, viable model for a non-League club of our size. We haven’t got a huge fanbase, and you can’t rely on the gates, or sponsorship and advertising as much as you used to; but by having this here, it means that we have a facility that can be used from nine in the morning, until ten at night every day of the week.” “We then had to put in the stands, and a disabled area. New floodlights have gone in; new turnstiles; new rails and walkways all around the ground. The changing room block has been extended, and outside toilets added. Even the clubhouse had suffered from forty years of no investment. Even now when we walk in, there is something going wrong somewhere.”
Looking around the ground now, it is remarkable what has been achieved, even if Hendon were initially unable to play league games at the ground until it had met the requisite grading. The neat and tidy facilities are more than adequate for Hendon’s current status, with scope for further development, and looking out across the surrounding park towards the imposing Shree Swaminarayan Mandir (temple) it is easy to forget that you are in North London.
Edgware Town of the Spartan South Midlands League are also based at Silver Jubilee Park. Not only do both clubs play in predominantly green colours which complement the arcadian surroundings, but they share a history of having lost their spiritual home. The original Edgware club had been formed in 1939, but folded in 2008 after losing its historic White Lion Ground. It reformed in 2013 and the following season began playing games at Barnet’s old Underhill Stadium before moving to Silver Jubilee Park, albeit able to stage league fixtures slightly earlier than Hendon due to their lower status, and correspondingly lesser grading requirements.
“It’s still a council-owned ground, but I own the lease” explains Rob. “Both Hendon and Edgware Town have got a hire agreement, but because Hendon is the senior club, they will always take precedence over Edgware in all sorts of competitions.” He smiles. “This partly this is to stick two fingers up at developers - too many of our grounds are being lost, and this is now becoming the focal point of the community. If you come down here on a Saturday morning you will see hundreds of children training on the pitch. We have Irish dancing so we have all the girls here; we have fitness classes; we have a darts team here; we are associated with a Gaelic Football team … so it’s not just football, it is very much a community.” …
“Harrow Borough were fantastic hosts, and tremendously good to Hendon. But you can’t build a football club and community base when you are five or six miles away from your roots.” “What we always try and do, is that we like to make sure that whoever is playing here, feel that it is their home – we all want them to feel that this is their home, and their base.”
The ethos is certainly aimed towards developing a community hub, rather than merely providing a home for a couple of senior football clubs. With many local schools not having access to playing fields, a partnership programme has been set up which enables local schools to use the pitch. There is also an Academy where students can play football, and get a BTEC in Sport. In addition the club has built a relationship with UCFB Wembley, the university based at Wembley Stadium. UCFB teams play and train at SJP, and in addition are now delivering three different courses from the ground. Whereas Hendon had only one team a mere three years ago, there are now twenty-five youth teams; a disabilities team; and a ladies’ team starting this year. The girl’s under-thirteen team were national champions last year.
Already it is paying dividends, as Rob explains: “Our crowds have gone up, and we feel that with the outreach programme it is going to be steady growth. That’s what we want. We always cut our cloth accordingly; we’re not going to throw money at something – how many times have we seen that in non-League football? Where clubs have a rich sugar daddy who comes along, throws tremendous amounts of money around, and it’s boom and bust.”
Although Rob Morris undoubtedly provided the wherewithal to ensure the club’s long term future, it is important not to overlook the role played by the Supporters’ Trust, the owners of Hendon Football Club, who somehow managed to keep it going through a very difficult and uncertain period. The Trust boasts several hundred members who subscribe every year, and its main aim is to ensure good governance, and that it can thrive at its natural level, through a variety of fund-raising events alongside a separate Supporters’ Association.
Bryan Roberts is its current Chairman. Originally from the New Forest, he grew up as a Southampton season ticket holder, but after moving to London in the 1990s began trying out a few “tester clubs”. Looking for something a bit closer to his home in Kilburn however, he sat down with a newspaper and the London A to Z, and worked out which was his nearest club. It happened to be Hendon. As is so often the case he started by going to the occasional home game, which eventually became every home and away game.
These days, amongst his various other duties as Trust Chairman, Bryan mans the public address system on matchdays, and we meet in the press box, looking out across the 3G pitch.
“I was invited to join the Trust when it was formed. We knew the club was under threat, and that the parent company had no long term vision. Ivor Arbiter was the guy from the Arbiter Group who loved Hendon Football Club, and sustained it. When he passed away the Arbiter Group had no affiliation to the club, and we knew that developers were looking at the Claremont Road site. It was a beautiful ground - you could see the floodlights from Brent Cross - although it was clearly in need of some investment, which never quite happened, and deeply unpleasant in the winter sometimes.”
In 2001 Enfield Town became the first Supporter-owned football club, and I wonder whether Hendon looked to their local rivals, and other clubs such as AFC Wimbledon for advice when the Trust was first formed? Bryan nods. “What was very heartening was all the support and advice we got from a variety of different directions. I remember Erik Samuelson from AFC Wimbledon who took the time to have us down for a chat. There were lots of supporters from different clubs, and club officials who were very generous with their time and spirit, and gave us words of advice. We had a lot of help as well from Supporters Direct - testament I think, to the huge sense of community, and mutual interest we have as a non-League organisation”.
Bryan echoes Rob Morris’s views on the importance of making a football club the heart of its local community, and the difficulties associated with achieving that without a secure base. “It wasn’t until we moved to Harrow Borough that we felt extremely welcome. They have been great friends to us, but obviously the downside of having that nomadic existence is that you can’t put down roots. We didn’t really bother with any community outreach because we knew we would be moving on at some point. Whereas now we’ve got this amazing facility. We are part of an amazing community. We’ve got the temple up the road, and now I think we can start embedding ourselves in the community a lot more. That is happening with the youth football, women’s football, girl’s football, and I think there is a renewed sense of purpose.”
Last season was Hendon’s first full season at SJP. One might have anticipated it to have been memorable, and it was, albeit for the wrong reasons, with the club only avoiding relegation with a draw against Staines Town on the very last day of the season. Ironically it was a result that sent down their friends and erstwhile hosts Harrow, although Worcester City’s voluntary demotion elsewhere spared them the drop, such are the ripples and repercussions that permeate through the non-League Pyramid.
Bryan laughs. “We had a bit of an ‘Arsenal’ season. The final full season at Harrow was fantastically successful, when we reached the play-offs but yes, we’ve struggled since we’ve moved here. That’s for lots of different reasons I think, mainly personnel related: bans, injuries, and moves to bigger clubs. But what I love about Hendon is that we’re just happy – happy to be where we are. If we had gone down last season, we would have taken it on the chin, but we are happy that we still exist. We’ll take whatever level of football we can get, and at the moment that level seems to be Isthmian Premier.”
Amongst the 420 supporters that watched Hendon’s nerve-shredding final match against Staines was Michael Fox. Nothing too remarkable about that one might think, except for the fact that he had driven down from Scotland for the occasion. He is here again today for the fixture against Harlow Town, having set off from Glasgow at five this morning, this time with sons Callum and Kieran; and fourteen year old daughter Katie in tow for her first Hendon match. All being well, they will be back home sometime during the early hours.
Michael has supported Hendon for forty-five years, ever since he was a small child: “I’d come down every week if I could, but we are going to try for about half a dozen games this year if we can. It just depends how willing they are to come really.” … “We’ve got junior football up in Scotland, but there is no attachment to it. I’m one of 250 people here, and that’s the way it’s always been. I’ve seen some pretty lean years at Hendon, and have never seen any great crowds, but it’s part of what I’ve done over the years, and it’s just nice to come back here. I missed about ten years when I first went up to Scotland and they were younger, but now they are old enough to come along we can all suffer together.”
He reflects back on the final day of last season: “It was the heights of joy and despair; it was just unbelievably tense. It was heart-attack time. I think this season is going to be better. I don’t think we’ll be in the play-offs and like most Hendon supporters I think that mid-table will be OK. It’s just about seeing the football really, and knowing we are going to be safe. We just don’t want a repeat of last year. It was exciting and we can think back on it fondly, but the heart wouldn’t take it I don’t think.”
Hendon have made a reasonable start to the season, beginning with a narrow defeat at fancied Tonbridge Angels, followed by a very pleasing three-nil midweek win over Enfield Town in front of a crowd approaching three hundred. Opponents Harlow Town however, have yet to get off the mark following defeats by Harrow and Dulwich. The Essex club is invariably well-supported on the road by a lively set of fans, and also won’t be troubled by playing on an artificial surface. As anticipated there are plenty of red and white shirts in the bar beforehand, and some familiar faces from a previous visit to the Harlow Arena. They have brought their banners with them, and also an old air raid siren in the hope of cranking it up to celebrate some Hawks’ goals.
That certainly appears a likely scenario as it is the visitors who, for some unfathomable reason are wearing their change colours of yellow and blue, take the game to Hendon from the outset. The green shirts are struggling to get out of their own half, and within the opening five minutes Syrus Gordon’s strike has cannoned off the foot of the Hendon goalpost; and keeper Tom Lovecock is also called on to produce a couple of saves. On sixteen minutes Hendon carve out a chance of their own but Dave Diedhiou’s effort is narrowly wide. As the half progresses however, it becomes something of a stalemate and not much of a spectacle, especially for those who have travelled five hundred miles to watch it.
The second half gets underway with Sam Murphy going close for Hendon, and roughly on the hour mark the home side finally gets the breakthrough courtesy of a well-taken goal from Keagan Cole, in off the far post. It knocks the stuffing out Harlow and momentarily quietens their vociferous fans. It is not until the final ten minutes or so that the visitors begin to seriously threaten the Hendon goal, but the home defence remains resolute and the Hawks’ air raid siren unused.
To coin a well-worn cliché, it has hardly been a classic, but has at least made a nine hundred mile round trip worthwhile for four Hendon supporters. Two more seated in the stand are also more than satisfied with three points, and after the match I ask Peter and David about their thoughts for the future.
“I’m great deal more optimistic than I was when we were at Wembley or Harrow” says David. “If you had asked me in September 2008 if I would be sitting in the stand at Kingsbury Town in 2017 watching Hendon win in the Ryman [sic] Premier Division, I would have laughed at you. I thought we would go out of business before 2015”. Peter agrees: “There was the danger that if we’d gone down, we would have drifted”. “We would have sunk” emphasises David.
“I think the good thing now, is that we’ve got this youth set-up, because that is something we never had during my time at Claremont Road” Peter explains. “I’m confident now that we have got a stable set-up and we are back in Hendon. We seem to be attracting good players, and I’m confident about the future. I think also that this provides an alternative to people who can’t afford, or don’t want to go to Premier League matches.” …
“It’s interesting that we sold over five hundred copies of the Hendon book. I was getting phone calls and letters from all over the country – there is a sort of ‘Hendon diaspora’ – and internationally as well, people in Australia and Singapore; in America and Canada, were ordering the Hendon book.”
Unlike the Fox family, who will soon be making the long return journey north, members of the Hendon diaspora may not be able to make even infrequent visits to SJP. Attendances at matches may continue to struggle above three hundred, as they always have, but the far-flung fanbase remains constant, and following the club’s progress from afar. They will no doubt be reassured that this historic old club at long last appears to have a secure future and is finally able to lay down some new green roots.