Thursday, 1 February 2018

What's Not To Like?

Hendon  1  Leatherhead  4

Isthmian League – Premier Division

When perusing the fixtures earlier in the month, this game stood out a mile for me.

Firstly, it was what I would call a ‘proper’ Isthmian League clash evoking memories of years gone by, with both clubs being historical stalwarts and indeed powerhouses of the proud competition.

Secondly, because after a few years of nomadism following the departure from the iconic Claremont Road ground, Hendon now have a place to call home, not far from their former dwelling.

Finally, I’d never seen Leatherhead play, albeit I did see them beat Billericay Town on TV earlier in the season. They are also the team my old mate Dave supports and from what he’s told me they have a good side this season, so it was a perfect chance to see them in action.

The Home Of The Green Army
Let’s start with Hendon, former FA Amateur Cup winners on three occasions, they joined the Isthmian League in 1963 and over a ten year period they won it twice and finished runners up twice as well.

The times post this period were a little leaner, but to the present day they have an impressive record of having never been relegated in 55 seasons. To say they are part of the Isthmian furniture would be an understatement! It is worth pointing out that they were invited to join the Conference South in 2004-05 but declined the offer to join the newly formed competition, clearly not wanting to break their unrivaled run!

In September 2008 Hendon played their last ever game at the wonderful Claremont Road ground, which sat to the side of the Cricklewood Railway Depot. It was a sad time for the fans of the Greens, because a move to the Copthall Stadium (now home to Saracens RFC) fell through and as a result they were forced to share the grounds of not so nearby Northwood and Staines Town for the rest of the season.

An Atmospheric Angle - The Old Kingsbury Town Stand
They did move closer to home for the start of the 2009-10 season when they shared the Vale Farm ground of Wembley, before moving to Harrow Borough in 2013. Finally, at the start of the 2016-17 season they moved into the Silver Jubilee Park home of Kingsbury Town, a mere five minutes from the bottom of the M1.

So that’s the story to date, but what about the new home?

As I said, once off the M1, it’s a very brief shuttle across two roundabouts on the North Circular before heading back up the A5 for a couple of hundred yards. A left turn takes you over the bridge that crosses the Brent Reservoir and then a quick weave through the estate takes you down the long drive to the car park.

A Goal - The First Time This Season I've Got One On Camera!
Silver Jubilee Park has gone through something of a transformation. Notably it now has an all-weather surface so we had no concerns about the game taking place, but what hasn’t changed is the old stand that sits adjacent to the large clubhouse.

Opposite the old stand are two areas of Atcost style terracing located either side of the dugouts, while behind the North goal sits a further covered terracing area of the same design. Behind the South goal is a smart seated stand with green and white seats picking out the letters HFC.

The ground is shared with Spartan South Midlands League side Edgware Town, but as hard as you try, you cannot find anything that denotes their presence. Unless you knew differently in advance, you would assume this was a ground solely used by Hendon Football Club.

Very friendly they were too, from the gateman, the bar staff and to the chaps in the club shop who gave me a resume of the clubs recent history along with trials and tribulations they’ve been through.

The Hendon Mob
A lower than average crowd of 188 pitched up on a damp and drizzly night, with a good number having travelled round the M25 from Surrey, and no sooner had we found our viewing positions it was the visitors who had the lead courtesy of a close range finish from Ruel Sotiriou.

Hendon battles back but Leatherhead’s experience and professionalism came to the fore and they managed to keep the pacey forwards at bay with a combination of ‘strategic’ fouls and closing down the space to limit attempts of goal.

It worked because right on the stroke of half time following a spell of pressure it was 2-0 when Dan Gallagher cracked in an effort from 25 yards that found the back of the net via the underside of the bar.

Tom Derry effectively made the three points safe just five minutes into the second period with a neat close range flick, while Jack Midson made it 4-0 when he caught the home ‘keeper off his line and lobbed him from 40 yards.

That Old Stand Again
Leatherhead were in cruise control now and playing very impressively, with a certain swagger and confidence you would expect from a side who were about to go to within three points of the play-off places, with several games in hand on those above them due to their FA Cup exploits.

Hendon did pull a goal back when Ashley Nathaniel-George scored with a cracking drive into the top corner after a mazy run took him to the edge of the penalty area, but beyond that Leatherhead were both composed and well organised, resulting in no more clear cut opportunities for the hosts.

A fair result and score line which reflected Leatherhead’s quality, domination and professionalism, but in fairness to Hendon, they didn’t lack effort or energy, they were just beaten by what I considered on the night to be a very good football team, built by ex AFC Wimbledon player Sammy Moore.

The Hendon fans were resigned to defeat long before the end, but they didn’t moan or slope off early. Perhaps they are just grateful to be back in their homeland, with a team competing in the Isthmian League Premier Division. They might not go up this season, history says they never do, but then history also says they never go down either, and that certainly isn’t going to happen!

It took exactly two hours to return back to blighty, but I minded not, I liked Hendon Football Club, I liked Silver Jubilee Park, I was happy that the club were home, but I was also very impressed by Leatherhead.

What was not to like? Struggling to think of anything on that front to be fair……………….!  

The Popular Side Terracing

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