Non League Daily

John Rogers: Future Looks Bright For 4G Greens

This September marks the 6th anniversary of Hendon's final home match at their famous old Claremont Road home.

 

 

A lousy 4-1 home defeat to local rivals Wealdstone provided the most anti-climactic of ends to a habitation that had begun 82 years to the day previously with an FA Cup tie against Berkhamsted Town. During that time, the club had enjoyed success that many other clubs would look on with envy. Five Amateur Cup Finals at Wembley, with three successes, two Isthmian League titles, three Athenian League titles and runners-up in both competitions on a further eight occasions combined.

However in more recent years, the club's existence had been rather more turbulent with bailiffs looking the ground in the early 90s following unpaid bills and being less than 24 hours from going out of business the day before the 1994/5 season kicked off.

Since the gates were locked for the final time by the Arbiter Group, at that stage still officially owners of Hendon Football Club, that sunny September evening, the club has ploughed a nomadic furrow around the footballing metropolis of Middlesex. The remainder of the 2008-09 season saw games hosted at Staines Town, Northwood, Wembley and Harrow Borough, the Supporters Trust paid a £10,000 bond to the Ryman League as guarantee that the club would fulfil its fixtures for the remainder of the season. The following season, Hendon began the first of four seasons as tenants of Wembley Football Club, which was then followed by a similar agreement with Harrow Borough that lasted last season and will continue into 2014-15.

Although the Arbiter Group were owners of Hendon Football Club by name, they had no desire to fund the club once Claremont Road had been closed. With the London Borough of Barnet actively seeking to sell the freehold for the land upon which the ground stood for development, Arbiter stood to make a good deal of money as and when a sale went through, having signed a new 99 year lease on the ground a dozen years previously. An agreement was put in place to sell the club debt free to Hendon Supporters Trust for £1, but only when a buyer had been found for the land.

At this stage, it became apparent that the investment made by the Arbiter Group in Hendon Football Club since taking ownership in 1995 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 £2million (figures taken from http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmcumeds/792/792vw68.htm). With the receipts from the sale of the land to be shared between the London Borough of Barnet and Arbiter Group, it swiftly becomes clear why the parent company were so keen to shift the club out, and close a deal on the sale of the land.

The transfer of ownership from Arbiter to the Supporters Trust, and the ongoing debacle surrounding the use of Claremont Road following September 2008 is a long and murky tale for another day. However, from the beginning of 2008/9 the Supporters Trust began to effectively fund the running of the club using the funds accumulated since their inception a couple of years previously and the generosity of a small handful of sponsors.

Understandably, crowds have pretty well halved in the last six years for Hendon's home matches to a point where 150 is seen as a decent turn out, as they have struggled to put down roots in North Wembley and South Harrow, both a fair trek on public transport from their Cricklewood heartland.

In the midst of this, it seems remarkable that not only have the club retained their Ryman League Premier Division status, but under the shrewd guidance of manager Gary McCann, have achieved top ten finishes and 4th qualifying round or better performances in the FA Cup in four of the last five seasons.

Although punching well above their weight on the pitch, it was becoming increasingly clear that off the pitch investment had to be found. In the summer of 2012 an announcement was made that the board were actively seeking to sell the club to any interested party. Although without much in the way of assets, the fact that the club was solvent and debt free was seen as a potential selling point. The increasingly small set of supporters who had worked night and day to keep the club functioning had made the difficult decision that they could not continue to keep the club alive without help.

At the midway point of last season, the search was still on, although it certainly wasn't for the want of trying by chairman and lifetime fan Simon Lawrence. An unusually early exit in the 2nd qualifying round of the FA Cup hit the club's coffers hard and although the football was extremely entertaining and enjoyable for the most part, financially the club were approaching crisis point and some tough decisions needed to be made.

In February it was announced that the playing budget for the final ten matches of the season would be cut as it was felt that the play-offs were too far away. Figures differ depending on who you talk to, but 40% seems to be a fairly safe bet. Once again, Gary McCann took this latest blow on the chin and committed himself to the club for the remainder of the season, as did the majority of the squad. Indeed, the only major departure after the announcement was that of leading scorer and legendary nomad Jefferson Louis to Margate. Responding superbly in adversity, the team went on to win nine of their next thirteen league matches.

Despite the budget cut, there was brighter news in the last couple of months of the season pertaining to the appointment to the board of Rob Morris. A former footballer who had successfully launched his own sports academy in Aldenham, Morris had purchased the lease on Silver Jubilee Park, the former home of Kingsbury Town Football Club. At a nostalgia night held on 14th March at Silver Jubilee Park, it was announced that plans had been lodged to install a 4G pitch and that the board were looking into the feasibility of Hendon moving into the ground.

Although the news was very encouraging, there have been plenty of ground plans in the past that have come to naught. Last week however, it was announced that Rob Morris and his team at Silver Jubilee Park have been given planning permission for the installation of the artificial pitch and work is expected to commence on Monday. Funding is also 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 that will bring the ground up to the required standard to host Ryman League Premier Division football.

With agreements in place in theory with more than a dozen separate bodies and clubs to ensure the viability and sustainability of the site, and fifteen youth sides playing in the Green & White of Hendon, there appears to be a very definite glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. There is still a good deal of work to be done before Hendon's long term future can be described as 'secure' and this season's targets will remain the same; gain 50 odd points to assure Premier Division football for another season as quickly as possible. However, for the first time in many years, Hendon fans may be able to look forward to a bright and positive future.

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