Hendon v Folkestone Invicta – 27 January 2018

This blog originally appeared on the Bostik League website

Score: 3-3
Competition: Bostik Premier Division
Attendance: 326
Ticket: £10
Programme: £2
Refreshments: £2 (tea and coffee)
Star man: Niko Muir

‘I expect today is going to be a difficult game’, said Hendon boss Gary McCann in his programme notes. He wasn’t wrong.

We’ve reached that stage of the season when teams start to jostle for position as they approach the home straight. Forgive the athletics analogy; a couple of my recent matches have been at grounds with running tracks! Both teams today were in the promotion mix and, as the Hendon gaffer eluded, there wasn’t much between them. Four places, four points and a couple of games in hand to be precise. The game promised excitement and it delivered in spades.

A sticky start to the day provided a taster of the drama that would unfold later. Traffic on the temperamental North Circular seemed to leave my sat nav in a state of route finding paralysis. It adjusted eventually, and we soon arrived at a previously unknown green pocket of North West London. Hendon’s home is in the middle of NW9’s Silver Jubilee Park, just north of the Brent Reservoir. The best way to find it is by exiting the North Circular for the A5. Head north, take a left onto Kingsbury Road and then left again onto Townsend Road. A long stroll will also get you there from Kingsbury Tube Station (Jubilee Line) or Hendon Overground Station. The 183 bus serves both stations and drops off near the ground.

The Greens, as they are appropriately known given their surroundings, have put down roots at SJP since getting the keys at the start of last season. The new Millennium heralded a period of uncertainty and nomadic wandering for a club that, since the 60s, had been a model of consistency and part of the Isthmian League furniture. Hendon was founded in 1908 as Christchurch Hampstead. A year later they became Hampstead Town and flourished in the local district leagues. They joined the Athenian League just before it was abandoned at the beginning of WWI and a couple more name changes followed. They became Hampstead, Golders Green and finally Hendon in 1946.

The club achieved significant success in amateur competition winning three FA Amateur Cups in 1960, 1965 and 1972 and a European Amateur Cup in 1973. They switched to the Isthmian League in 1963 and were runners up in their first season. They won the first of two championships a year later, the second triumph coming in 1973. Hendon continued to play in the Isthmian League until the new century brought fresh challenges. In 2004 the Greens finished fourth but declined to move up into the newly formed Conference South. Two years later they finished in the relegation places but earned a reprieve as Canvey Island’s resignation from the Football Conference led to some restructuring.

Hendon’s iconic Claremont Road home came under threat in the early 2000s. Years of uncertainty ended in 2008 when it was sold, and the club began several years of groundshares. They set up temporary homes at Northwood, Staines Town, Wembley FC and Harrow Borough while they secured and refurbished Silver Jubilee Park. The purchase of the club by the Hendon FC Supporters Trust in 2010 helped restore stability and ensure their new home, just a couple of miles from their old one, was brought up to scratch.

Recent seasons have seen the Greens narrowly hold on to their place in step three. In 2015 they lost a promotion play-off final to Margate and two nineteenth place finishes followed. There are signs that they are beginning to settle in their new surroundings, and the 2017/18 season has seen Hendon’s form improve. An attacking style based around one of the Bostik Premier Division’s leading marksmen, Niko Muir, has propelled Hendon to seventh position with games in hand over the teams above them.

Folkestone are one such team that finds Hendon nipping at their heels. They’d started 2018 with a couple of good wins against Lowestoft and local rivals Margate, as well as a narrow 4-3 defeat to table toppers Dulwich. This season’s first meeting between the two represented a eerily prophetic guide to drama ahead. Hendon had gone two goals up at Folkestone in September, only for Invicta to come back and record what had seemed an unlikely 3-2 victory.

An apologetic steward was manning the gate of the SJP car park as we arrived, advising that it was full to bursting due to the large, expectant crowd. The biggest gate of the season had come to see this battle of the high-scoring promotion rivals. The renovated stadium, shared with Edgware Town, blends succinctly into its greenbelt surroundings. It’s built into a slope which helps conceal the covered terraces and seating areas. ‘Clarke’s Corner’, a pop-up tea bar and club shop, provided by the supporters association, welcomes visitors through the gate with hot drinks, snacks and a friendly greeting.

The visiting black and amber army, in red for this particular occasion, made their presence felt and their side started the stronger. Ade Yusuff hit the post and won a penalty soon after. He stroked the spot kick just wide of the post, however, to the relief of the players and fans in green. That said, the visitors took the lead soon after, as Draycott finished off a flowing move. Attacking promise from both sides suggested there may be more goals, despite the 1-0 half time score.

Hendon continued to threaten after the break, but two Callum Davies headers in six minutes left them with a mountain to climb. McCann reached into his rucksack for his best pick axe. Zak Joseph came on, and Hendon finally left base camp (how did we get from running to mountaineering?). Dagenham & Redbridge loanee, Joe White, pulled one back and Joseph got a second after a superb bit of skill to beat several defenders and a sublime finish over Roberts. The Greens now sensed they could be the ones completing a comeback. Muir and Maclaren were increasingly influential and the latter headed in the equaliser after a well-timed run into the box.

Hendon secured a second 3-3 draw in a row and a second eventful contest with their seaside opponents. They’re an entertaining contrast of consistent unpredictability. The amount of ups and downs they’ve crammed into more than 50 years at Isthmian level is testament to this. The saved point ensures they remain in the promotion mix with games in hand. Few would bet against some more gripping afternoons at Silver Jubilee Park before the season is out.