Two hours prior to kick off the bar at Silver Jubilee Park, home of Hendon FC (and Edgware Town on alternate weekends), was already busy. Pints had been poured, chairs arranged, copious amounts of cottage pie ordered, and tension hung in the air. Manchester United were taking on Liverpool in the Premier League and this was, apparently, rather important to some of the patrons in green and blue.
Given the price of the Premier League these days it isn’t surprising that many supporters watch their professional favourites on a big screen in a bar before watching their local favourites in person, and on that basis Silver Jubilee Park is hardly unique. A quick glance at Twitter this morning saw clubs across the country urging fans to arrive early and take in the big match before watching the big match, and given the importance of bar and refreshment sales to many of their bank balances that’s hardly a surprise- it can be the difference between survival and extinction. That seems rather a shame in a country where the latest Premier League rights deal brought in 4.464 billion pounds, but it’s true nonetheless. You’d think that if those at the top table can’t see their way clear to passing on a few more of their crumbs to the grassroots game they’d at least make it a condition of the rights deal that the broadcasting behemoths provide cheap coverage to FA affiliated clubs, wouldn’t you? Just a thought for 2023, perhaps.
Away from the razzmatazz of Old Trafford and back to the green baize of Hendon, today’s match saw the Greens entertain Margate for the first time since a certain playoff final in 2015. Three years seems rather a long time, and yet the memory of that match, played at Harrow Borough’s Earlsmead- Hendon had no home of their own at that point- was at the forefront of the minds of many of those preparing to watch the rerun; particularly those of a North London persuasion. Matt Shotter, a Hendon supporter asked for his recollections, was not mincing his words.
“The referee ruined that game as a spectacle with a sending off that didn’t even merit a yellow card (and was later rescinded). Given the resources that Margate had compared to us it was already David v Goliath, and the official effectively took our ammunition away. What made it worse was that Ryan Moss, who later scored the winning goal, wasn’t even booked for a dreadful challenge prior to the red card. We felt robbed- cheated. Not”- and here he was clear- “that any of that was Margate’s fault.”
Welcome to SJP
This account matched almost entirely that of Hendon manager Gary McCann, as given to this website in an interview last October- but just like Matt, Gary- whilst obviously still feeling an injustice that occurred in an important moment of his life- was also patently not blaming Margate. That wasn’t a surprise. Hendon didn’t seem to be a club capable of holding a grudge; indeed there was a bonhomie about the place which extended from the turnstiles to the bar to the club shop and, indeed, even onto the pitch, including everyone in green present with the possible exception of a very sweary man by the far touchline who perhaps hated every referee in the world based on this incident. More on him later.
Matt was very focused on the game being shown on the big screen, and obviously showing a rather Liverpool bias. Being of an age that suggests he grew up in the days when Liverpool used to regularly win trophies that perhaps wasn’t a surprise, and indeed is hardly unique; many supporters of teams in our league also have ‘other’ clubs. Asked the 64 million dollar question, however, he was quite forthright in his response.
“Hendon. It’s my local team, the team I grew up with. I had an attachment to Liverpool but my dad couldn’t afford to take me there- but he could, and did, regularly take me to watch Hendon, Finchley, Edgware Town, Barnet…so this is where my heart is. The Premier League is just a business. I try and put money into the club here, player sponsorships, match ball sponsorships and the like, but even so the amount I spend over the year probably wouldn’t cover the cost of travel, match tickets and an overnight stay for one Liverpool home game. And this club has the right approach. Gary has done brilliantly here over the years with no money and until recently no home, the chairman and the board have the best interests of the club absolutely at heart, and as for Silver Jubilee Park- well we couldn’t have better landlords. Yes, they need to make money, but they are focused on supporting the community rather than that. I look at the troubles that the likes of Dulwich Hamlet are having and I give enormous thanks to SJP. We’re really lucky.”
By this point Liverpool were attempting to recover from a two goal deficit, so it seemed a good time to leave Matt and catch up with the raucous Margate fans on the next table. Two of them were singing a song about “getting sent off for having a laugh,” and it transpired that this was a reference to a red card received by striker Jordan Chiedozie at Leiston in midweek. Ryan explained. “A Leiston player tripped over his own feet and Jordan thought it was funny, so the referee gave him a second yellow card for unsporting conduct. It’s unbelievable!” At this Ryan stopped to join Jake in a duet about Gate’s number ten, Frannie Collin, whilst their table mate Glen looked on rather bemused. Andy, a Margate veteran of many years standing, then joined the throng, and all agreed that the side were having an exceptional season. Indeed, they were very positive about everything, and it wasn’t just the alcohol talking. Andy took up the baton.
“At the start of the season we weren’t confident that we’d be anywhere near the top of the table, but we’re delighted that we are and it’s been great to watch. We’ve had good attendances, the atmosphere has been really positive, and the manager has us playing the best football we’ve seen in a long time. We weren’t sure about having an artificial surface, either, but that’s been money well spent too. But if there was one thing that we’d like you to mention in your article, it’s this.” He leaned forward, conspiratorially.
The Blue and White army
“We hate Dover. We quite like Ramsgate, we quite like Folkestone, but we hate Dover. Please make sure that you write that down.”
There was a great solidarity amongst the blue hordes, and they even agreed on a score prediction. “We’re playing a playoff rival away from home. We’d be happy with a draw.”
Whilst it was hardly a playoff final, today’s match had real significance, particularly as there has to be a chance of a repeat performance in May. The hosts started the day in fifth place, the visitors in fourth, and with only goal difference separating the home side from sixth place Staines Town (and, if they were to win their game in hand, possibly from seventh place Leatherhead), a Hendon victory looked almost essential. The visitors were also looking over their shoulder, for whilst they had a seven point cushion over Staines- ten over the Tanners- both chasing sides had games in hand. To add to the drama, a win could technically have sent Steve Watt’s side to the summit had other results gone their way; particularly as Billericay’s match with Staines had fallen victim to the weather 90 minutes before kick off. It’s tight up top- something that not too many pundits predicted it would be when Glenn Tamplin embarked on his Billericay spending spree.
On form, it was difficult to pick a winner. Hendon came into the match unbeaten in five, if not quite recapturing their early season promise; Margate having drawn one and lost one of their last two fixtures after seven successive victories. It turned out that they were difficult to separate on the pitch, too- but it might not have looked that way after the early exchanges.
Hendon were quickly on the attack, and in only the second minute Luke Tingey tested Gate keeper Lenny Pidgeley from just outside the box. Pidgeley was untroubled by this strike, but within sixty seconds he was picking the ball out of his net as Hendon winger Josh Walker was given time to control on the edge of the box before picking his spot. The Margate keeper was given a hard time from the away bench for not making a save, but this seemed unfair; indeed from a position directly behind the flight of the ball it looked as if he’d need to be elastic man to get anywhere near it. When Zak Joseph outpaced the away defence and played in a cross that had everything but a finish just four minutes later it seemed as if it would be a very long afternoon for the seaside hordes, who by this point were banging a drum and singing “Blue and White army” in an attempt to rally their team.
Margate attempted to get back into the game, and indeed were soon having plenty of possession, however Tom Lovelock in the Greens goal was a virtual spectator despite the best efforts of Chiedozie and his gang. The game went a little flat, and was rather summed up when the away fans began “singing the blues.” Over at the far side of the ground, a late middle-aged gentleman in tracksuit bottoms seemed to be trying to entertain himself by having a personal battle with the referee, Jim Patterson- not that Mr Patterson seemed to notice. Hendon gave away a number of silly free kicks, and to each of these sweary man reacted with an understated fury which set him a distance apart from everyone else in the ground. “What are you watching, you ****,” he grumbled, “that was a ******* shoulder. I said a ******* shoulder.” He kept up this tirade for around twenty minutes before wandering off, seemingly never to be heard from again, after muttering that it was all “clucking rollocks.” Or something like that, anyway.
After around twenty minutes during which our sweary friend was perhaps more entertaining than the actual football, Margate seemed to click into gear. It was no laughing matter for the Hendon defence as Chiedozie seemed to grow more and more threatening, and their equaliser wasn’t a surprise- although it did have an element of luck, and surprisingly came from a different source. Midfielder Jay May chased what seemed like a lost cause with a home defender, somehow came out with the ball, jinked his way along the edge of the box and then fired in a shot which Lovelock seemed to have covered, but the ball took a wicked deflection and looped over his head into the net. “Give me a Jagerbomb,” sang the away fans, combining a celebration with getting an early order to the bar in an attempt to beat the half time rush. Three minutes more passed without incident, as did two of added time, and the sides wandered back to the dressing rooms level.
The style of the two managers on the touchline during the first half had been markedly different. McCann, for Hendon, had prowled his technical area giving guidance and instruction, whilst his opposite number Steve Watt had been happy to remain in his seat and keep his instruction to half time. Whatever he said made a difference, as Margate were quickly on the attack after the restart. First, Chiedozie had a shot deflected behind, before David Martin forced Lovelock to dive to his right and save at the second attempt. A moment later a mix up between defender and keeper led to the ball rebounding off Chiedozie and landing just wide of the post with the stopper stranded on the edge of his box, and Hendon looked rather rattled. They did break occasionally, and a shot from Walker ended up in the side netting, but a moment later Chiedozie was forcing another save from Lovelock before bringing a foul from James Hammond which saw the full back receive a yellow card. The striker was doing everything he could apart from score, and twenty minutes into the half perhaps should have put his side ahead, leaving two defenders for dead but firing too close to the keeper and seeing his shot saved. At this point the mascots for the day, Hendon Under 8’s- a lovely group of children who had been delightedly having their photographs taken with the players before the match and during half time- decided that their side needed encouragement, and took up a persistent chant of “Hendon, Hendon” at such a volume that many people sitting around them moved and dogs for a five mile radius covered their ears. The players did seem encouraged, however, and Zak Joseph and Niko Muir made inroads which caused angst in the away defence.
As the game moved into its last ten minutes it was Margate who- as for much of the second half- looked more likely to break the deadlock. Chiedozie had two attempts to shoot, the second hitting a defender and going for a corner, and the striker would have been a shoe-in for man of the match had it not been for an incident which- if the referee interpreted it correctly- saw him shown a yellow card for a dive which would undoubtedly have seen a Hendon defender sent off with a second yellow had the official not decided to take an opposite course of action. Perhaps Mr Patterson should take the prize instead, as from a neutral point of view it was difficult to see a decision which he got wrong over the course of ninety minutes. After this there were only half chances, and the game petered to an end with honours even and all seemingly content. Mind you, given they had all been content beforehand too, that wasn’t much of a surprise.
Hendon fans and a rather tatty flag
As we left Silver Jubilee Park, avoiding mud, pot holes and departing traffic, a home and away fan were deep in conversation. “Perhaps we might be back here in the playoffs,” the Margate fan suggested. “So long as we don’t get the referee from last time, fair enough,” laughed his counterpart in a green scarf. At the end of the drive they said their goodbyes with a grin and wandered off in opposite directions with a “look after yourself and perhaps see you in May,” hanging in the air.
Perhaps they will meet again in May. Perhaps one of their sides might even yet gain automatic promotion if the Billericay juggernaut continues to behave as if it’s lost a wheel. But whatever happens, you have to think that neither set of supporters will behave as if their world has ended, they’ll just refocus and get on with looking forward to next season and doing it all again- which is exactly how it should be.
If there is an art to contentment, then it seems that the good folk of Silver Jubilee and Hartsdown Parks might bear a passing resemblance to Da Vinci.
Honest Matt Shotter- right in festive hat- and the club shop