The subject of this feature by David Ballheimer is a player who, in his debut season, appeared for the Under-18s, reserves and first team, Uche Egbe.
Uche Egbe's first appearance for the first-team came in a mid-season friendly in January/February 1989. He had just turned 18, and had earned his call-up by scoring a hatful of goals for Hendon's Under-18s and reserve teams - and even more for his Sunday team, Barnet Youth, coached by the Greens' midweek youth team boss Jack Fisk. I remember nothing about the match, but I do remember watching Uche come into the bar after the match, because he was wearing a silver track-suit and was listening to music on a pair of silver headphones, out of which earpiece stood a tall aerial stick. The image was extra-terrestrial, his reputation other-worldly.
The official debut came in early March 1989, as a substitute for Neil Henry in a 2-0 loss at Bognor Regis Town. It was easy to see why Uche would score 90-odd goals in the season for his four teams; at Under-18 level, he was a man in a boys' team but he he didn't really stand out in his half-dozen Isthmian League appearances. He was a shade over six feet tall and powerfully built, possessed two good feet, great balance and searing pace, especially over short distances. Uche had a striker's natural instinct and he marked his first start in the Isthmian League with his first goal, the Greens' second in a 2-2 draw against Dagenham.
The following preseason saw Uche assert himself as a first-team regular and, on 19 August 1989, he helped Hendon make a winning start to the new League campaign for the first time in exactly 22 years. The Greens won 4-1 at Bromley and, for a few months at least, Hendon were among the League's pace-setters, though things went downhill after strike-partner Sean Baker suffered a season-ending injury just before Christmas. Hendon certainly weren't lacking in fire-power, and Uche was top-scorer with 17 goals, though Bake'â€™s 14 goals proved irreplaceable, despite the best efforts of veteran Colin Tate, who managed 13. Hendon ended the season in a somewhat disappointing 12th place finish, this after picking up only 11 points in the last 13 matches.
In 1990â€“91, it was more of the "what might have been" as Hendon again failed to pick up silverware. They did come close in the Premier Inter-League Cup, where they fell in semi-final against Aylesbury, losing 4-1, though Uche had given Hendon hope with an equaliser. It was a strange campaign for Uche, who finished two behind Tate in the goalscorers' chart with 12 in 52 appearances, but Uche had come off the subs' bench 18 times. However, his prowess had not gone unnoticed, and he was invited to preseason training with Leyton Orient.
The Os decided not to proceed and it knocked his confidence back. Uche also suffered from an injury-hit 1991-92 season and finished with only five goals from 35 appearances. All in all it was a season of struggle for the Greens, who finished only 10 points above the relegation zone in 17th place, to say nothing of the off-field turmoil which included the ground being closed by the local council and the club being taken over by Victor Green. Uche was not with the club in 1992-93, and returned late in the following season, making five appearances and scoring one goal. He also appeared in a Full-Members Cup last-16 tie, but not in the Final, won by the Greens 10 weeks later.
When Uche arrived for preseason training in summer 1994, there was a strong possibility that Hendon might not actually start the season. Ivor Arbiter's take-over was completed the day before season-opener - a famous 2-2 draw away to eventual runners-up Slough Town (Uche scored the first goal). The team was filled with players who had spent most of their recent careers a couple of divisions below the Isthmian League Premier Division so, at this level at least, Uche was one of the squad's most experienced members. The season of the kick-in was Hendon's salvation as manager Mick Browne's hard work in training on set-pieces paid dividends and the Greens spent only one week in the relegation zone, though their safety was only confirmed on the penultimate Saturday of the season. Sadly, four days before this, Uche had been sacked by the Chairman, effectively for caring too much. He considered Uche's furious reaction to being substituted - with the Greens trailing 2-1 at home to Harrow Borough - disrespectful. His goals, however, had been invaluable and Uche finished as joint-top scorer with 10 goals, despite appearing in just over half the League games.
Uche still keeps in touch through social media, and will be remembered fondly by many fans for his loyalty to the cause in difficult times.
Joined Hendon: Summer 1988 (as part of the Under-18s); February 1994. Left Hendon: Spring 1992, April 1995
Appearances: 186 (148 starts, 38 as a substitute). Goals: 46