Hendon probably ended their season on a high note when they overcame a poor Dulwich Hamlet side 3-0 at Champion Hill on Saturday afternoon. The subjective note is added because this was Hendon's 40th Ryman League Premier Division out of 42, but no League games could be staged after midnight on Saturday. The fate of the home game against Harrow Borough and the away one at Sutton United will be decided by the Ryman League Management Committee at a later date, along with the unplayed game between Billericay Town and Aldershot Town.
The return of skipper Jon Daly, RenÃƒÂ© Street, Phil Gridelet significantly added to the experience of the squad, while Ross Graham made his debut in goal in place of Gary McCann, whose knee injury needed much more rest than the 17 hours since Friday night.
A penalty shoot-out, look-alike band and calypso band had given the afternoon a carnival air and the football, to be kind, was not enthralling. For many Hendon fans there was at least as much interest in other events - at Barnet, Harrow and Slough - as at Champion Hill. Not a lot had happened until the 14th minute, when Dulwich captain Ian Savage went down as the ball rolled out of play for a throw in. It was immediately clear that Savage had suffered a serious injury.
The calypso band were ordered to stop loading their van and to move it so than an ambulance could come to the pitch-side. The delay reached 32 minutes before Savage left the ground in the ambulance. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere and play on the pitch was somewhat muted when the half recommenced.
Hendon took the lead, officially, in the 37th minute, although it was 1 hour and 9 minutes after the kick-off. Paul Adolphe powered a header goalwards from near point-blank range, but goalkeeper Craig Tucker produced an outstanding save to deny him. The ball bobbled around for a couple ofseconds before RenÃƒÂ© STREET lashed the ball in from about 3 yards out.
Five minutes later the lead was doubled. Daly lifted the ball over the defence and Guentchev timed his run perfectly to beat the offside trap - David Adekola and Dale Binns both looked offside but were in passive positions. Guentchev controlled the ball and ran in on Tucker. The goalkeeper stood up for as long as he could, but the moment he committed himself GUENTCHEV swept the ball past him.
The second half was delayed further because of the post-penalty-shoot-out awards ceremony, for which his Worship, the Mayor of Southwark, and guest of honour, former heavyweight boxer Gary Mason, were both shown the red card by referee Martin Ebbage (Bucks). His Worship saw the funny side, but Mason just looked bemused.
Dulwich created very little, although Graham did show some good hands at a couple of crosses. On the whole, it was clear that the home side had no appetite for a battle. In defence, they were dragged hither and thither by Binns, who played with the confidence of a man who knew there wasn't a defender against him who could get the better of a duel.
After an hour, Hendon doubled their teenage complement (Pat Sappleton and Binns started the game) by bringing on Dave Stewart and David Boateng for almost half of the 30somethings, Gridelet and Adekola, respectively (starters Jason Soloman, Daly and Guentchev also were all born before1971).
Guentchev seemed likely to add to his tally when a ball dropped invitingly for him to volley, but a defender nudged him in the back and he miscued his effort wide. Boateng's pace down the middle caused Dulwich player-boss Gwynne Berry and Tony Chin great inconvenience and one run was halted by an illegal challenge which should probably have resulted in a red card, but Mr Ebbage showed leniency. The free-kick could not penetrate the defensive wall.
Hendon restored a little of the age balance by removing Guentchev and bringing on the manager, who immediately raised the average age of the 11 in action by half a year. Desperate to score his first League goal for Hendon, Murphy had a great chance for a shot, but the ball took too long to reach him and a defender was able to intervene. Boateng then had another run on Tucker, but the goalkeeper spread himself well and saved with his legs.
It only delayed the inevitable third goal until the 84th minute. Murphy watched Binns run into space and delivered a slide-rule pass into his path. BINNS took the ball in stride, got the angle he liked and smashed the ball past Tucker. It was fitting that the team's best player should score Hendon's final goal of the season and it gave Hendon a zero goal difference, 62 scored and 62 conceded.
There was still time for McCann to make an excellent acrobatic save from a Dulwich free-kick and exhibit close ball control skills outside his penalty area, although the Hendon players and fans would rather the Fabien Barthez-like skills were not displayed away from the training ground.
News of the postponement of the evening match against Harrow Borough had long since filtered to the Hendon fans when the final whistle blew, bringing down the curtain on a season that most Hendon fans, officials and players will consider the most frustrating ever.
"I have never wanted a season to end more than this one," admitted exhausted manager Mr Murphy. "The season has been a complete nightmare and professional players would not be asked to play the sort of schedule we have faced in the past month.
"The players are on their knees, but they have been magnificent. If we had not had the long breaks in the season and played regularly, I am sure we would have finished in the top 6. The squad was certainly good enough for that."