Claremont Road

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The famous Claremont Road Ground in Cricklewood NW2 was home to Hendon F.C. for 82 years from 1926 until 2008 and although the Club are now settled into a well appointed home ground at Silver Jubileee Park NW9, for many fans Claremont Road will always be regarded as the Club's spiritual home.

In 1912, Hampstead Town Football Club had moved into a home ground at Avenue Farm, Cricklewood Lane and over the years invested large sums of money making it into a first-class sports enclosure, a gate of 400 in 1912 had grown to 6,000 in 1924.

 

By the mid 1920s however, the Club faced an existential crisis as the rapid development of the local area threatened both the future of the Ground and as a consequence, that of the Football Club.

 

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In 1925, the Avenue Ground was compromised by the construction of the Watford Bypass across Cricklewood Lane which encroached, quite significantly, upon one corner of the enclosure.

 

By moving the pitch, it was still just possible to make it the requisite length to allow football to continue for another season but after that the situation was far from hopeful. 

 

The lease on the Ground was coming to an end and the Club's landlords, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, were refusing to renew it. The Commissioners feared that football games attracting the public in large numbers would detract from the value of the surrounding land in what had become a high-grade building locality.

 

The Club had been in negotiations for other grounds in the area but all efforts had resulted in failure.

It was around this time, that the Government, concerned about public health, had passed an Act which gave them the powers to purchase land to be used for recreational purposes.

 

Hendon District Council were thus sanctioned by the Ministry of Health to spend £31,500 on the purchase of about 60 acres of land in Cricklewood.

 

The land included part of the old Handley Page aerodrome and fields opposite and adjacent to Clitterhouse Farm on Claremont Road.

 

Hampstead Town applied to the Council to lease about six acres of the land at Clitterhouse Farm.

 

The application was approved and a surveyor was instructed to negotiate with the club on the construction of a new home ground.

Hendon Council did the Club no favours in agreeing an initial ground rent of £225 per annum which at the time was considered a very good deal for the local ratepayers.

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A sum of £1,500 was raised, mostly from donations by the Club's supporters, for the construction of the new ground which began in June 1926 and proceeded apace.

 

A comfortable and roomy stand with glass screened ends was erected to accommodate 400 persons with a section in the centre being  enclosed for the use of life members. The stand was designed to be easily extended if required.

A covered standing enclosure, which would hold several hundred, was also constructed and the pavilion from the Avenue Ground was dismantled and re-erected on the site with the addition of a covered veranda.

 

A wood paling enclosure surrounded the  playing pitch and the ground was enclosed by a six-foot wooden fence.

Within three months from the start of construction, the Ground was ready to host  its first match.

The opening ceremony for the new Claremont Road Ground was performed on 18th September 1926 by Lieut. Col. C. D. Crisp. O.B.E., J.P., the President of the Middlesex County F.A. and Chairman of the Athenian League. The ceremony was followed by an F.A. Cup tie against Berkhamsted Town with Hampstead winning 4 - 3 in front of a crowd of 3500. 

 

Claremont Road's much loved covered terrace,  officially known as The Gordon Raymond Stand after the Club President who funded much of it, was constructed in the summer of 1939 and was completed just before the outbreak of War. The Club name was painted on the roof but had to be removed when it was classed as a landmark to enemy bombers.

 

The official opening had to wait until 12th October 1946 when Lieut. Col. Crisp. was again present.  The inauguration took place before the home Athenian League game with Sutton United which resulted in a 2 - 1 win for the now newly named "Hendon F.C.".

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Hampstead F.C. are seen here playing at Claremont Road in the early 1930's

 

In 1934, it was reported that a record crowd, at that time, in excess of 5000 had attended Claremont Road for the Star Shield Schools Football Final when Islington Boys defeated Hendon Boys 1 – 0 on Tuesday 1st May. The Islington team included Pat Lynch, who in later years would captain Hendon F.C.

 

At the final whistle there was a mass pitch invasion of school children and legendary cricketer Jack Hobbs, who was there to present the medals, was mobbed and had to escape to the safety of the dressing rooms.

The official record attendance for Claremont Road was set on 22nd November 1952 when 9000 spectators crammed into the ground to watch Hendon's First Round F.A. Cup tie with Northampton Town which ended in a 0 - 0 draw. 

In 1962, Hendon F.C. were one of the first clubs outside the professional game to install floodlights at their ground, at a cost of £5000.

 

The Claremont Road ground was rare in non league football in having the floodlights on four corner towers rather than on pylons running in line along the sides of the pitch. 

 

The floodlights were officially opened with a game against a near full strength Wolverhampton Wanderers team on 25th September 1962. The Wolves team included England internationals Ron Flowers, Peter Broadbent and Alan Hinton. The game was an eight goal thriller, unfortunately only one of the goals thrilled the Hendon fans, as Wolves ran out winners by 7 - 1.

The floodlights were upgraded in 1971 with the official switch on marked by a game with Luton Town on 4th October. Luton included former Hendon favourite Peter Anderson in their team. This proved a much more even encounter and  an entertaining game ended in a 1 - 1 draw.

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The Claremont Road pitch, with its clay surface and poor drainage was never the best. 

 

Here loyal supporters give up their Sunday morning on 12th February 1961 to fork the pitch, thus ensuring they have a game to watch against Finchley on the following Saturday. 

The supporters were rewarded with a Hendon victory, as Finchley were defeated 2 - 0 in the Middlesex Senior Cup. 

The problems with the playing surface did not prevent Claremont Road being used as the venue for three England Amateur International matches, a 2 - 0 win against Austria on 26th October 1966, a 3 - 0 win against Wales on 5th December 1970 and a 2 - 1 defeat to Northern Ireland on 15th May 1972.

 

Claremont Road was also an Olympic venue, hosting the second leg of the qualifying match between Great Britain and West Germany on 8th November 1967. Although West Germany won the game 1 - 0, the Great Britain team progressed to the next round, 2 -1 on aggregate. 

And did those feet......


The legend that is Denis Law at Claremont Road with fellow Scottish Internationals Jim McCalliog, Billy Bremner and Bobby Lennox, on 13th April 1967, two days before Scotland's game against England at Wembley.

 

The condition of the Claremont Road pitch even in mid April does not look that great but the Scottish players managed to avoid an outbreak of trench foot and went on to record a famous 3 - 2 defeat of World Champions England. 

 

Denis Law was at the centre of much of Scotland's play thoughout the game and, of course, scored the opening goal.

Claremont Road was regularly used as a training base for teams playing International matches or Cup Finals at nearby Wembley Stadium.

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Claremont Road was also a favoured football location for film and television producers and featured often in TV and film productions and adverts.

 

Here Stanley Matthews, Stanley Mortensen and George Hardwick (left to right) play-act for an instructional film being made by the Football Association, at Claremont Road in September 1947

The Claremont Road ground regularly featured in the "Phoenix from the Flames" segment on Baddiel and Skinner's "Fantasy Football League" TV show.

In 2003/4, Claremont Road also served as the home ground of "Fash F.C." in the Bravo TV series "Fashanu's Football Challenge".

In 2008, the Club were forced to vacate the Claremont Road Ground.

 

In a case of history repeating itself, it was once again about the value of the land and its lease for building purposes which was estimated to exceed £10 million to the Club's directors and Barnet Council.

 

As the musician, and journalist Bob Stanley wrote at the time "An 80 year old football ground with a barrel load of charm and history can hardly compete".

 

The final game at Claremont Road was played on 20th September 2008 when local rivals Wealdstone were the visitors with the Stones running out 4 - 1 winners. The final game attracted a crowd of 280 spectators. 

 

Sadly, the Claremont Road Ground was subsequently allowed to become derelict over a number of years while planning issues were resolved.

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The Ground made the national news when it was discovered that it had been occupied by a community of squatters who were living in a quite appalling and dangerous environment.

 

The Ground was eventually demolished to make way for "Claremont Village", a new housing development built on two new roads, Swanell Way and Haider Close, fittingly named after two of Hendon F.C.'s most famous players, John Swannell and Rod Haider.

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In February 1970 "Monthly Soccer" magazine published the folllowing statistics and grading for Claremont Road.

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A memory of Claremont Road. Fash F.C. take on a team of Hendon F.C. reserves and trialists at Claremont Road in October 2003.