When Lee Allinson joined Hendon, it’s fair to say he changed their fortunes. The Wembley-based club had found themselves second from bottom in the Southern League Premier Division South but before the season was voided by the Football Association, they had fought their way to 14th.
“It was a difficult one for me,” he said. “I was at Biggleswade Town at the time, playing in the Southern Central and were 6th in the league. I decided it was right to move to Hendon because I had seen the vision of the club but the club was in a bad place at the time.”
“I had taken the game on Wednesday against Farnborough which we had lost 4-0. The club needed a huge rebuild and with the backing of the club, we did that. Over Christmas, we had an okay period before finding some good form in January and February, winning 6 on the spin. I felt we were in a good position and [had the season continued], I think we would’ve ended up about 10th. For us, it was a good time for the club and I felt we had built a good side just before the season was voided.”
The null and voiding had brought the non-league world to a complete standstill due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Whilst the Premier League and EFL had also been brought to a stop, the FA’s decision had frustrated many non-league supporters. The ‘elite leagues’ were expected to come back in June but non-league was postponed until the start of the 2020/21 season meaning players, managers and fans would go over 5 months without football. Despite it being right for the country to bring football to a halt, it still felt like a kick.
“I’ve been quite vocal on this from day one. I think it was completely wrong and it punished the teams that had done well. I think the decision had been rushed and teams had spent a lot of money with clubs in the league below, being in a good position to go up and that has been taken away from them. Teams at the bottom have had help and those at the top haven’t. I think they needed to give it some time and take a look at it before making a decision. You can have promotion and relegation in the conference but not in our league. It didn’t sit right with me. Truro [City] were one of those that should have been promoted. People would argue there were 10 games left of the season but three-quarters had already been played so they should have been given the league title.”
During the off-season, Hendon had announced the signing of former Walthamstow striker Dwade James. The prolific hitman had been top scorer for two seasons running in the Essex Senior League, bringing him to the attention of clubs in the leagues above.
“It is a fantastic signing for the football club. I can across Dwade at the start of last season when I worked with the Canvey Island manager and he spoke about how he had torn Canvey apart in a pre-season friendly on his own. Credit goes to Ryan Maxwell for having Dwade and what he had done and then Max Mitchell after Ryan had departed. He was someone I followed really closely and I watched him a couple of times. He has a fantastic belief in his ability to score goals and I feel we needed one more to come in to score the goals. I phoned him very late on in April and I think we had communications for about two months and after meeting him and his dad on Saturday, he turned down several clubs and it was between two clubs in the end. He agreed to sign and I would say that was my number one target. He’s strong, he’s quick and he can score goals and that’s exactly what we were looking for. I’m really excited to start working with him.”
The importance of bringing in a prolific striker was top of Lee’s list for the upcoming season. “We have kept the majority of the squad together and have a fantastic side. I think if you look at our results against the top sides last year, they were very good. I feel Dwade was the missing piece to the puzzle and I think bringing him in is great for the club. I could have signed a striker from a higher level but I like what he is about. He wants to prove people wrong, he was to be a professional player and kick on, and I think he will really shock some defenders this season playing alongside the likes of Liam Brooks and Cheyce Grant. We want to try and win the league next year. I have always tried to set out those goals and if we can’t win it outright, we want to hit the play-offs. I feel we have a good enough side to do that and if we do it, it will be a fantastic achievement for the football club.”
Reports had suggested that non-league football could make a return in September but the FA had made it clear, it wouldn’t happen without fans being allowed into the stadium. This gave clubs a sense of hope but a rumoured start date was no great for clubs to work with.
“It’s a really tough one and it’s hard to prepare. One minute, we are hearing early September, and the next we are hearing October. So right now, we don’t know when we are coming back and I think that is wrong. Our clubs have been left in the dark. The league will be split into two groups next year because one group will struggle financially and there will be a group of teams that will do well financially. I don’t think clubs will struggle a little bit, I think teams that do struggle will really struggle. Until we have a definite date, we can’t really kick on or have a proper pre-season. We are in once a week but all we can do right now is build some camaraderie and that’s all we can do. I’d love to be back in September but I think it will be early October will crowds being allowed in.”
The Premier League and EFL was played behind closed doors, but without that being a possibility for non-league clubs, everyone knew the important of fans being allowed back before the resumption of competitive action. Lee was included in that number. “That’s what keeps our football clubs going. It is very important we are allowed back with supporters but it’s also very important we can do so with social distancing. At the same time, we have to get back to a sense of normality because we’ll lose football clubs otherwise. Some of these clubs need protecting and they need fans to come through the door. It is not only gate money these clubs are missing out on but money generated from the bar. Hopefully, the September rumours are true but there is no way these clubs and leagues can play being closed doors and it will have to be a full season. Half games will not allow these clubs to survive.”
The potential start date also gave managers, players and fans something to be excited about.
“I think I am speaking for thousands of people when I say that with the first game back, the result won’t matter. It will just feel fantastic to be back out on that football pitch. We are used to our off-season but we aren’t used to being away from March till whenever we finally return. It has been a long time without football but it makes you realise want it means to you to have it in your life but you also realise that your mental health is important. It won’t just be about the results, but just being around the atmosphere will be great. I can’t wait for that moment. After a couple of weeks, we will be back to win at all costs but early on, I can wait to be back out on the field and battling for three points.”