Thursday 13 June 2024

The long road to the Hadley FC tour of San Marino!

 There is a great write up on the Southern League website about the recent trip to San Marino by local Barnet football team Hadley FC. Hadley play in the Southern League Division one. Regular readers will know that I'm a season ticket holder and a big fan. The story has also been covered by the Evening Standard and the Guardian football podcast. 

I first heard about the trip early in the season. Tom Hammond, who is also a fan and plays trumpet in the False Dots mentioned the trip. He asked whether I'd consider going. I said I'd give it some consideration. The following game, there was a write up in the Hadley programme. More details came to light. Hadley fan Chris Nash was on the verge of completing a 20 year challenge, to watch a football match in every Association that comprises UEFA. He had just watched the 54th out of 55 games and wanted omething special for the 55th. The one territory he'd missed was San Marino and he hit upon the idea of organising a trip for Hadley to play one of the teams. After some research, he settled on Juvenes Dogana FC. Chris made all the arrangements, arranging to fly out the team and club officials. 

At the next home game, a friend accompanied me. He's been to Hadley a couple of times and I mentioned the trip. He agreed that it might be fun. We raised it with our respective partners (who are not footie fans). Not knowing how many of Hadleys regular 160 fans would go, we decided to make a long weekend and spend some time in Rimini (the neighbouring town in Italy). Some further research found a lovely hotel in Cesenatico, a lovely town around 15 miles from Rimini, then a couple of nights in San Marino. Our partners liked the idea of the break, so we booked flights and hotels. This was all done last year.

I casually mentioned to Tom that we were going and not much more was said. It seemed like a very long time in the future. For Hadley, the season started traumatically. Manager Anthony Clark lost his son to cancer, that threw a cloud over the whol team and resulted in a delay to the start of the season. . The team, not really having a proper pre season etc, started poorly and were soon anchored in the bottom three. New striker Isaac Stones took a while to settle and until Xmas the team were poor. In the depth of winter, the San Marino trip seemed like a bonkers pipedream, with many of us thinking it may coincide with relegation. 

However in the new year, the team gelled. Isaac Stones found his scoring boots, the team started winning for fun. By the end of the season, the team were actually in contention for a play off place, with the team winning 12 and drawing 4 of our last 20 games, form which would have seen them near the top of the play off places. Stones finished the season as the leagues top scorer. For the final game, at home to Kempston Rovers, a bit of a party was planned, with us looking forward to San Marino! Sadly tragedy struck. The match was abandoned when the Kempston keeper had a heart attack. Happily he is now fine, but it put a dampener on proceedings.

And on that note, we left, to meet up again in San Marino!

The date really seemed to sneak up on me. Last Thursday, we got up at 4am for our flight and I believe we were the first Hadley fans to touch down in Italy. We had a lovely few days in Cesenatico, before making our way to the Juvenes Dogana stadium. Due to elections, we were informed that there was an alcohol ban in San Marino, so we moved our hotel booking to Rimini. Chris Nash then told us he'd planned a get together after the match at a local club, which happened to be next door to our new hotel. 

We made our way to San Marino on Sunday, had a good look around, very stunning scenery, before making our way to the ground. When we arrived, there was a group of around 25 Hadley fans all congregating. Most had met up the night before to "do Rimini" and there were concerns that the team had not had an early night!. Juvenes Dogana are in the San Marino Premier league and we had no idea what standard they would be. They were in contention for a play off place in the Europa Conference league. We discovered that the alcohol ban had been rescinded, and had a pre match beer at the adjacent bar, chatting with the other fans about their journey. 

We then made our way to the ground. The late night seemed to not affect Hadley as they ran out 9-1 winner.s

It was a highly entertaining match, the best bit being Chris Nash making a cameo appearance, and making the assist for Isaac Stones to score the 7th goal ( I make a cameo appearance in the tweet!).
After the match, we made our way to The Bounty Club in Rimini, where Chris had laid on a spread fit for a King for us. Club chairman Steve Gray presented Chris with a special Hadley shirt and thanked him on all our behalf. Steve also thanked the Juvenes Dogana FC officials and players, and all of us for coming.  I personally cannot thank Chris enough for all the effort he put into organising the trip and his generosity.  It has really underlined what a wonderful club Hadley are and what a great community too. The season was perhaps one of the most difficult as mentioned above, but it finished on a real high. 

It was a wonderfully bonkers long weekend, one I'll not forget in a hurry and I hope that Hadley can one day go on tour again!
Hadley fans at the game

If you've never sampled the joys of Non League football, why not nip up to Hadley in the coming season. It really is fun. Even our spouses enjoyed the craic!
My band, The False Dots released a Youtube video celebrating Hadley FC last November, with footage from our Brickfield Lane home. It features guest performances by Lee Thompson of Madness on Saxophone and Author/poet Allen Ashley on vocals. The band are playing this Sunday at 9.30pm at The Dublin Castle in Camden, London's finest pub venue - - please come along and support grassroots music!


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