Hayes & Yeading United’s pain
IN MAY, Hayes & Yeading United celebrated their tenth birthday. The reality, however, was that there was very little to celebrate.
A decade ago, it was all so different. There was optimism as near-neighbours Hayes and Yeading announced their merger.
In a statement, the new club said: “The two sides, both members of last season’s Conference South and both located within the West Middlesex town of Hayes, have decided to join forces, integrate resources and bring together a community, creating a new superclub on the non-league scene.”
Initally, the new club prospered. After finishing 13th in Conference South – higher than both their predecessors the previous season – in their debut campaign of 200708, it was the following season that made people sit up and take notice.
After coming fourth under boss Garry Haylock, the play-offs looked like turning into a nightmare when they trailed Eastleigh 4-0 at home after just 50 minutes.
As a spectator that night at Church Road, it looked like the tie was already done and dusted but H&Y showed some grit to halve the deficit by the finish.
United won 2-0 at Eastleigh in the second leg to take the tie into extra-time. They then finished the job off, Scott Fitzgerald scoring twice to cap an astonishing turnaround. If that was dramatic, then so too was the play-off final at Hampton & Richmond Borough.
United were 2-1 down with 20 minutes left after keeper Delroy Preddie rolled the ball out in front of himself and exHayes striker Ian Hodges, lurking behind, nipped in to steal the ball and slot into an empty net.
The bulk of the bumper Beveree crowd lapped it up.
But Preddie’s embarrassment was spared when midfielder Steven Gregory struck twice to turn the game around and earn United promotion to the Blue Square Premier. Hayes & Yeading maintained their place in Non-League’s top flight for the next two seasons, but then things started to go wrong – and how.
At the end of May 2011, the club’s first-ever manager Garry Haylock resigned. Just as significantly, if not more so, the club’s stadium Church Road, the old Hayes ground, was sold to developers Barratt Homes and United moved to Woking while a redevelopment of Yeading’s old home, The Warren, was carried out.
With money bulging from their back pockets after selling off Church Road, most people expected Hayes & Yeading to be back in Hillingdon Borough before too long.
Instead, their exile continued – and their fortunes on the pitch nosedived, too.
United were relegated to Conference South in 2011-12 and then, with former Liverpool defender Phil Babb in charge, finished in the relegation places of Non-League’s second tier in 201314, only to be reprieved due to Hereford United’s expulsion from the Conference Premier.
In 2014-15, they finished 19th to hang on to their status, but eventually in 2015-16 they were relegated – despite Haylock having a second spell in charge – to the Southern Premier.
If anyone thought life was going to be any easier at Step 3, they were mistaken. Hayes & Yeading suffered their third relegation in five years last term and feature in the Evo-Stik South East this season.
For virtually all that time, they have played ‘away from home’ – groundsharing at Woking, Maidenhead and, latterly, Beaconsfield SYCOB.
That was because work on their new home at Yeading had not been completed, money running short to finish the job.
There was a glimmer of light a year ago when United did play at the SkyEx Community Stadium in pre-season and at the start of the Southern League season, but it proved a false dawn as they had to move out again due to a lack of a safety certificate.
It all leaves talk of creating a ‘Non-League super-club’ in tatters and has left a sour taste in the mouth.
For while there were two clubs, admittedly struggling to attract big crowds, competing at a high level of Non-League football and providing entertainment, at times, in their community. Now there is one club competing at a lower level who have been absent for vir-
tually half-a-dozen years. Recently, I took a trip down memory lane. I got in my car and made the ten-minute drive from my home in Greenford to Hayes’ old ground, Church Road.
The stadium has, of course, long since gone. Instead, there are lots of nice new houses with gleaming cars outside them.
There is nothing to suggest there was even a football stadium there, some of the residents probably don’t know.
There is no statue, monument or plaque to record the feats of days gone by, only a few signs saying ‘No Ball Games’.
When I was sports editor at the Hayes & Harlington Gazette 20 years ago, it was a golden time for Hayes. Terry Brown had led them into the Conference, they had a young striker called Jason Roberts who would go on to make a name for himself and they had a solid, old-fashioned Non-League ground to call home. It truly is sad to see it struck from the landscape. One person shocked and saddened by the merged club’s plight is the aforementioned Brown. The current Basingstoke boss said: “There was nothing wrong with the concept of merging the two clubs – selling Church Road for millions and building a brand new purposebuilt stadium. Neither side was making money. “It was just mismanaged and you have to ask the question ‘where did that money go?’. They should have had at least a couple of million pounds left over (after selling Church Road and building a new ground). “Yeading was a tidy little ground. In fact, you could have tarted it up and been playing Conference football now. “To go with grandiose plans and build an astroturf pitch before the ground was plain nonsense. They have done things back to front. “The club should have been flying now. I feel sorry for Tony (O’Driscoll, chairman). He’s put a lot of money, time and effort in to get it up to grade. “Any team away from home for that long struggles to hold on to their supporter base. “There are still fantastic people down there and I hope they can eventually get back home
permanently. I think they have hit rock bottom and the only way is up.”
It’s all a far cry from when Brown was starting out as a striker with Hayes in the early 1970s.
“Hayes was my first ever club as a 17-yearold and I was lucky enough to play in a brilliant side alongside Robin Friday, who was a legend for us and at Reading,” said the 64year-old ex-Aldershot, AFC Wimbledon and Margate boss.
“In my first year we beat Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup. We drew with Reading, lost in a replay and they bought Robin.
“Bob Gibbs was a fantastic manager and I learned a lot from him. I also had a second spell at the club as a player, which was enjoyable.
“Later I was coaching at Wokingham and the Hayes job came up. Derek Goodall (chairman) turned me down, but the job became available a year later and I got it.
“I was manager for just short of ten years. We gradually got better and better and the peak was finishing third in the Conference (1998-99). However, our budget was nowhere near the likes of Stevenage and they nicked all our best players.
“During that time we sold a number of players, including Jason Roberts (to Wolves). That kept us going for a few years, but the money was getting tighter and tighter and it was difficult to recruit players with our budget.”
Another manager who didn’t foresee United’s current plight is former Yeading manager Johnson Hippolyte.
Now in charge at Staines Town, the man known as ‘Drax’ in football circles was famously the Ding boss when they won through to the FA Cup third round and faced Newcastle United at QPR’s Loftus Road in January 2005, going down 2-0.
“I had a great six years there,” said Hippolyte, who had previously played for the club.
“We had two promotions and reached the third round of the FA Cup, which put the club on the map.
“I remember saying after the Newcastle game when a mic was shoved under my nose that, apart from my kids being born, it was the proudest day of my life.
“Twelve years later it’s still the case. I still meet people now and they remember the game and the players. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
“We had some really good players, like DJ Campbell, and it was good club that looked like it could build to go on to the next level.
“I left before the merger, but they looked like a club on the up when they won promotion. It saddens me to see what’s been going on over the last five or six years.
“I keep saying I have to go and have a look at the new stadium, but I don’t want to go until it’s fully ready.”
But former Maidenhead manager Hippolyte believes O’Driscoll is the right man to put Hayes & Yeading back on track.
“I brought him to Yeading and he was part of my backroom team,” recalled the 53-year-old. “He will be trying his best and working hard behind the scenes to sort things out.
“I have fond, fond memories of Yeading – it holds a spot in my heart. I wish them all the best and if there’s anything I can do to help, Tony only has to call me.”
O’Driscoll himself understands fans’ frustrations over the way the club has gone backwards in recent years.
“When the club sold the ground and went to Woking, I couldn’t understand that,” he said.
“It was a difficult place to get to, the traffic was bad and the fans didn’t want to go there.
“They must have been really fed up.When we got home last year, a lot of supporters came that hadn’t been since the amalgamation, but they stopped after we moved out again. “Hopefully they will now come back.” And O’Driscoll – who became chairman four years ago – believes it’s best for United to take their medicine now.
“It would have been easy to have spent more money and got better players in,” he said,“but that money was better used going into the ground to get back playing there.
“When you’re groundsharing, you’re paying to use another club’s facilities and you don’t have a bar to earn income.You are leaking money all the time.
“By going back, you aren’t paying to play and certainly not leaking as much money.”
Perhaps United’s fortunes are finally starting to improve.
They’re back playing at the SkyEx Community Stadium and have made a decent start to the campaign in league and cup. The long-suffering fans will be hoping that it’s the beginning of a climb back up the leagues.
ground Gone: Hayes’ old Church Road is now a housing development Jason Roberts Stadium New home: The SkyEx Community
Hero: Yeading’s DJ Campbell