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Hendon Green & Gold 19 - Gary McCann

Greensnet Editor
Thu 10 Jul 2014, 07:00

We conclude this season with one of the most important players in recent Hendon history - our manager Gary McCann. This piece, however, is about Gary the player.

Gary McCann joined Hendon on Easter Monday, 31 March 1997, signing in time to make his debut that afternoon against Aylesbury United. It was a tough first game for the former Sutton and Dulwich keeper, and the relegation-threatened Greens ended up on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline.

Gary more than played his part in the team's subsequent escape from the drop, especially in the return victory over Aylesbury at Buckingham Road and then at Top Field, Hitchin. Before the latter game kicked-off, Gary looked a picture in the programme of the Hitchin penalty taker scoring from the spot with a shot towards the goalkeeper's left upright. That nugget of information was stored in his memory bank. After Junior Lewis and Richard Nugent had given Hendon a 2-1 lead, in the final seconds of stoppage time, the Greens conceded a penalty. Up stepped the same kicker, he went the same way and looked on in dismay as Gary pushed away the ball with the game's final touch. Other results that day confirmed Hendon's safety.

The following season was probably Gary's best at Hendon. It certainly held his proudest moments, the two outstanding displays he produced in the FA Cup first round proper matches against Leyton Orient. The Os' top-scorer that season, Carl Griffiths, is probably still wondering how he didn't score in either game. Gary missed only six matches in the 1997-98 season, and ended it with his first winners medal at Hendon. He played his part in the 4-1 second-half demolition of Basingstoke Town at Chesham in the Full Members Cup Final.

By modern standards, Gary was not tall for a goalkeeper, but had every other attribute: great reflexes, an almost elastic reach, safe hands, excellent positional strength and an ability to organise defenders in front of him. He enjoyed another run to the FA Cup first round proper the following season, and added to his medal tally with a second Full Members Cup gong and one from the Middlesex Senior Cup. A goalkeeper is often the hero of a penalty shoot-out, but they are not often among the first five to take spot-kicks. At Enfield, after a 2-2 draw against Wembley, Gary stepped up and blasted his spot-kick … somewhere towards Brimsdown! Another of Gary's strongest suits, however, was his concentration, because he didn't let his miss affect him and he ensured that Avi Schwarz's failure in sudden-death would give his best-mate Freddie Hyatt the chance to win the Cup for Hendon, which he did.

A third consecutive FA Cup first round appearance with Hendon followed in 1999-2000 and Gary was outstanding as Bath City's unbeaten run ended in a 2-0 defeat at Twerton Park. It was the same score in the second round, but Blackpool were more than a little fortunate to sneak past the Greens, denying Gary and the team the chance to take on Arsenal at Highbury in the third round.

Tuesday 18 April 2000 is, no doubt, excruciatingly etched into Gary's mind. It was on that night that his career was effectively ended. He suffered a terrible knee injury, involving a reconstruction operation, the effects of which haunt him to this day. His next Hendon game was on 30 December that year, on a frozen tundra at Heybridge Swifts in an utterly insane 6-5 extra-time defeat in the Full Members Cup. It probably wasn't the ideal surface on which to make a comeback, but he managed 21 appearances in the second half of the season, knowing there would be another visit to the surgeon at the end of the campaign.

Just 10 weeks later, to help out Dave Anderson as he built his new squad following Frank Murphy’s May 2001 departure, Gary played in a pre-season friendly against Southend United at Claremont Road. It was far too soon and his knee couldn't cope. Over the next two seasons, a number of attempted comebacks failed and he made just 12 appearances before deciding to retire. Nonetheless, as an unused substitute, he picked up Middlesex Senior Cup winners' medals in 2002 and 2003.

There was one final game, again to help out Anderson, a 2-0 victory away to Bedford Town on 20 September 2003, his 196th match for Hendon.

But it was not the end of Gary's love affair with Hendon and, on 2 February 2005, he was back, as manager. Fast forward over nine years, and Gary is still in charge – a Hendon legend between the posts and in the dugout.

Joined Hendon: 31 March 1997 (as a player), 2 February 2005 (as manager)
Left Hendon: Autumn 2003
Appearances: 196 (195 starts, 1 substitute)
Goals: None
Medals won: Isthmian League Full Members Cup: 1997-98, 1998-99; Middlesex Senior Cup: 1998-99, 2001-02, 2002-03

The series will continue in the matchday programmes throughout the coming season, and will be repeated on the website next summer.

(David Ballheimer)