Price's Wembley memories on hold

Kevin Grogan finds Hendon's manager confident of causing concern in Cardiff
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The Independent Online
The traditional approach of minnows in the FA Cup is to talk up the opposition for fear of a good hammering. Neil Price does not believe in the traditional approach.

"You have got to have a cut-throat attitude," the Hendon manager said, as he prepared his team for their first-round tie at Ninian Park on Saturday. "If you go into these games like a mug, you may as well pin some donkey ears on and let them laugh at you. There's no way we'll be going to Cardiff like that.

"With all respect to Cardiff City, they are not exactly Manchester United, are they? Outside the Premiership, the standard in football has squeezed up. Most of our lads have played at a good level and I really don't think we are far off them."

Which is fighting talk coming from a manager whose team is bottom of the Icis Premier Division. But, having played in an FA Cup final, perhaps Price knows a thing or two about the vagaries of knock-out competition.

His moment of glory was as Watford's left-back in the 1984 final against Everton. Luck played its part in his career when injuries to Wilf Rostron led to a short but spectacular spell with the Vicarage Road club. Price made 11 appearances in the No 3 shirt playing against Manchester United, Arsenal (twice), Levski Spartak, Sparta Prague, a Cup semi-final at Villa Park against Plymouth... and then the Cup final itself.

"It was a good day out, schoolboy dreams fulfilled and all that, but it just went over my head. We were a really young side, especially the back four. I was 20 and the other lads were about the same age. Don't remember much about it.

"We went 2-0 down and I came off but we weren't that bothered. Graham [Taylor] wanted it to be a great day out for everybody. We didn't expect to win, and just made up the numbers."

Price doesn't talk much about the Cup final and doesn't mention it to the players ("they'd think I was a right clown"). Still, he is not the only one to have links with Wembley.

The club did indeed regard itself as the Manchester United of amateur football in the 1950s and 60s, and made the five-mile trip to the stadium on seven occasions, six more than their Welsh opponents. A crowd of 100,000 watched Hendon against Bishop Auckland in 1955 in the FA Amateur Cup final. In more recent times, Hendon made the third round of the FA Cup in1974, holding Newcastle to a 1-1 draw at St James' Park.

Alas, the days of big crowds were over, the club floundered financially and were put up for sale in 1994. Five days before closure, millionaire Ivor Arbiter, whose company distributes Fender guitars, stepped in, bringing Price and his assistant, Richard Parkin, to Hendon in November last year.

"When we arrived here, it was like bloody Colditz, barbed wire and broken glass everywhere. Now the commercial side is going well, the banqueting suite should be ready in January, which will also be used as a youth club. We have a good relationship with the council and we are on a solid footing."

Attendances now do not come close to the level of the 50s, hovering around the 400-mark, but the masterplan is to increase the capacity and get into the Vauxhall Conference. "Ivor has given me money to strengthen the team. We've got a decent side and players like Junior Lewis and Jermaine Darlington are as good as most players in the Conference or the Third Division.

"We've got lots of games in hand because we are in five cup competitions. OK, the league position looks bad but we have only lost twice in 15 games."

Hendon are now in only four cups, having lost to Sutton United at home in the FA Umbro Trophy last Saturday. Price admitted that they were lucky to keep the score down to 3-1 as the majority of players were thinking more in terms of Cardiff than Claremont Road.

"It's annoying. You prepare them correctly and they play like that. Still, they know they were rubbish. We missed Curtis [Warmington, the club captain] at the back but he'll be back for Saturday. But, let's face it, the pressure is not on us. This could be a real banana skin for Cardiff. They lost to Enfield at this stage two years ago.

"Dover of the Vauxhall Conference didn't show us any respect in the third qualifying round. We went there and beat them 1-0. Some journalist from the Western Post or something in Wales phoned me up and said: `Have you got any chance?' Cheeky so-and-so. Of course we have got a great chance and we are going to push them bloody hard."

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