For years Hemel Hempstead has craved a football team it can be truly proud of – and now, at long last, it seems that the town has its wish courtesy of Dean Brennan and his high-flying Tudors.
Just three seasons ago, the club faced an anxious wait to see whether they would be relegated from the Southern Premier Division following a dismal campaign in front of an average gate of around 150 spectators.
To the relief of chairman Dave Boggins and the hardcore Tudor faithful, the club was given the reprieve. And the rest, as they say is history.
Since then, the club has brought in the excellent management duo of Brennan and Stuart Maynard, been promoted from the Southern Premier, and bumper crowds are now enjoying a highly encouraging debut season in the Vanarama Conference South – just two divisions below the Football League.
This has certainly been a season of change at Vauxhall Road, with the team barely recognisable from the one which romped to promotion last season as Brennan continues to build a squad capable of challenging the very best sides in the division.
Out have gone fans’ favourites including last season’s top scorer Ben Mackey and strike partner Lewis Toomey, but they have been replaced by the likes of Oliver Hawkins and Dennis Oli who are now beginning to form a formidable partnership up front.
Halfway through the campaign – and following a stuttering start to the season – the Tudors have certainly found their feet in their lofty surroundings. They currently sit in ninth position in the table and have embarked on an impressive run of form which puts them just three points off a playoff place.
And boss Brennan feels that there are real reasons for quiet optimism among the Tudor followers. “We are in a good form, and the signs are good,” he said. “We will continue to take it one game at a time and I feel the whole club is enjoying our first ever experience of Conference South football.
“We have delivered on the creative side of things, but I am disappointed with our clean sheet record – this is something that we must improve upon. The goal is still the same target we set back in July; if we reach the points target I set we will have an amazing season.”
Skipper Jordan Parkes has been the leading light for Hemel this season, with the midfielder popping up with spectacular and important goals on an almost weekly basis.
Parkes, a Hemel lad himself, is fiercely proud of the club and says that he is delighted with the way the team have adjusted to life on the pitch.
“I think the team has adapted extremely well to Conference South football,” he said. “It took us about 10 games to adapt to the different style of play.
“Last season we could play free-flowing football and knew that we were going to score more goals than our opponents, so we mainly focused on an attacking style of play.
“But in the Conference South, teams are a lot more organised in defensive positions – the two centre-midfield players tend to sit and protect their back-four and make it hard for teams to break them down.
“We have had to modify slightly and had to move the ball a lot quicker to create opportunities. Having spoken to a lot of other players in the league, they all say we are one of the best teams and play some lovely football.
“The squad has changed a lot since last season, with only a handful of players left from our title-winning squad. This shows how we have had to adjust and change to compete at this level.
“As the captain I am very proud of how the first half of the season has gone. We are constantly creating history and our aim is to reach the playoffs and get promoted.”
With 17 league games of the season left to play, there is certainly nothing to suggest that a real promotion push is out of reach for the in-form Tudors. With Brennan at the helm and Parkes pulling the strings in midfield, Hemel can continue to march onwards, and upwards.