Meet the businessmen who bought Hednesford Town during a global pandemic

At the best of times, businessmen would be considered pretty crazy to buy a football club.

Club owners Hayden Dando and Graham Jones
Club owners Hayden Dando and Graham Jones

So what does that make someone who bought one during a global pandemic?

Well, as Hednesford Town co-owner Graham Jones concedes, 'mental' would probably be the word.

Jones and business partner Hayden Dando were unveiled to fans as the Pitmen's prospective new owners in March 2020.

A week later, the country was heading into the first of its three lockdowns because of coronavirus.

Undeterred, Jones and Dando became official owners of Hednesford on May 1, 2020, despite people still being unable to leave their home because of government restrictions.

So, rewinding 12 months, would Jones do it all again?

"Yes," he declares emphatically. "We had quite a robust plan for the club – we knew it wasn't just for the short term.

"While we hoped it wouldn't, we had it in our mind that the pandemic might hit us."

Many of the plans Jones had hoped to start implementing have been paused because of Covid, while events on the pitch have also ground to a halt.

Hednesford played just eight league games before this season was curtailed – though the most recent was a 5-1 thrashing of Bromsgrove Sporting at Keys Park.

"It's been very frustrating because it's been very stop-start," said Jones – who is club chairman, with Dando his vice-chairman. "We were flying when we were told to stop last time.

"To pick up where we left off will be difficult, but we've done it before so we can do it again."

Club co-owner Graham Jones

Off the pitch, hopes of creating a 'community hub' have been stalled by ongoing social distancing – while planned new office space is to be reviewed after the sudden rise in numbers of people working from home.

However, plans are moving forward with the team – with 32-year-old manager Keenen Meakin-Richards, his assistant Graham Deakin and head coach Jemiah Richards all agreeing three-year contracts.

They are long deals for a club at Hednesford's level, the seventh tier of English football, with most opting for year-long contracts – but it is the first step of the owners' plan of making the Pitmen a full-time professional club.

"It shows a bit of good faith from us as a board that we are happy with them," said Jones. "We like their player recruitment and they also have a plan not just for now, but for two, three years down the line of how they can deliver a better brand of football.

"One season isn't enough because if anyone wants to come in for your manager, they just have to wait to swoop in to take them at the end of the season and all your plans are out the window.

"Giving them three-year deals stops that from happening and gives them security that they are part of our long-term plan."

The deal has made Meakin-Richards a full-time employee of Hednesford Town.

He splits his time between heading the academy – returning to action with them on Monday as coronavirus restrictions began to ease – and running the first team.

Long term, Jones would like the whole club to be full-time, though he has not put any time scale on that and it would require the Pitmen to be playing in the National League – the highest level of non-league football, and touching distance from the EFL.

In the nearer future, he hopes Meakin-Richards can lead his side into a battle for the top spots in the Southern Central Premier when football resumes.

It would be a huge improvement after a tough start to this curtailed season saw them languishing in the relegation zone and parting company with Andy Morrell after just four matches.

"We should be fighting for a promotion space as a bare minimum and we believe we can deliver," said Jones.

Looking ahead, Jones hopes to get the town behind its football club with several other events – marquee friendlies, a charity game for Balls To Cancer and possibly even a concert are all in the pipeline.

"It's all about people knowing we are here and it's not just a place for our first team to play football," he said.

Manager Keenan Meakin-Richards (centre) with assistant Graham Deakin (right) and head coach Jemiah Richards

But the acid test will come when fans can finally return through the turnstiles to watch their team – and Jones knows he will need plenty of them in full voice to achieve his ambitious targets.

"The more fans that come in, the better the atmosphere is," he said. "That is the biggest supporter of getting up the divisions than anything else.

"If they are excited then we are only going to go places quicker."

And a year after his and Dando's unveiling, Jones has a message for fans of the Pitmen: "A massive thank you to all of you. We hope you are all safe and we look forward to seeing you all back soon."

Fans returning will be the next step of Hednesford's aim to move up the leagues.

But full-time football? A place in the National League? These targets sound somewhat crazy.

Then again, these are the aims of a man who bought a football club during a global pandemic – you'd be crazy to rule them out.

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