#1 So long Stanley, all the best

Hednesford Town v Hitchin Town – 31st December 2022 – Keys Park

The floodlights are shining bright on New Years Eve at Keys Park, the turf glowing green and a seasonal misty dew hangs in the air. Supporters in the main stand rise to their feet as the stadium announcer confirms the 79th minute substitute. The number 9 is illuminated on the 4th official’s board and Hednesford Town’s number no.9 Stanley Anaebonam slowly begins to make his way off the field. The Pitmen lead Hitchin Town 3-1 and have been threatening a fourth goal for some time in this Southern Premier League Central division fixture. Manager Steve Burr certainly thinks the 3 points are won, enough so to sacrifice Anaebonam, scorer of 31 goals this season, with 11 minutes to spare. Hednesford supporters have not seen goalscoring from one player at a rate like this since the mid 1990’s.

Hednesford starting XI v Hitchin

It’s been a quiet day for Stanley by his standards, limited to a couple of half chances in the first half. No matter what level it is, 30+ goals by Christmas gets you noticed and that is what has happened here. Stanley wasn’t brought off by his manager to be saved for another fixture a few days away, no, he was allowed off to have an ovation, for the Hednesford fans to say thanks but goodbye. In 6 days time, Stanley signs for Finn Harps in the Airtricity Irish Premier League.

Stanley Obinna Anaebonam, 23, signed for Hednesford Town during the summer of 2022, still hurting after being released by Shelbourne of the Airticity Irish Premier League. However, with a goal return of 0 in 14 games in 2 seasons, it’s no surprise his then manager Damien Duff felt Stanley’s wage fee could probably be better spent on somebody else. Agreeing a non-contract deal worth £100 a game with Hednesford Town, Stanley was back in the Midlands of England, a footballing region where he had trodden before for the likes of Wolverhampton Casuals, Redditch United and Solihull Moors with limited success.

His 2 years of professional status with Shelbourne meant Stanley returned to England in strong physical shape. Strong in the air, fast and aggressive with it, in pre-season he looked a class above. Assistant manager Neil Tooth commented that with attributes like this in his locker, Stanley was good enough for the Vanarama National League, two leagues above where Hednesford currently lie.

The season started well for Stanley, scoring a goal on his debut away in the sunshine at Rushall Olympic. Heading home at the far post from winger Joe Cuff’s cross, enough for Hednesford to claim a point on the opening day at the manor of their local rivals 7 miles down the road.

Another header followed 3 days later, this time on his home debut in front of the Keys Park faithful against Mickloever Sports in a 3-1.

We knew he was good in the air but against Bromsgrove Sporting under the midweek Keys Park floodlights Stanley showed a touch of class with his feet. Left midfielder Kyle Bennett sent a high ball over the top for Stan to run onto. Stan showed pace to get past his defender, his first touch was sublime, killing Bennett’s high ball dead like he was wearing slippers. With his next touch, he volloyed the ball from 25 yards over the keeper and into the net for 2-0.

He soon became the gift that kept on giving with a hat-trick in a 5-0 home win over Bedford United the following weekend. He truly was a player that got the 300 or so Hednesford fans that turned up week-in-week-out excited.

Saturday 25th October 2022 was the date that everyone at Hednesford realised Stanley was something special at this level. Having gone 2 games without a goal, a second half hat-trick including 2 powerhouse headers helped The Pitmen to their 2nd 5-0 win in the month of October.

Stanley’s analsyis in the Southern League Premier Central

The month of October had yielded 10 goals for Stan in 7 appearances. Eyebrows were being raised, people were taking notice, scouts were spotted in the stands. It was time for manager Steve Burr to get Stanley to commit to a contract for the rest of the season at least, if not longer. Stanley was of course playing on a non-contract basis for £100 a week, he was free to sign for whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Stanley Obinna Anaeboram was just one of two players at the club who had an agent (Kyle Bennett the other). Gary Gafney was an Irish based football agent who took Stanley on during his time in Dublin with Shelbourne the previous season. Gary certainly knew the worth of Stan and he told Steve Burr that the club could not offer him wages sufficient for his ability. This left Steve Burr with the one admittedly, very feint hope that no club would come in for him. It certainly didn’t help that Stan was awarded the Southern League Premier Central Player of the Month award for October.

November started with another brace for Stan in a 4-0 home win over Royston Town, the 3 points moving Hednesford Town up to 3rd in the league, his value to this team was unmeasurable. By now, the cat was out of the bag. Gary Gafney had done his work and it soon became common knowledge that Drogheda United and Finn Harps had offered Stan professional contracts. It was only a matter of time until his decision was made.

The following week, it was announced via Twitter that Stanley had agreed to join Finn Harps. Rumour had it he had signed a 3 year deal on £1,900 a week, no wonder he turned down Hednesford. It was another case of a player with potential slipping through the net for Hednesford. No future fees, no sell-on clause, no nothing. The only silver lining being that Finn Harps couldn’t officially register Stan for the Airtricity Irish Premier League until the transfer window opened again in January.

Despite the distraction of his upcoming transfer to the top flight of the Republic of Ireland, Stanley continued in his rich vein of goalscoring form. He told the local paper, the Express and Star, that he wished to repay the club by scoring as many goals as he could before he left the club.

You would have thought the fans may have resented Stanley for treating their precious club as merely a stepping stone to future riches, it would be easy done. Accusations of ‘another one leaving for the money’, some may have labelled him a mercenary even. But this is non-league, a more forgiving landscape. Stanley was true to his word and played out of his skin for the Cross Keys badge in his following games, commitment like that cannot be ignored.

2 goals against Ilkeston Town (albeit a painful last gasp 3-2 defeat), 2 goals at Bracknell Town in a romping 4-1 win the next week. Another brace 7 days later helped The Pitmen defeat local rivals Rushall Olympic in front a larger than normal crowd at Keys Park. Stan was ticking all of the boxes for supporter love and enabling those fans to dream of promotion back to the Vanarama North for the first time since 2015/16.

On 17th December 2022, Stanley scored his final goal for Hednesford at Coalville Town, his 31st in all after just 29 games. Keeper Tiernan Brooks launched a counter attack with a high hoof for Stan to use his pace. In typical fashion, Stan controlled the ball superbly with his 1st touch and before he knew it he was one-on-one with the Coalville Town keeper. The outcome inevitable, certainly familiar. He rolled it through the keepers legs and was celebrating with the travelling Pitmen fans, all 33 of them behind the goal, seconds later.

So, back to today. Stanley was given a good send off by the fans as he left the Keys Park field to be replaced by young Arjun Toor, an 18 year old on loan from Walsall. After he had put his tracksuit top on his torso, he made his way from the dugout to the base of the main stand to thank supporters. Realistically, the Irish Premier League will be as good as it gets for Stanley, but for him at least, he can say he is a professional footballer once again.

Southern League Premier Central table 31.12.22

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a 1-man Hednesford team. In goalkeeper, young Tiernan Brooks, 20 on-loan from Notts County, The Pitmen have a steady keeper, improving all the time. He’s made some vital saves and 8 clean sheets is plenty to shout about. Tiernan’s loan ends on December 31st and Notts County won’t allow him to return, wishing for him to develop at a higher level, which is a shame.

At left back the pacey Adam Livingstone has proven himself at this level. He can defend and attack, setting up 4 goals this season. Unfortunately, he was another on a non-contract. His competent performances have caught the attention of Scottish side Brora Rangers. Being a Scot, you can understand why he has decided to return home in January.

With 7 points to catch up on leaders Stourbridge, many think the Southern Premier League Central title is beyond Hednesford Town. Losing 3 key players, with hardly any funds to replace them, just staying in contention for the playoffs is going to be a challenge.

Who is going to score the goals now Stan has gone? Well, Leroy Lita, at 38 years young, has 12 goals to his name, but he has blown hot and cold in Stanley’s shadow. Mason Birch at 22 has potential and he did score a hattrick earlier on this season against Clitheroe in the FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round. Riley O’Sullivan has potential but is yet to really show it. Arjun Toor, 18, the recently signed loanee from Walsall, replaced Super Stan in Stan’s final game, scored on his debut shows promise, but, who knows?

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