With Maidenhead's match inevitably falling victim to Havant's notoriously wet pitch early Saturday morning I hastily scoured the internet for a list of potential alternatives. With West London options Egham and Walton Casuals being struck off for respectively a rail replacement bus service and a long walk from the station, I started to cast my net further afield, dropping an inquisitive tweet to The Cold End about the ease of getting to Enfield Town's newish QE II ground at the wonderfully non league address of Donkey Lane.
A swift response revealed several convenient options and so I found myself sitting on a train on platform 1 at Liverpool Street ready for a journey to Enfield Town. The Town were playing Canvey Island, and I had conflicting feelings about both clubs, something which hadn't changed by the final whistle, however a realisation of dread when I remembered the ground also served as an athletics stadium was to soon be allayed as the good ship QE II revealed itself to be a delightful curio of the Isthmian league.
As the train crawled through the suburbs of North East London a cold clammy feeling came over me as Seven Sisters was followed by Bruce Grove and that den of iniquity White Hart Lane, one I was to be reminded of throughout the game by the Enfield strip of white shirts and, be thankful for small mercies, light blue shorts.
On arrival Google Maps proved useful for once taking me on a mile walk to the ground along the New River Path which tended to avoid the road in favour of a trail down the back gardens of the semi detached houses which filled my route to the game.
|Accessory of an Enfield style icon|
Shortly after crossing over a rather harshly fenced New River I arrived in the playing fields which hosted the QE II stadium and joined the queue to get in, a reflection of the fact that however many turnstiles are required by the ground grading there is rarely more than one open.
A friendly welcome greeted me on the other side from the programme sellers with most of the attention focused on my lunchtime shopping which appeared to give me the rare status of style icon. If it was flattery they needn't have bothered as I'm a compulsive programme buyer.
My first impression of the ground was shaped by the beautifully designed club house. Built in the art deco style which I guess reflected the age of the athletics stadium, the structure presumably inspired or was created in response to the cruise ship which shares it name with the ground and our current monarch.
|The bow of the QE II?|
|Funnel fueled by alcohol and the viewing deck|
This immediately reduced the worry of watching a game behind a running track and seemed quite in keeping with the radical nature of a club that had rode out three decades of vicissitudes to fight another day.
The story of Enfield football is little known outside of non league circles and therefore worth repeating. Back in 1986 they were the top club in non league football winning the Alliance Premier League (now Conference) seven points clear of another football name to have fallen on hard times, Frickley. However the title only brought them the unwanted one of the last team to win the Conference before automatic promotion was introduced the following season. There followed a slow and depressing decline, chronicled by one of the original football fanzines, The Talk of The Town End.
My path crossed with some of their misfortune. I can remember being at the 1995 Berks & Bucks Senior Cup Final when Slough Town fans erupted in joy at the news that Isthmian League champions Enfield had been barred from promotion back to the Conference due to financial irregularities opening the door to the Rebels, who ironically would soon go into decline themselves.
|Sir Barry Di Rakeio|
By the time Maidenhead United made it into the Isthmian Premier at the turn of the century, Enfield has sold their Southbury Road ground, and so it was a deserted Boreham Wood (no change there) where I saw Barry Rake score a sublime brace of goals to win the game 2-0.
Around this time though the long suffering fans had had enough and exasperated by the actions of chairman Tony 'Papa' Lazarou became the first to breakaway and form their own club, opting for the quietly unassuming epithet of Town. Well before disenchanted fans of Wimbledon and Manchester United discovered non league football and set up similar breakaway clubs, Enfield fans blazed a trail of what it meant to own a club, demonstrating that spirit and memories could trump whatever was written on legal documents.Without the support of media which has always been in thrall to AFC/FCUM, putting a patronising spin on how some liberal minded individuals were showing us all how to run a football club, Enfield Town quietly set about their task of rising from the bottom of the football pyramid and moving back to their own ground in Enfield. Ironically the old Enfield club eventually folded and ended up having to tread the same path as Town, adding 1893 to their name, and now play at Town's old ground in Brimsdown in the Essex Senior League. That Town attracted 435 to yesterday's game despite being deep in relegation trouble reflects why they tend to be seen as the "real" Enfield club nowadays by me at least.
Town have been playing at the QE II ground for a little over two years and have quickly made the best of the location. Although temporary terracing in front of the clubhouse is rather pointless due to the view being obscured by the dugouts, the way in which the covered terracing behind each goal is adjacent to the pitch in front of the running track meant a sufficient atmosphere was generated by both sets of fans.
Cheered on by the vociferous Town End Ultras, Enfield started the game well inspired by the Tiggerish attacker Tyler Campbell who was brought down in the penalty area in the fourth minute to set up the games opening goal.
Campbell was at the heart of most of the positive Enfield play for the most part, linking up well with right back Sam Griffiths. He was joined up front by the portly pair of Liam Hope and Mark Kirby, prime examples of players at this level whose talent is just enough to compensate for their less than trim physique. It was Hope who scored the spot kick to put Enfield in front, and was unfortunate not to get a second opportunity a few minutes later when he himself was brought down right in front of me as I passed through the Town End Ultras.
Settling down to watch the game in the small stand opposite the club house it became clear that the elements were going to have a big influence on the game with a strong westerly wind initially at the backs of the Canvey players leading to their best chances of the half through a couple of swirling long shots, one of which was tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Noel Imber, the other grazing the crossbar.
My vantage point was directly opposite the dug outs from where I could see George Borg up to his usual tricks, leaping from the dugout to swear at the referee. I've never had anytime for Borg since his Aldershot team smashed up the York Road away dressing in a tantrum following a game in which the Isthmian league champions elect had been humbled in a 3-0 defeat to the Magpies. Still his managerial record is impressive, particularly with regard to Enfield and on the evidence of the first hour it looked like his team had the wherewithal to grab a vital win in their fight against relegation.
Opponents Canvey Island had trod a not dissimilar path to the home team. Following a climb from the Essex Senior League to the Conference and FA Trophy glory at Wembley, Owner/Chairman/Manager Jeff King tired of subsidizing the club and moved to Chelmsford City. Those that remained sensibly applied for a demotion back to the Isthmian League. Since then they have won promotion to the Premier Division and despite being eclipsed in football terms on the Island by Concord Rangers still boast bigger and more vocal support as was displayed yesterday, cheering on a team kitted out in a rather smart 80s style yellow kit with pale blue pinstripes.
The far side of the ground also had additional entertainment in the form of young ball boys who did not hold back in supporting their team, joining in with the songs of the Town End Ultras and dancing to the regular renditions of Yankee Doodle Dandy. Not that this impressed one ageing Canvey fan whose response to one ball boy's shout of " Come on Enfield" was "Fuck off you little shit".
After the break the main show was an apocalyptic storm complete with driving rain, thunder and lightning. Soon after the restart Enfield used the wind to their advantage with testing crosses, one of which was cleared off the line and another pushed round the post by the hand of the goalkeeper.
Canvey though absorbed the pressure well and their playing style proved better adapted to the weather as they counter attacked with pace, keeping the ball on the floor to expose a flat footed defence. After equalising with a header from Jason Hallett from a near post cross which Imber should have dealt with, Canvey raced into a 3-1 lead with good finishes from Jay Curran and Hallett.
All seemed lost for Enfield as the board indicating five minutes of stoppage time was raised, and in the fourth of these a second goal from Hope seemed nothing more than a consolation. As the clock ticked into the 96th minute though, Enfield got a corner. Joe Stevens hit the ball into wind and watched as it curled back into the net with what proved to be practically the last kick of the game, the final whistle sounding as Canvey kicked off.
This was a thrilling end to a game that wasn't exactly a classic but nevertheless was great entertainment in what were at times appalling weather conditions.
|View from the clubhouse side|
|Not much room at the Town End|
|The view from behind the goal|
|Looking towards the Eastern end|
|Looking across the pitch at the clubhouse|