23 November 2014

Solid Wood

Saturday 22nd November 2014
Vanarama Conference South
Boreham Wood 1-1 Gosport Borough
Meadow Park 
Attendance: 222
BOREHAM WOOD came from behind for the third consecutive home game, this time to draw 1-1 with Gosport Borough on a grey and drizzly afternoon at Meadow Park.

This had the makings of a fascinating contest, and, on an otherwise gloomy day where the floodlights were on well before kick-off, it didn't disappoint.

Wood proudly sat four points clear at the top of Conference South, following last Saturday's draw at Concord Rangers, the club which will host Mansfield Town in an FA Cup 1st Round replay on Tuesday night.

Visitors Gosport Borough arrived in Hertfordshire in fine form themselves - seventh in the table, seven points behind Wood but with three games in hand.  Last season's FA Trophy runners-up were on a run of one defeat in 14 games in all competitions, their only reversal in over two months being the 3-6 loss against League One Colchester United in the FA Cup.

Borough are also unbeaten away from home this season, and although Boreham Wood had won 1-0 down at Privett Park when these two teams met in September, Wood chairman Danny Hunter rates the Hampshire team as the best his side have faced so far this season.

Despite a bright start from the home side, it was Gosport Borough who took the lead on 18 minutes.   After home 'keeper James Russell had parried Dan Smith's shot, Tom Dunford reacted quickest to slot home.  The goal prompted an unusual bell-ringing celebration from one visiting fan sitting adjacent to the press box.

In a now familiar situation of being a goal down at home, Wood went in search of an equaliser.  Centre-back Josh Hill side-footed the lively Matty Wichelow's cross just wide, and only a remarkable double save from Gosport 'keeper Nathan Ashmore denied the league leaders in the 37th minute.  First, he parried Ricky Shakes' shot, before recovering to block Lee Angol's re-bound effort at point blank range.

Late goals in Wood's last two homes fixtures, against Wealdstone and Maidenhead United, had turned a 0-1 half-time deficit into a 2-1 win.  Today, the home fans had to wait only until the 62nd minute for the equaliser, when Whichelow's low cross from the left was eventually stabbed home by Shakes after several ricochets in the penalty area.

The game continued with Wood enjoying the majority of possession, but with Gosport still dangerous on the break.  Ashmore again came to the visitors' rescue, parrying Junior Morias' swerving shot two-handed, and there was a late shout for a penalty when Sam Cox appeared to get a push in the back as he tried to meet Luke Garrard's lofted cross at the far post.

There was to be no late winner this time though, and Boreham Wood had to settle for a draw.

It had been an entertaining contest between two in-form teams at Meadow Park, and a good advertisement for Conference South football.  The one point gained for Wood today is also enough to keep Ian Allinson's team three points clear at the top of the table, as they now prepare for the visit of struggling Weston-super-Mare on Monday evening.

This was the second home game where Boreham Wood FC ran their new initiative to boost home support.  Representatives of a wide range of local clubs, be it Cubs, Scouts, athletics, football or indeed any local youth club, can now purchase an adult matchday ticket for £10 (normal price £13) which also includes admission for two children.  In addition to the discounted admission, for each ticket purchased, Boreham Wood will donate £4 to the relevant club or society.

According to Wood's Community Manager Charlie Hunter, 53 tickets were sold through this scheme when it was first run for the home game versus Wealdstone two weeks ago, resulting in £212 being donated to local clubs, and over 80 children coming to see their local team go top of the league.

ithout a substantial away following, Meadow Park was much more sparsely populated today than it had been two weeks ago, and lacked the sort of buzz which would have been fitting of a top-of-the-table clash like this.

But it's worth remembering that, one year ago, Boreham Wood were languishing in the bottom three of this league, while Meadow Park's West Stand was still under construction.  Twelve months on, with a slightly increased home support and a four-sided ground, they are top of the table, and refusing to be beaten.

16 November 2014

Relocation, Relocation

Saturday 15th November 2014
Essex Senior League
Enfield 1893 3-0 Sporting Bengal United
The Harlow Arena, Barrows Farm
Attendance: TBC
HOW times change.

In the 1980s the original Enfield FC was top dog in English football's non-league structure.  Two Alliance Premier League (now Vanarama Conference) titles and two FA Trophy wins between 1982 and 1988 came during a golden era where the Es also recorded several wins against Football League opposition in the FA Cup.

The second of those league titles was won in 1985/86, the season before automatic promotion to the Football League was introduced. This was the end of the era where the Football League chairmen would gather at the AGM to vote on whether or not to sacrifice an existing member of the ‘elite 92' and allow the champions of the non-league world to make the step up.  More often than not, the status quo would be retained, and, predictably, Enfield’s hopes were dashed in 1986.

Despite suffering relegation in 1990, Enfield were Isthmian League champions once and runners-up five times in the next seven seasons.  Unfortunately the club was denied a return to Conference football on winning the league title in 1995, as the Southbury Road ground no longer met the enhanced grading requirements for hosting football in non-league’s top tier.

Tough times followed.  By the late 1990s the club’s chairman Tony Lazarou had sold the ground for housing development, and Southbury Road hosted football for the last time in September 1999.

By spring 2000 Enfield were ground-sharing at Boreham Wood, where attendances plummeted, as did the team’s fortunes on the pitch.

It was in summer 2001 that the Supporters’ Trust, no longer believing that Lazarou was interested in returning the club to the London Borough of Enfield, voted to break away and form England’s first fan-owned club.  And so Enfield Town Football Club was born - a club which has featured several times on this site over the past three seasons.

What remained of the original club battled on, but successive relegations meant that by 2004 the E's were down in Step 4 of the non-league pyramid.  After another ground move to Ware, just a short drive up the A10 from Enfield, the team stabilised on the pitch and returned to Step 3 in 2005.

Sadly, Enfield FC was forced into liquidation two years later when the club was unable to remove itself from the former chairman’s debts.  The board of Enfield Town FC offered a merger in summer 2007, but the E's opted to go it alone.

Reforming as Enfield 1893, the club began its new incarnation in the Essex Senior League (Step 5), and, after a three-year spell at Broxbourne, finally returned to the London Borough of Enfield in 2010.  In a strange twist, the E's moved into the Goldsdown Road ground in Brimsdown, where they spent one season sharing a home with Enfield Town.

Enfield 1893 were crowned league champions at the end of the 2010/11 season, but in another twist, were denied promotion to the Isthmian League.  Enfield Town, in preparation for a move to their new home at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, were dismantling the spectator facilities which they had installed at Goldsdown Road, meaning that the ground no longer met Isthmian League standards.

Since then, last season's three-horse race for the title with Great Wakering Rovers and Haringey Borough is the closest the E's have come to repeating that success.  They started today's game languishing in 17th place in the table, on a run of five consecutive defeats in all competitions, in a season which has included a 10-1 home thrashing by leaders Haringey Borough.
Further ground-grading problems last summer also led to Enfield leaving their home borough again, and 'home' for this season is The Harlow Arena with its all-weather 3G playing surface.  Opened in 2006, the stadium is located on the western outskirts of the Essex town - "the birthplace of fibre optic communication", according to the sign which greets you as you arrive via the A414.  The local landscape around here is dominated by the huge Poundland warehouse situated just across the road from the ground. 

The move to Harlow, the seventh ground at which Enfield have played home games since leaving Southbury Road 15 years ago, seemed to have gone unnoticed by one of the away team's players.  Sporting Bengal United, lying two places below the E's in the league table, kicked-off with just 10 men, before their number 8 joined the action after three minutes.  The word is that he had gone to Brimsdown, Enfield's former home.

Sporting Bengal was formed in 1996 to promote Asian football in the London area.  The club is run by the Bangladesh Football Association (UK) and selects its players from the Sunday League clubs under that FA's umbrella.  The club competed in the London Intermediate League and the Kent League, before being admitted to the Essex Senior League in 2011.
As for the action on the pitch this afternoon, when Stephen Hutchinson hooked an effort just wide in the opening minute, it set the tone for a game which Enfield would dominate.  Yet somehow a series of last-ditch blocks, good goalkeeping and offsides kept the score at 0-0 until the hour mark, when the deadlock was finally broken.  A trip on Hutchinson inside the box saw the referee point immediately to the penalty spot, from where centre-back Stevenson converted comfortably.

It was 2-0 in the 72nd minute when left-back Tom Phillips finished coolly after a neat one-two with Alan Browne.

Danny Norton's rising shot from just inside the box after he was teed up by Hutchinson rounded off the scoring seven minutes later and gave the final scoreline a realistic look, given how Enfield had generally been on top throughout.

For the E's, who host Ilford in another home game this Tuesday night, this should be a confidence-boosting win after a poor run of results.

But with the team still sitting 17th in the 20-team Essex Senior League, and typically attracting crowds of around 50 to its shared home, it feels like a long road back up to the Isthmian League and the club's former glories.

9 November 2014

Looking Down On The Rest

Saturday 8th November 2014
Vanarama Conference South
Boreham Wood 2-1 Wealdstone
Meadow Park 
Attendance: 537
WITH 86 minutes played, Boreham Wood were heading for a home defeat against lowly opposition for the second time this season.  That was before two late goals turned the game on its head and sent Ian Allinson's team back to the top of Conference South.

In the football calendar this is FA Cup 1st Round weekend, where Boreham Wood have enjoyed some memorable occasions in recent years.  Carlisle United and Brentford have provided Football League opposition at Meadow Park in the last two seasons.  Back in the noughties, there were seaside trips to Blackpool and Torquay United.

But there was to be no such excitement this year, after Wood bowed out of the competition two weeks ago at the 4th Qualifying Round stage following a 2-1 defeat at Conference high-flyers Woking.  So instead it was back to the 'bread and butter' of the league this afternoon, as Meadow Park hosted a Conference South fixture for the first time since St Albans City were here almost five weeks ago.

Today's visitors, Wealdstone, become one of England's top non-league clubs in the mid-eighties, winning the Conference title in 1984/85, when Step 1 was called the Gola League, just two seasons before automatic promotion to the Football League for the champions was introduced.

Thirty years on, newly-promoted in Conference South, the Stones have been finding life tough at this level, and started today's game sitting 19th in this 21-team division after winning only two out of 15 league games so far.

Among Wealdstone's five substitutes was 40-year-old Scott McGleish, scorer of nearly 300 career goals, over 200 of those in the Football League, of which several came against Mansfield Town during his time with Barnet, Northampton Town and Wycombe Wanderers.

Before kick-off, the whole ground impeccably observed a minute's silence in honour of Remembrance Day.

On this grey and breezy afternoon, the Stones went ahead in the 12th minute when Jonny Wright lobbed Wood 'keeper James Russell after the ball had fallen to him through a crowd of players.

As Wood looked for a way back into an often scrappy first half, some wayward shooting let them down.  But as half-time approached, only the brilliance of visitors' 'keeper Jonathan North denied the home team an equaliser.  When Matty Whichelow curled a free kick from near the left touchline into the box in the 39th minute, North somehow tipped away Lee Angol's glancing header at full stretch.

North was called into action again three minutes later when he tipped Junior Morias' header onto the roof of the net.

After the break, Wood increasingly forced Wealdstone to defend deep, and won three corners in succession around the hour mark, one of which was acrobatically palmed away at the far post by North.

A Watford academy graduate who has represented Wales at youth level, North would continue to deny Wood as the clock ticked down, including blocking an effort from substitute Austin Lipman with his legs when the Arsenal loanee was clean through on goal.

The heavens opened in the last quarter of an hour, as conditions became almost reminiscent of those which the Meadow Park crowd witnessed during the game against Dover Athletic last January.  It persuaded much of Wealdstone's vocal support behind the goal to take cover in the West Stand, where they formed a singing section under the roof as their team looked to hang on to that narrow lead.

Wood finally found the breakthrough in the 87th minute when Lee Angol bundled in Matty Wichelow's cross from the left after Wealdstone had failed to clear.  Straight from the kick-off, there was drama at the other end, as Connor Calcutt was just unable to make proper contact with a diving header as he rushed in to meet a deep cross from the right.

Remarkably, there was time for Wood to snatch what had seemed like an improbable three points when Sam Cox's daisy-cutter from 30 yards just crept between the right hand of the diving North and the post.

Four minutes of stoppage time brought no further drama.  For Wealdstone, conceding late goals is becoming a damaging trend; meanwhile Boreham Wood are back on top of the Conference South table, moving above Basingstoke Town who were on FA Cup duty this afternoon.

Another bumper Meadow Park crowd had watched this game, swelled by a substantial away following from Middlesex.

Boreham Wood are often looked down on by followers of other teams at this level, mainly for their lack of support in the ground.  But unfashionable Wood continue to defy their critics.  Now in their fifth season at Conference South level, Ian Allinson's team has never finished lower than 14th in the table (that was in the first season, after collecting only nine points by New Year).

After today's win, it's Wood who are looking down on the rest - from the top of the league.