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: 571*
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.

* source: Boreham Wood's Twitter feed.

Wealdstone FC's website and footballwebpages.co.uk give a figure of 537

29 October 2014

Tudor History

Tuesday 28th October 2014
FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round Replay
Hemel Hempstead Town 2-0 Nuneaton Town (after extra time)
Vauxhall Road Attendance: 1222
TWO goals in the first period of extra time took Hemel Hempstead through to the 1st Round Proper of the FA Cup for only the second time in the club's history.  The last time was way back in 1938.

It was a big cup occasion under the floodlights at Vauxhall Road.  On an unseasonably warm evening, the ground was already buzzing an hour before kick-off.  Fans drinking their pre-match pint were being ushered behind the cordoned off area in front of the Tudor Tavern - more stringent rules being enforced for FA Cup ties than for regular league fixtures.  The tempting smell of burgers and hot dogs drifted from the adjacent Snack Shack.

Hemel Hempstead Town are newly-promoted in Conference South this season, after winning the 2013/14 Southern League title with 32 wins in 44 games.  The Tudors are finding life tougher at their new level though, currently sitting in 18th place and without a home league win after six attempts.  Nuneaton, one division higher, are struggling for league form too, lying 22nd and with only 13 goals scored in 17 games.

But this was a match where both teams could put their poor league form aside.  The reward for tonight's winners would be £12500 in prize money and a trip to League Two Bury in the next round.

1222 fans came through the Vauxhall Road turnstiles for this replay, more than double this season's average league attendance of 555.  Before and during the game there would be repeated announcements over the barely audible tannoy for fans not to sit on the walls which run along both sides of the pitch.

In a nervy first half, the Tudors forced several corners but could not seriously test Nuneaton 'keeper James Hogarth-Wren.  At the other end, ex-Mansfield Town forward Ben Hutchinson twice came close to putting the visitors ahead when planting close-range headers wide.

The crowd were becalmed as both teams stuggled to create many clear chances in the second half.  Nuneaton's Adam Dawson skimmed the crossbar in the 90th minute with a diagonal shot after cutting in from the left, but we were soon heading into an extra 30 minutes, with the prospect of a penalty shoot-out looming.

It was two minutes into extra time that the deadlock was finally broken.  Hemel's on-loan striker Jamal Lowe, on as a second-half substitute, drove home a cross from Jordan Parkes, who had done well to get to the byline before pulling the ball back across the six-yard box.

The second goal, giving the Tudors breathing space, came a minute before the end of the first period, as Dan Talbot won possession just outside the Nuneaton box before supplying James Potton whose shot beat Hogarth-Wren on the near post.

The tie was as good as over, with Nuneaton's morale sapped, and Tudors 'keeper Laurie Walker would maintain his record of not having conceded a goal in this season's FA Cup competition - after 390+ minutes of football.

Despite warnings over that barely audible tannoy, there was the inevitable mini pitch invasion from young fans at the final whistle, although they quickly turned back to allow the players to celebrate their success in front of a packed and boisterous home end.

Light rain started to fall as fans left the ground, but it would not dampen the spirits of the home supporters, who were already debating amongst themselves if they would be going to Bury on Saturday week.

It might not be a dream draw - a local derby against Luton Town or Stevenage would have been possible, but given that their team has not been this far in the FA Cup for 76 years, many will surely be making the effort.