Coming Home At Last: The Return Of Enfield Town
Just over ten years after their formation, Enfield Town return to a ground of their own at The QE2 Stadium on Wednesday. The first match is a Middlesex Senior Cup tie against Harefield United on Wednesday 9th November followed by a Ryman League Cup tie against AFC Sudbury on Monday 14th November. They then play a Spurs XI on Wednesday 16th November, before the opening league match at the new ground, which is to be played against Soham Town Rangers on Saturday 26th November. Here’s the Town chairman, Paul Millington, with the story of how they came to get back to its own home.
Enfield Town have now taken possession of their new stadium, but the story of our arrival there starts 12 years ago with the departure of the renowned Enfield FC from the borough. When the doors of the Southbury Road stadium closed for the last time at the end of September 1999, Isthmian League Enfield F.C. became homeless. The Es, twice Alliance Premier League Champions and the last club to win that league before automatic promotion to the Football League was introduced, were also fearsome giant-killers and during that season they embarked upon yet another glorious FA Cup campaign, eliminating Chesterfield before taking Preston North End to a replay which led to an honourable exit from the competition.
That memorable, yet disappointing home defeat to Preston was staged at St Albans City’s Clarence Park ground, some thirty miles or so away from the Borough of Enfield, and only served to highlight the plight that now faced those who loved the Club. With a Chairman unwilling to bring the club back to the Borough, the E’s became wanderers and played their home fixtures at no less than six different locations during the remainder of that season, ultimately settling in for a long-term ground-share with Borehamwood FC.
The supporters were far from happy, needless to say, and enlisted the help of the local council to try and urge the Chairman to bring the Club back to the borough. Various schemes were initiated, including a joint task force being set up to identify suitable sites, but the Chairman remained non-committal and only succeeded in causing further unrest by reneging on an agreement to transfer the Club to the Supporters Trust. With the supporters’ campaign now fully mobilised, things came to a head early in 2001 when the Supporters’ Trust informed its members that negotiations with the Chairman had come to an end and recommended a new Supporters owned club should be formed. This was a road that no-one had dared go gown before but the Trust had good reasons to do so. The proceeds of the sale of the ground had disappeared and the finances of the club were such that it was inevitable it would eventually fold. Thus were sown the seeds of the formation of a new club, one owned and run by its supporters – Enfield Town F.C.
With help and advice from Supporters Direct and boosted by the fact that many of the E’s officials had elected to join too, the new Club was quickly set up, completing their first friendly fixture only thirty-one days after formation and securing a place in the Essex Senior League for the 2001-02 season. A ground-share deal was struck with Brimsdown Rovers FC, thus bringing a Senior Club bearing the Enfield name back into the borough. The people of Enfield responded to this and over 500 supporters attended the first home game on 12 September 2001. That first season was a huge success on the pitch, with three cup competitions won and a runners-up spot secured in the League. The League title was won the following year but the facilities at the Goldsdown Road ground were not deemed good enough for Isthmian League football. Progress was being made off the pitch though, expanding the Club through its Ladies and Youth sections making it one of the largest clubs in Middlesex. True to its roots the Club was active in the local community, organising coaching sessions in local schools.
Perhaps the greatest achievement during this early period was the transformation of the Goldsdown Road ground into a stadium that met with the criteria for promotion. Boosted by grants from the Football Stadium Improvement Fund and bolstered by a huge and enthusiastic army of volunteers, new stands were installed and other facilities generally brought up to standard. Promotion was gained in 2005 to Step 4 of the football pyramid but the club needed its own home to accommodate the many teams it was now running and to generate income to take the club further up the pyramid.
The obvious target was the dilapidated Queen Elizabeth Athletics Stadium, which is sited within the playing fields opposite the now lost Southbury Road ground. With the athletics track closed for health and safety reasons and the site being used as an unofficial rubbish tip the Council invited bids for a main tenant to bring the site back into use. Enfield Town FC moved swiftly and was soon in a position to stake their claim as prime users of the site. Having harbored ambitions towards that Stadium ever since formation, they put together an efficient and professional business case that found favour with the Council.
The Club has worked with the Council and other local sporting groups to bring to fruition the rebirth of the Queen Elizabeth Stadium. After 2 years the work is now nearing completion and will soon witness the Clubs first game there. It is a unique site and the club and the Council have worked together in making sure it will be a home that the borough can be proud of. Originally work on the stadium started in the 1930s and it was built in the distinctive art deco style of the period. Work was interrupted by the Second World War and not completed until the early 1950s, its name celebrating the coronation of the new Queen. The main building is listed by English Heritage and the renovations have retained its uniqueness. In addition to a club house that will be open to all, the buildings modernised dressing rooms will service the many users of the playing fields including, of course, the teams proudly wearing Enfield Town shirts. The Council have invested in a new athletics track and the Club have worked to ensure the concerns that atmosphere is lost when supporters are too far from the action are eased by placing stands directly behind each goal and inside of the oval of the track. A unique solution by a unique club!
So just ten years after their formation and 12 years after the tragic loss of Southbury Road supporters of football in Enfield are anticipating a new chapter. It will be an emotional moment when Enfield Town take the field at their new stadium particularly for those who made that brave decision to start again and follow a new club, one that will now have the facilities to compete with the best and once again make Enfield a force in non-league football.
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