The football situation in Enfield, North London, has been confused and fractured for several years. Jason LeBlanc writes on the present and the future of football in the borough.
The Prime Minister will be aware that there are two great football clubs in north London, Tottenham Hotspur and Enfield Town. —Labour MP David Lammy (Tottenham)
When Mr. Lammy began a request of the Prime Minister in this fashion, it was with a view to the larger club’s desired move on the Olympic Stadium at Stratford. With the London Olympic Legacy Company seemingly wobbly in its awarding of this post-Olympic property, the Premiership side made an audacious last minute entry into the horse race for the Marshgate Lane stadium that was ultimately thwarted by fellow Premiership side West Ham United and Newham Council. Tottenham’s bid was likely doomed from the start—what with supporter sentiment mostly against the bid in the form of the “We are N17” protest and the fact there was a former Arsenal man on the board casting a vote.
There is a certain history of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal when it comes to boardroom votes that never seems to go the way of the Lillywhites. Conspiracy! (kidding)
So, while Daniel Levy and Co. had their attempt loudly denounced and trounced, North London neighbors Paul Millington and the Enfield Supporters Trust quietly went about their business in the Ryman Isthmian League North, counting down the days until Enfield Town FC could capitalize on their successful Olympic bid at Donkey Lane. Planning to move into a refurbished Queen Elizabeth II Stadium for the 2011/2012 season, the Towners will find themselves playing very near the old E’s stomping grounds at Southbury Road. With both the original Enfield FC and its grounds having departed this mortal coil—the E’s left Southbury Road in 1999 and were liquidated in 2007 whilst the grounds now have housing built upon it—Enfield Town is fighting to be the best chance for the area to reclaim its proud heritage of producing top notch non-league football.
Enfield Town’s desire to be the club of note for the borough remains a slightly contentious one, however, as fans of the old E’s can be found at the club’s current Goldsdown Road home supporting both the Towners and Enfield FC’s reformed E’s of Enfield 1893. Both clubs bid for the QEII back in 2008—which should now be in the final phase of renovation after another splash of cash from the Mayor’s Legacy Fund—but Enfield 1893 lost out and were forced to ground share with Broxbourne Borough until moving back south of the M25 to ground share with Town this season when 1893 merged with Brimsdown Rovers. While 1893’s chair Steve Whittington said the new E’s had “no ill-feelings toward Enfield Town whatsoever” when announcing the merger with Brimsdown, another club official with Enfield 1893 had earlier given a swipe to Town when he questioned the financial viability of their winning bid on the QEII. Also, when Enfield Town recently honored the Enfield FC squad of 1981 at an event that raised money for their new home on Donkey Lane, it irked at least one reader who might have viewed Enfield 1893 as the rightful heirs to the old E’s legacy.
What appears rather odd in the whole affair is the original rejection by the Enfield 1893 group to join with the previously-established Enfield Town when the old E’s folded in 2007. Declaring “I just didn’t feel it was the right thing for us to do,” Whittington and the new E’s chose to start completely from scratch and duke it out in the Essex Senior League. While 1893 is likely slowly rebuilding its following since returning to Enfield proper, its attendance figures are less than half of those for Enfield Town. Granted, the new E’s are playing on a lower rung of the pyramid than Town and have to regain those supporters who might not have travelled north when they were at Goffs Lane, but both clubs now play at the same park and are pulling from roughly the same fan base who see two groups vying for a part of the old Enfield FC legacy.
Further, when Brimsdown merged with Enfield 1893 and brought the new E’s back to the borough, it’s chair cited the reduction in gate receipts and revenues that will be siphoned off by Enfield Town’s move as a primary factor in the agreement. When Town moves to the QEII next season and out of Goldsdown, how will the sole tenants cope? Essentially, 1893 has replaced Brimsdown as the club in direct competition to Town for non-league fans and possibly the club that will be negatively impacted by its move. While there doesn’t appear to be a fresh offer from Town for Enfield 1893 to join them, it might only take a season or two for the sides to have to seriously consider the viability of remaining separate after the lease on the QEII starts looking a bit hefty and Goldsdown Road looks a bit more empty.
To add another wrinkle for both sides is the proposal by a former Enfield Council member to have Tottenham Hotspur move to the area near Angel Road. As Spurs have lost out on the Stratford bid and have declared the previously-accepted Northumberland Development Project (NDP) non-viable, a scheme baited with the promise of better transportation routes just south of these clubs is being floated. Having once considered the Meridan Water location prior to pushing on with the NDP, there could be a real chance Tottenham revisit the offer if matters remain as they are with Haringey Council. Plopping a club like Spurs on top of both Enfield Town and Enfield 1893 would likely be a resounding death knell to one – if not both – non-league clubs already struggling to find their footing in a tenuous economic environment. Rather than Mr. Lammy proclaiming there are two great clubs in north London, there might only be one if that move occurs.
Losing Southbury Road and its club was a difficult event that has since seen two clubs rise from the ashes, born off the memories of a legendary non-league side. With the stadium long gone, the QEII is the closest either club can get to being near the ancestral home of the E’s. Hopefully, the organizations can have a meeting of the minds so that football supporters in Enfield will be able to continue honoring that past and celebrating its present with what remains on the pitch.
One would imagine that would be preferable to mourning the demise of another club of the Enfield FC lineage.
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