After twelve years, comes the return home. Enfield Town have been a going concern for more longer than a decade now, but today is the day that normality, perhaps, began to return to this particular corner of North London. They’ve already played a clutch of matches here – a friendly to open the ground against a Tottenham Hotspur XI, a Middlesex Senior Cup match and a Ryman League Cup match – but today sees the arrival of league football to The QE2 Stadium, which has already – on account of its Donkey Lane postal address – earned itself the nickname of “The Donkeydome.”
Arriving at a new ground early affords the chance of a nose around, and the star of the show here is a little piece of North London architectural history. The main stand, which also houses the bar, club shop and changing rooms, is a stunning art deco design which has been given a significant face-lift after years of neglect. Elsewhere, this new home is not quite perfect – the pitch is surrounded by an athletics track, with all the difficulties for viewers along the sides that such a feature carries with it – but the small, covered terraces behind the goals are as close to the action as one could hope for and the whole ground has been painted in the club’s distinctive white and royal blue colours. A lot of work has gone into bringing The QE2 Stadium up to scratch, and it feels, already, like home.
In the bar before the match, the former players of Enfield FC mingle, discussing old times. There’s Steve King, who played at the old Southbury Road ground for over a decade. There are former managers Ted Hardy and Eddie McCluskey, who between them brought the old club the lion’s state of its success. Enfield FC died in 2007, and the borough is now represented by two clubs, Enfield Town and Enfield 1893 of the Essex Senior League, but there can be little doubt today which of these two clubs is more effectively channeling the spirit of what was for more than two decades one of the biggest names in non-league football.
Whilst the symbolism of returning to a home in the borough is obvious on several different levels, this afternoon’s match also has a somewhat more prosaic importance to Enfield Town. Their opposition, Soham Town Rangers, have travelled south from Cambridgeshire with a modest league record and sit at the end wrong end of Division One North of the Ryman League. The home side start the match off the back of a good run of league form – they haven’t been beaten in the league since the middle of September – and, with third placed Leiston not playing in the league today and first placed Needham Market at home against second placed Grays Athletic, at least two of the three sides above them in the table will drop points today. This, if nothing else, should serve to inspire the players for this match, even if the sense of occasion may be starting to wear off a little for them already.
Almost one thousand people turned out for the friendly against Spurs. It would have been wildly over-optimistic to expect a crowd of anything like that for a league match, but even this afternoon’s more modest attendance of 426 is more than double their average attendance for previous matches played at Cheshunt this season and compares extremely well with other clubs at this level of the game. Moreover, there is a definite sense of rebirth in the air. On the small terrace behind the goal, the crowd is tightly packed together whilst, along the side of the pitch, small groups huddle together discussing the great Enfield teams of the past. It feels today as if a lot of people have returned to the fold today, and if the team’s performance on the pitch is anything to go by, the majority will certainly be back for more.
In short, Enfield Town are too strong, too well-organised and too attackingly potent for their opponents this afternoon. By the time that Liam Hope gives them the lead with a well-placed side-footed shot into the bottom corner of the goal after sixteen minutes, they have already been dominating possession and come to close to scoring on a couple of occasions. Soham, to their credit, do rally well and Enfield are a little lucky to hold onto their lead after a brief bout of pinball inside their penalty area which results in a shot blazing over the crossbar from ten yards out, but the home side are good value for their advantage at half-time.
The second half brings more of the same. Michael Ewang is tripped inside the penalty area and Hope converts comfortably from the penalty spot, and Enfield add a third goal from Leon Osei, who converts after a misplaced cross bounces out off the inside of the far post. It has been a comfortable afternoon for the home side, and the result from elsewhere – a narrow win for Needham Market against Grays Athletic – means that the Towners have leap-frogged into third place in the league table. They have another home league match on Tuesday night and this will be followed by a critical home match against Grays next Saturday. A win in that match would lift them to second place in the league table and chasing the leaders, whilst they travel to fourth-placed Leiston a week after that match. If they can win those two games, the belief will really start to grow that this club can launch a serious challenge for the league title.
Arguably more important than this, though, is the sense of a new chapter turning in the history of Enfield Town Football Club. It is easy to underplay the importance of having a home of your own and the sense of identity that comes with this. The Towners have waited longer than most for this, and the early signs are that the benefit to the club and the local community will be great from this move. There is a long way to go, and even Division One North of the Ryman League may well prove to be extremely difficult to escape from in an upwardly direction. Still, though, the first steps are being taken towards restoring the name of Enfield in the direction of the top of the non-league game. English football’s original protest club is looking healthier than ever.
An assortment of photos from Saturday’s match can be found here.
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