It feels as though the new football season has started a little too soo this afternoon. A summer which had rather looked as if it might not arrive at all has settled to a ninety degree heat from which there is no respite, even in the shade. Even by the coast in Brighton, this is weather that simply makes you want to curl up and fall asleep. A handful of miles inland in Lewes, the oppressive warmth and cloying humidity mean that a degree of apathy is amongst the order of the day for the opening match of the Ryman League Premier Division season between Lewes and Enfield Town, whether we like it or not.
This is two clubs that have already won a trophy each this season. Last month, Lewes beat Fisher FC to win the Supporter Direct Shield, whilst later on the same day Enfield Town beat Wrexham – albeit some way from a full Wrexham team – to win the Supporters Direct Cup. This is two sides owned by their supporters trusts, though they cam through different routes to get here. Lewes’ frequent financial difficulties before being eventually handed to the supporters of the club, whilst Enfield Town are the original protest club, formed by their supporters as a break-away after Enfield FCs chairman sold its ground without having a replacement. There is, therefore, a common bond between these two clubs, and it is perhaps appropriate that they should be playing each other on the opening day of the season.
Whilst Lewes only missed out on the place in the play-offs in this division last season by a slender margin, Enfield Town are in uncharted territory, having only been promoted from Division One North of the Ryman League through the play-offs at the end of last season. This is, therefore, a challenging enough match for the Towners and matters aren’t helped when the team coach is held up in traffic on the long drive south from North London and arrives at The Dripping Pan just twenty minutes before the due kick-off time. Common sense, however, prevails and kick-off is delayed by half an hour to enable the visiting players to get changed and have a quick warm up.
In these conditions and considering these preparations, it is perhaps unsurprising that Enfield begin as if, well, they’ve just stepped off the team coach, and Lewes take the lead after thirteen minutes with a close range header from Karl Beckford. It feels as if the home side might just run away with things, but in the bright sunshine Lewes fail to click together as a team whilst Enfield, while limited in some respects, push forward with increasing effectiveness as the half wears on, and with six minutes to play of the half when a low cross from the right-hand side is threaded through the eye of a needle by Mark Kirby to bring the visitors level. The half ends with the two sides level, but with the newly-promoted away side looking the better co-ordinated of the two.
Throughout the first half, a reasonably large and definitely rambunctious away support certainly make themselves heard. Chants of “We hate Barnet and we hate Barnet” hark back to days when the two sides met as equals during the 1980s, while the singing of “We are staying up” that greets the equalising goal perhaps hints at their modest expectations for this season. More notable than this, however, one small group of supporters manages to negotiate its way out of the ground and into one of the flats which overlooks The Dripping Pan, flying its flag from its balcony. It’s certainly an entertaining diversion from a match that frequently teeters on the brink of slumber, and more than twenty-four hours after the end of the match precious few people seem to know exactly how they managed it.
Nine minutes into the second half come the passage of play upon which the result of the match will come to pivot. At one end of the pitch, Steve Brinkhurst almost manages to break clear before having the ball nicked away from him with a last ditch tackle from Craig McKay. Enfield break quickly with a long ball through the middle forcing the Lewes goalkeeper Kieron Thorp to punch clear only for Liam Hope to react the most quickly and lob the ball into an empty net to give his team the lead. From here on, Lewes attack with increasing desperation, but the Enfield goalkeeper Noel Imber has a reasonably quiet remainder of the afternoon with Lewes’ best chance coming with an over-head kick from Anthony Thomas. On the whole, though, Lewes are dislocated and sluggish. They will need to improve if they are to match their supporters’ expectations for this season.
This, however, has felt like an afternoon too soon for football. It’s nobodys fault that the weather has chosen to be at its most gloriously sunny this weekend, but there can be little question that it had an adverse effect on the lethargic atmosphere on the pitch, and Lewes ended up being surprised by a team that they surely expect to finish above come the end of the season. For Enfield Town, however, such considerations are immaterial. It speaks volumes for the character of this team that, having only won promotion at the end of last season by the narrowest of margins, they could endure what must have surely been a tortuous coach journey to East Sussex to beat a team that might have been comfortably expected to win. Those songs about “staying up” might well fade from view if they carry on putting in the amount of effort that they did in this match.
You can see a small selection of photographs from yesterdays match here.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.