With the future of Supporters Direct still under threat, it is worth taking a moment to reflect upon an anniversary that will most likely go unremarked upon elsewhere, but is still an anniversary that has changed our perception of how football clubs can be run. Long before Chester FC or FC United of Manchester, before even AFC Wimbledon were formed, the first club set up in protest at the ownership of one individual took their first steps. Yet Enfield Town have become something of a footnote in the history of the supporters trust movement in Britain, yet their story demonstrates that the twin virtues of passion and patience can yield rewards of their own.
Enfield FC were, by many standards, amongst the giants of non-league football. Eight times winners of the Isthmian League, twice winners of the Alliance Premier League (now the Blue Square Premier), twice winners of the FA Amateur Cup and the FA Trophy, and FA Cup giant-killers, this was a club with a sense of history and of expectation. The introduction of automatic promotion and relegation between the Football League and the Football Conference in 1987, however, hit the club hard and they were relegated in bottom place in 1990. Widely expected to make an immediate return to the league, they stalled in the Isthmian League, finishing in second, second, third and second place in the table in their first four years back in it.
In 1995, they finally did manage to win the Isthmian League championship, but were denied promotion at the end of that season because of concerns about their financial condition. In the summer of 1996, however, the beginning of the end of the club’s home at Southbury Road began with the arrival of the rugby union club Saracens there in 1996. The professionalisation of rugby union had meant that Saracens had to leave their Bramley Road home in Cockfosters, and a whole side of Southbury Road was levelled so that temporary stands could be put in place for Premier League rugby. At the end of the first year of the ground-share, however, Saracens left for Watford’s Vicarage Road, and Enfield were left with a ground that would struggle to make the grade for the Football Conference even if the team could get promoted again.
By 1999, Southbury Road was gone. The club sold its home, however, with no long-term plan in place to return to the borough. The council held an amount of money in an Escrow account which was supposed to go towards the development of a new ground but, after a threat of legal action, they returned it to the club’s owner. Enfield, meanwhile, were playing out a nomadic existence, playing at six different grounds including St Albans and Ware before, after attempts to get planning permission to redevelop Cheshunt’s ground failed, settling on a long-term ground-share at Boreham Wood. The combination of a lack of a new ground and the fact that the small amount of money that had been salvaged from the sale of the ground – £750,000 – was now in the hands of its chairman, Tony Lazarou, meant that drastic action was now required.
This drastic action came in the summer of 2001, when the Enfield Supporters’ Trust voted overwhelmingly to leave the club and form a new club of their own. The new club was called Enfield Town and managed to find itself a groundshare at nearby Brimsdown Rovers at their Goldsdown Road ground. They won the Essex Senior League twice in their first four years and were promoted back into the Isthmian League, while the other Enfield club ploughing on at Boreham Wood. They were relegated down to the bottom division of the Isthmian League before folding during the summer of 2007 and resigning their place, although a new club, Enfield (1893), were founded almost immediately and continued to play on in the Essex Senior League.
Enfield Town, however, stalled in Division One North of the Ryman League. The new club needed a return home, and a site at the QE2 Athletics Stadium, barely half a mile from the site of the old Southbury Road ground, was identified as a potential site for it. In October 2008, the local council finally agreed to allow the club to move into the dilapidated athletics stadium. A considerable amount of work, however, has been carried out there and at the start of next season Enfield Town will move, as their club celebrates its tenth anniversary, to its new home. They will play next season at Cheshunt, until the new ground is ready. Enfield (1893), meanwhile, ended up as beneficiaries of Town’s move themselves. When Enfield Town confirmed their move to the QE2, Brimsdown Rovers merged with Enfield (1893), and this club won the Essex Senior League. There was, however, one final sting in the tail for the old club. With Town having taken the fixtures and fittings – which they owned – to the QE2, Goldsdown Road no longer met the minimum requirements for a place in the Isthmian League and this club will have to spend at least one more season in the Essex Senior League.
It is possible to argue that Enfield Town have already lost a generation of supporters in the borough thanks to their decade-long exile in Brimsdown and that, as such, moving to the QE2 is the opportunity that the club has been waiting for to re-engage with the people of their locality. The continuing existence of Enfield (1893) also provides a barrier to further development but, while Town have made requests for a merger to bring about a single club again, these have been rebuffed by the other club. It is also worth mentioning that the role of Enfield Town in the supporters trust movement has often been overlooked. While no-one can question the amount of positive press coverage given to the likes of AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester, the first club whose supporters said “enough” and proved that it could be done has never received the publicity that it deserves. Enfield Town’s arguably more modest ambitions, perhaps, do not make for such a clearly definable narrative than the stories of some other supporter owned clubs, but their story is one of the most important of all.
Those twin virtues – passion and patience – then have brought their own rewards for Enfield Town. The fire still burns brightly amongst the club’s supporters and, although they have not had the untrammelled success of other clubs, they hope that they can reignite the interest of their local populace with their move to the QE2 Stadium. That it required ten years for them to do so yet have managed it is proof that success can come in many different varieties and is a testimony to the dedication of those that refused to give up on the vision of having a football club that is a credit to the London Borough of Enfield. Their tenth anniversary seems like as good a time as any to congratulate them on their achievements and wish them well in their continuing ambition of getting their club back to where it belongs. As the page closes on the first chapter in the history of Enfield Town FC, a new one will open with moving into their new home. It will be up to the people of Enfield to make that return wirth the effort that has been put into it.
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