Crowd Trouble, Blue Socks & Camels: Barnsley vs Enfield, Forty Years On

by | Jan 24, 2021

This weekend’s FA Cup Fourth Round is, of course, being played under exceptional circumstances. Indeed, one of the few benefits of these matches being played in grounds that are closed to supporters has been that the tedious annual social media arguments about the The Death of The FA Cup has been rendered somewhat irrelevant by the fact that smaller attendances than clubs get for league matches feel like a fever dream in comparison with the empty stands seen for this season’s matches.

Whilst that debate is wearing, though, it is undeniable that the FA Cup has lost a considerable degree of its allure to such a point that it can feel difficult to remember that there was a time when the inverse of modern received wisdom was true, because there was definitely a time when the FA Cup could swell crowds for matches by a considerable amount.

Forty years ago this weekend, for example, saw the first of two FA Cup matches played between a Third Division – League One, in modern money – team and a non-league team which attracted a combined crowd of 60,000 people. Barnsley and Enfield had never had much cause to give each other a great deal of consideration before, but on the 24th January 1981 they played each other in the first of two matches that would capture the imagination in both South Yorkshire and North London, albeit with with a side helping of fan violence as well. It was 1981, after all.

Enfield weren’t particularly considered to be perennial FA Cup giant-killers at the start of the 1980/81 season. Their previous best performance in the competition had come three years earlier, when they beat a Wimbledon team that had been elected into the Football League at the end of the previous season in the First Round and then Northampton Town away from home in the Second Round.

On this occasion, however, the draw was not kind to them. Rather than a glittering match against one of the giants of English football, the Third Round draw sent them to the north-east to play Blyth Spartans of the Northern League. An Alan Shoulder goal won that match for Blyth, and the 1977/78 FA Cup would become synonymous with their adventures in getting to the Fifth Round before losing narrowly to Wrexham after a replay at St James Park.

At the start of the 1980/81 season, though, there was good reason to believe that they could have a successful cup run. They’d finished the previous season as winners of the Isthmian League for the fourth time in the previous five years, and there was no automatic promotion available for the champions of that division. The Isthmian League didn’t become a part of the nascent non-league pyramid until the 1984/85 season. They comfortably won their Fourth Qualifying Round match at home to Epsom & Ewell by five goals to nil, to take a place in the First Round for the fifth consecutive season.

Their First Round draw may have excited the romantics, but playing Wembley wasn’t exactly an unusual occurrence for Enfield at the time. The two sides had met twice in the previous five seasons – Enfield had kicked off their 1977/78 run by beating them 6-0 in the First Qualifying Round at Southbury Road – while Wembley were only a division below them. A comfortable 3-0 win sent them through to the Second Round. Their opponents for this match were Hereford United, who went into the match at the bottom of the Fourth Division. A crowd of five and a half thousand saw Enfield win comfortably, by three goals to nil.

All non-league clubs that find themselves in the Third Round draw end up daydreaming about a trip to one of the game’s more glamorous venues, but Enfield found themselves pitted against slightly lowlier opposition again, instead. Port Vale were only a couple of places above Hereford United in the Fourth Division, and after a one-all draw at Vale Park, a crowd of six and a half thousand turned out at Southbury Road where the Fourth Division side was completely outplayed.

Enfield won 3-0 (the goals are here), helped along the way by an unfortunate performance by Vale’s twenty year-old on loan goalkeeper Steve Cherry (who’d go on to a lengthy and distinguished career with Derby County, Notts County, Walsall and Plymouth Argyle, amongst many others), who kicked at thin air to allow Enfield a second goal. The goals showed up on the television news the next day, and the result is considered by some older Port Vale fans to be one of the worst in the history of the club.

By the time of this win, of course, the Fourth Round draw had been made, and this time the draw was considerably more difficult – a trip to South Yorkshire, to play a Barnsley team that was sitting in second place in the Third Division and who hadn’t lost in the league since the end of September. Interest in the match was huge, with a little needle provided by the Enfield manager Eddie McCluskey, who described Barnsley before the match as a “a bunch of camels.” The Barnsley manager Norman Hunter retaliated that, “Enfield have provided all the motivation my players need. It will only take one word to guarantee that we do our talking on the pitch.” Hunter’s plan was to whisper the word “camels” into the ears of each of his players as they took to the pitch.

More than 24,000 people – almost double Barnsley’s average home crowd for that season – turned out at Oakwell for the match, along with the television cameras of Yorkshire TV, with a young Martin Tyler commentating. “Enfield Are Camel Fodder”, read one flag flown from the home end of the ground, while behind the scenes another row kicked off when Enfield turned up with white socks, the same as the home team. It took an Enfield club official a trip to a sports shop and a £17 outlay to get the players a set of royal blue socks instead.

After some early nerviness during which Barnsley hit the crossbar, Enfield settled into their game. A thirty-five yard free-kick from Keith Barrett brought a decent save from the Barnsley goalkeeper Martin New, and less than thirty seconds later they had a goal disallowed for offside, when Steve Oliver rolled the ball in following a goalmouth scramble. Shortly after this, Enfield had the ball in the back of the Barnsley net again, this time through John Bishop, only for the linesman’s flag to intervene again.

As the first half wore on, though, Barnsley began to assert themselves. They had a shout for a penalty kick waved aside by the referee and missed a couple of half-chances. Right before half-time, though, controversy reigned again. The Enfield goalkeeper John Jacobs was – extremely harshly, as replays confirmed – penalised for handling the ball outside the penalty area whilst clearing the ball with a drop-kick. The resulting free-kick hit the left-hand side post, and Trevor Aylott scored from the rebound to give Barnsley the lead at half-time.

The home side again pressurised in the early stages of the second half and hit the outside of the post, but again Enfield didn’t buckle. Trevor Aylott could have put the result beyond any doubt with a free header from six yard out, but this flashed across the goal and wide, and shortly after this it was Barnsley’s turn to curse the linesman’s flag when Aylott’s overhead kick beat Jacobs, only for played to be called back for offside for the third time.

Barnsley couldn’t quite kill the game off, but five minutes to play it looked as though Enfield’s chance had gone. Ron Howell’s cross from the right seemed to catch the entire Barnsley defence asleep, and Peter Burton’s low shot was well blocked by New. The ball, however, bounced loose to winger Steve King, but his low shot smacked off the inside of the post, across the goal, and back into a relieved New’s arms. That relief didn’t last for very long, though. With less than two minutes to play, Steve Oliver crossed from the right and Peter Burton’s header looped up and over New, and into the Barnsley goal. A replay it would be, the following Wednesday night.

A combination of the promise of considerably greater gate receipts and police advice meant that the replay was switched to White Hart Lane, four miles and four stops on the train away from Enfield. Interest in the match was massive, with Barnsley taking 8,000 supporters to London for the match and a two-page feature in the London Evening Standard causing considerable local interest as well. Southbury Road held 7,500 people at the time, and Eddie McCluskey was bullish about it in the press, saying that, “We’re doing it for the fans and no the money.”

As it turned out, not everybody who wanted to get into White Hart Lane that night could, regardless. The West Stand there had been under construction for some considerable time, and while it would open the following month with a match against Wolverhampton Wanderers, it wasn’t ready at this point, reducing the capacity of the stadium from 48,000 to just over 35,000. In the end, 35,244 people squeezed in for the match, and there was talk of thousands being locked out, as well. There were also reports of substantial crowd trouble, both in and around the ground.

The Fifth Round draw had already been made, and the winners of this match would face a trip to First Division Middlesbrough. For the non-league club, it was another slightly disappointing draw, although with Middlesbrough at the bottom of the table there was a chance that even this might even be winnable, if they could get past Barnsley first, and the team’s performance in the first match had given plenty of indication that they could win it.

And again, they started on the front foot. A looping header from Peter Burton stretched Martin New to tip the ball over the crossbar early on, and minutes later Steve Oliver headed the ball against the crossbar from a corner. This time, though, Barnsley weren’t going to make the same mistakes as they had the previous Saturday, and after just over half an hour, a looping header from Trevor Aylott gave them the lead. Early in the second half, Ronnie Glavin doubled their lead, and although Enfield hit the woodwork on a further two occasions, a third goal from Aylott in the last minute put the match beyond doubt, although the final 3-0 scoreline (brief video highlights are available here) was perhaps a little flattering towards the visitors. They lost 2-1 to Middlesbrough in the next round of the competition.

The end of the 1980/81 season brought promotion to the Second Division for Barnsley, two points behind Rotherham United. Enfield would also finish their season in second place in the table, two points adrift of the champions. Slough Town won the Isthmian League, that season, but Enfield already had their eyes on a bigger prize. In the same week that they played their replay against Barnsley, they tendered their resignation from the league that they’d been members of since 1963 after having been invited – alongside Dagenham – to join the Alliance Premier League. It was estimated at the time that they made around £40,000 from their FA Cup run, a tidy sum for 1981, with half of that coming from that Fourth Round replay at White Hart Lane.

They finished as runners-up in 1982 and got a trip to Wembley, where they beat Altrincham to win the FA Trophy. In 1987, the last before automatic promotion and relegation between the Football League and the Conference was introduced, they won the league again, and in 1988 won the FA Trophy for a second time. Relegation from the Conference came in 1990, though, and as financial problems started to build throughout the 1990s, the club’s ground was sold by a new chairman and Enfield were forced to leave Southbury Road in 1999.

Two years later, the club’s supporters trust voted to break away and form a new club, Enfield Town, which would form a template used by AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester a couple of years later. Enfield Town returned to a ground of their own at the QE2 Stadium, a short walk from the site of their old ground, in 2011, and now back in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League. Shorn of 90% of its fanbase, Enfield FC limped on until folding in 2007, but a successor club to that, Enfield 1893, was immediately formed and that club continues to play in the Essex Senior League, albeit without a ground of its own.

Barnsley are in the Championship these days, of course, and their recent bouncing between that division and League One seems to indicate that the club’s fortunes haven’t changed that drastically over the intervening four decades. Both the subsequent stories of Enfield FC and the decline of the FA Cup, however, paint quite a different story of the last forty years in English football. Enfield Town, who are the spiritual successors to the old club, don’t seemed to have acquired the giant-killing gene from their forebears. In their previous eighteen seasons in the competition, they have only got as far as the Fourth Qualifying Round twice, in 2016 and 2018, and they lost both of those matches, to Chesham United and Maidstone United respectively.

Memories, however, cannot be as easily extinguished as football clubs, and those early 1980s seasons were very special for Enfield supporters. The successes of 1981 and 1982 coincided with Tottenham Hotspur returning to winning ways in the FA Cup, and as I embarked on my personal journey as a football supporter during this time, it was easy to persuade my eight year old self that this was somehow the natural order of things. But it wasn’t. Spurs have won the FA Cup once since that 1982 win, and that victory will be thirty years old this year.

And as for Enfield, well, when you’ve seen the ground get demolished and the club reduced to the barest bones imaginable, just to have any sort of senior club playing in the borough feels like enough to be going on with. And with the Isthmian League having not played a single league match since the start of November and no guarantees of when fixtures might restart or even whether the season will be completed, supporters are grateful that the club even still exists, at this point, above anything else. Perhaps the cup runs will return, one day. And perhaps if they do, Barnsley will be lying in wait. In times like these, it’s best to live in hope.