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The next stop on my Non League journey was the Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup. This is where the historic competition starts, the first of 15 rounds. Now as this article is about the FA Cup there are a number of cliches which are so often used. I have therefore committed to avoiding cliches such as:

– “The magic of the cup”
– The “form book goes out the window”
– Referring to players by their job
– Ronnie Radford’s thunderbolt for Hereford against Newcastle
– It’s “David v Golaith”

So on with the game itself between Enfield 1983 and London Colney. These clubs had only met once before, at this stage of the competition in 2011-12 with Enfield winning 3-1. However we all know that form…….nevermind.

I decided to drive to the game, as National Rail trains on a weekend during August come as frequently as wins for Sunderland at the moment. The drive was a pleasant and easy one along the M11. The only event was a five car pile up on the opposite side of the motorway which had closed all three lanes. As usual, everyone tries to slow down when going past to get a good look at the accident and almost causing their own pile up as they slam on the brakes.

I arrived in Harlow where Enfield 1983 FC are currently based. I’ve never been to Harlow, however am sure the person in charge of construction at Milton Keynes lived here. Harlow was full of roundabouts taking you along purpose built leafy boulevards and around the city centre. Whenever I’ve driven to games I have allowed time to park up and walk to the ground. However was pleasantly surprised that I could park at the ground, with the added bonus of it being free of charge.

I headed for the turnstile and this is where I met Alan my Enfield guru for the day. I had contacted the club earlier in the week to ask for some information on the club before I visited which they were kind enough to answer (see end of this blog for their answers). They said if I had any further questions to speak to Alan. He was running the turnstile and was kind enough to give me a lowdown of the club’s history whilst letting fans in. Here is my summary from our conversation:

– It was set up in 1893 (shock I know!), a number of 15/16 year olds were playing together and one of them (John Bruce Skinner) decided to found a club
– Originally called Enfield Spartans before changing to Enfield FC, they started in a number of local leagues before joining the Isthmian League in 1963 and had a few successful cup runs in the 70s and 80s.
– The club went downhill however in 1999 when their Chairman decided to sell off the ground without a new ground to move to. Instead they began ground sharing and this led a group of supporters to form Enfield Town FC as they wanted a club to remain in Enfield.
– Alan was one of the few which stayed behind and watched his club tumble down the divisions, eventually having to group together to buy the club off the Chairman and reform as Enfield 1893 due to the club being insolvent.

Chatting to him really opened my eyes to the realities of trying to run a Non League club. The club hasn’t had a ground since 1999 and has moved about over the years. This has meant that no supporter base can be formed as they don’t stay in the same place for many seasons. This also means they struggle to make much money as they are just renting the space and therefore cannot generate income through hiring the pitch or function rooms. Which all means covering costs such as match officials and match balls are difficult with few supporters coming through the gates. For example the league ball costs £22.50, that’s nearly the price of 4 adult tickets! Then there is the added problem of Harlow’s ground having a pretty small fence around it, so balls go over and sometimes claimed by passers by. I decided to take a tally during the game to see how much of a problem this caused. As we approached kick off, I went back towards the pitch in time to see the two teams coming out and lining up.

The game started and Enfield began by knocking the ball around, trying to play football which was good to see. However within a minute a mix up at the back for Enfielfd let in Colney’s Lee Armitt, who after a slightly fortunate ricochet off the goalkeeper, was left with an empty net to score. The early goal shook the Enfield players, who became nervous and tried to get anything onto the ball to kick it away from their half. These nervous led to their left back taking out Armitt for a penalty to Colney. He brushed himself down and stepped up to take it, with a Pirlo-like suave about him jogged up and rolled the ball…….wide of the post. I have never seen such a confident missed penalty in my life.

The penalty miss only spurred Colney on to attack more, with Clarke-Mardel causing havick on the right wing. After a serious of crosses, Colney won a corner and centre back Tom Smith was there to head in unchallenged. He was the tallest player on the pitch but Enfield had chosen to mark zonally, which meant he could easily run and out jump the defence. Matt Standon then made it three for Colney heading in a rebound after Dylan Wicker had expertly saved Armitt’s header.

As half time approached I got chatting to a group of fans including Mark who was the Enfield’s club secretary. Once the third goal had gone in the fans were asking the lineman if he could send off some of Colney’s players to even up the game, the linesman saw the funny side but politely declined. I would still had fancied Colney to win even with 10 men as long as Armitt was on the pitch. He never stopped running, constantly closing down defenders and causing them all sorts of problems with his pace and eye for goal. Apparently the club has received over 200 enquiries for the player, which isn’t surprising as he can definitely make the step up the leagues.

The half time whistle blew and I bumped into Alan again who asked if I wanted to come up to the directors box. I panicked for a second as I was wearing shorts and a hoodie which definitely wouldn’t fit in with the prawn sandwich brigade. I then came to my senses that it wouldn’t be anything like that and gladly accepted the very kind offer. We walked up the steps on the stand to the back. The directors box had seats down one side and a bar on the other with sandwiches, cakes and choice of tea or coffee. The guy giving out the food and hot beverages was called Pete and I would later discover he is the Vice Chairman of the club. It was a relaxed atmosphere with club officials and some older folk chatting whilst football focus gave an update on half time scores in the background. I grabbed a plateful of sandwiches and was pretty much forced into trying at least 3 types of cake, although I didn’t really put up much resistance. I chatted a bit more about the game with a few of the people there, everyone recognised this was a young team who had only played a handful of games together. The FA Cup came almost too quickly for Enfield and the consensus was they might have been doing better if this game had been in September.

The teams arrived back on the pitch and Alan pointed down the corridor to someone cooking in the kitchen, I presumed it was to show me the facilities. Turns out it was the Chairman, who runs a catering company which caters for functions at the ground. A real moment of reality for me that Non League clubs are run by normal people, with normal jobs but a passion to see football played in their community. I had a quick check of the number of “balls kicked over the fence tally” which stood at four before returning to stand at the side of the pitch.

Both teams started as though the result wasn’t going to change. Enfield had brought on Tarik Aciyan who didn’t sign up to this thinking and injected some impetuous into the Enfield attack. Enfield were then thrown a lifeline when they were awarded a penalty after a clear shove in the back by a Colney defender. The team seemed so confident that they would score that only a few Enfield players stayed up for the kick. It was hit with too much power and smacked against the bar before (inevitably) flying over the fence and out the ground (increasing my tally to 5). There was a collective groan from the stand as the chance to start a comeback was spurned.

The rest of the half became a bit scrappy with a few late challenges going in from each side. The referee brandished a number of yellow cards to try and keep order. After a foul on the edge of Enfield’s area, a quick free kick let in Lee Close to slot in for Colney’s fourth. I counted up the number of “balls kicked over the the fence” which had reached nine by the end of the game. The full time whistle went and Colney progressed into the next round.

It was a great day out seeing where the FA Cup really starts. I was given such a warm welcome from Enfield whose staff really made it an enjoyable game. I really hope they can find a permanent ground so they can build a fan base and progress as a club. I got in my car to head home and as I turned out of the ground, I spotted a football from the game on the side of the road. I do hope that Pete or Alan spotted it before anyone else did!

Summary

Result: Enfield FC 0 v London Colney 4 (Armitt 2, Smith 16, Standon 32, Close 87)

Match: Emirates FA Cup – Extra Preliminary Round

Attendance: 58

Cost: Entrance £6, Programme £1.50, Sandwich/Cake (free)

Novice rating: 6/10

Enfield 1893 Q&A

What are your expectations in both the league and cups this year?

We are looking to finish top half as we have put a very young side with an average age of 19 for this season and hope that they can progress in the next few seasons.

What’s the furthest the club has progressed in the FA cup previously?

We progressed to the 4th round in 1981. We beat Epson & Ewell, Wembley FC, Hereford FC and Port Vale after entering at the 4th Qualifying Round. We drew 1-1 away at Barnsley but lost the replay 3-0, we had to play the game at White Hart Lane.

What style of football does Enfield 1893 FC like to play?

We try to play fast flowing football with passing to feet

Are there any players that I should be looking out for when I visit?

Lewis Lawford-Page is a young attacker with good pace. We also have Dylan Wicker, a 17 year old goalkeeper who is an excellent shot stopper but might need to grow a little taller!

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