“There are two cars parked on the yellow lines in the car park. However just one of them needs to move. Will the owner of the blue Peugeot 206 please move their car”.
Needless to say, the entire T.I.G crew chuckled at the crackly tannoy announcement, which if anything, perfectly illustrated our non-league surroundings. It wasn’t, however, a debilitating laugh of superiority, but the gentle musing of five people both wildly alien to, and oddly at home in their environment. I had not been to a non-league game of football for some years. T.I.G illustrator Alice had never been. Martin, Vicki and Philfen were used to Carrow Road, Selhurst Park and the King Power Stadium respectively, and the only stadium I’d been to for some time was Old Trafford. Yet we found ourselves camouflaged in the freezing cold, amongst the fans of a club less associated with the glamour of the upper tiers of English football. A place where only the elderly would sit, on the outside porch of the first floor in the club house, set back from the pitch. A place where you can hear the shouts of the men on the field, as their feet viciously fight with the solid, frozen ground beneath them. And a place where you can watch live football, and smoke at the same time.
It was Saturday afternoon when I awoke. Already late, Alice and I argued as only siblings would, before departing for Enfield Town train station separately, only reconciling on the train. The astonishingly poor beginning to my day left me expecting that little fun might be salvaged from the trip – at times even questioning why I’d decided it was a good idea to spend a whole day of my week watching non-league football for the sake of a blog. However, upon arrival in Enfield Town, and with a twenty minute walk ahead of us to the ground – the entirety of any ill-will I harboured was released from me as I stepped out of the station. Enfield Town is just as much of a dead end as any other ‘outskirts of London community’, but immediately I was flooded with nostalgia for the feeling of suburban life I had long since lost. I am now confident that were I ever to accidentally stumble into the county without realising it, I could feel Hertfordshire; just the same way that I can feel London upon arrival back into Euston from visits elsewhere. I can best describe the feeling as a mixture of warmth, anxiety, beauty and despair. Aside from these emotions however the most penetrative was the feeling of humour. There’s something oddly, barbarically humorous about Suburban England in the south-east, I cannot put my finger on what exactly, but it is probably Freudian as most things tend to be (or are at least explained as such). Nevertheless, Alice and I enjoyed a comical moseying to the Queen Elizabeth II stadium. We took a slightly longer route, to walk through Enfield playing fields where at 2 o’clock on a Saturday there were many 5-a-side, 6-a-side and 7-a-side football matches on-going, there was even some Rugby to stop an admire. During a day where nostalgia ruled over me, I felt rather emasculated watching the football games, listening to the shouting and feeling the cold. I was dragged back to the days in which I was one of those children in the park, and where the game and your performance was the most important thing in your life (naturally, as a child there is little else to worry about). This was not a bad feeling, just familiar, and it set the day in good stead.
We arrived at the ground, located on Donkey Lane, just in time for the beginning of the game. The rest of the T.I.G crew were still located in the club house enjoying a last pre-match drink before heading down to join the home fans who stood huddled together like emperor penguins. Some would feel it necessary to point out that other than in the pub, there are few other social environments that allow this level of closeness and vulnerability between men, but that would simply be a stigma, perhaps unfairly attached to football fans. For these people were not of that kin, if they were – they probably wouldn’t support Enfield.
Alice and I walked all the way around the pitch. We briefly stood amongst the few fledgling Hasting fans, who made the trip north for this day. I understand that Enfield would normally expect more, but due to uncertainties concerning the weather, the game was nearly called off the previous night. There were two flags pinned to the gates next to the small stand. One of them supported the crest of the arrows, the other, a commemorative tribute to a lost fan. We walked back along the opposing length of the pitch, past the stand which appeared to be for families and neutral – as it were, it was nearly empty. All the while, Alice took photographs of the stadium, the linesmen, and sometimes even the football. We rounded our last corner to join up with our friends, and walked through the crowded mass of seventy-five(ish) Enfield Town fans, or ‘Towners’.
The rest of the T.I.G crew were equally unimpressed with the sparsely poor showing of football that was the first half. The milestones which made up that first forty-five minutes of football were few and far between – a personal one for Philfen and I arrived when newly signed veteran, number 9 Scott McGleish tumbled to the floor amidst a challenge from a rival Hasting’s wingback, and after complaining to the lino failed, he looked to Phil and I for reassurance. I stood gormlessly staring at the fallen striker, though thankfully Phil had the initiative to physically respond with an encouraging gesture which was seemingly enough for McGleish to regain his feet and begin again with the attack.
Half time saw the arrival of cheese rolls (rather good ones I might add, with plenty of butter slapped on tiger bread), an arduous discussion about the ingredients of said tiger bread, and Martin’s obsession with Bovril. A drink clearly held in such high esteem that its name auto-capitalises on Microsoft word. Bill must be a fan. The curry tent smoked so much that it appeared to be on fire, and Phil met a man wearing a Saint Etienne hat. Though the level of first half football had been poor, oddly none of us were despondent with the day out. The cold had not dulled our spirits, nor did the lack of any decent display of skill diminish our anticipation of seeing some good football. Thankfully, the second half did not let us down.
The latter forty-five minutes was almost entirely a barrage of the Hasting’s goal. Though most of the attacking attempts were futile, the berating never discontinued, and the Towner’s never let up. This half saw the arrival of some brilliant skill, often displayed along the left wing by 21 year old Tyler Campbell. His interwoven dribbling style was reminiscent of Theo Walcott, and he clearly displayed a high level of talent. The strong leadership of Captain Mark Kirby could be heard all the way from the other end of the field, via his near constant screaming of orders and encouragement. But the starlet of the match for me was the previously mentioned striker, McGleish. Standing at 5’9, his height disadvantage in comparison to the Hasting’s centre backs did not deter him from winning his fair share of headers. His constant battling and movement more than made up for his lack of physical prowess, and it was this spirit that eventually resulted in the only goal of the game. After hitting the post, the bar and the keeper several times, Enfield’s good run of well thought-out plays finally came off and the game was theirs.
As if in reflection of what was happening on the pitch, the home fans in the second half never let up with their cheers of encouragement and joy. I had the privilege, the fortune and equally the misfortune to be stood next to the loudest man on earth. Even when his peers were silent, he continued to beret Tyler for losing the ball, or to congratulate Scott on a well-timed run. His screaming of the players first names allowed for a very intimate environment, and illustrated perfectly the passion that non-league fans can have for their teams, even if they do know most of the player’s dad’s. It’s only a shame that I was too meek to ask for the man’s name, but it seemed fairly foolish to interrupt what appeared to the untrained eye to be some form of aggressive meditating for the whole forty-five minutes.
After the game we headed back to the club-house to sit on the radiators, drink and watch the premier league final results come in. Though we were only twenty minutes out of London, and about thirty from White Hart Lane, it certainly felt miles away from any premier league encounter, but oddly it didn’t matter. We all still checked our phones every five minutes for updates on the scores, but to me it seemed less important than usual (even though I had Romelu Lukaku as my Captain in my fantasy football team!). Battling the perilous cold, and stood leaning on the rail two or three metres from the Hasting’s ‘keeper, I felt like I’d participated in the game, and the players arrival in the club house thirty minutes after the end of the game only added to the feeling that we were privileged enough to somehow be a part of this close-knit footballing community. As the few Hasting’s fans mingled with the proud Towner’s, trading ‘away days’ stories and congratulating each other on good performances, and after we’d shuffled away from the table where the Enfield boys received their well-earned post-match grub, Alice, Phil and I wandered outside for a cigarette and stood to watch the solitary figure of Sean Ray, Hasting’s number 5, warming down whilst collecting the final few footballs still littered on the pitch.
It’s fair to say that Hasting’s defeat shattered whatever stardom was left over from their recent F.A Cup run, as this defeat saw them slip into the bottom two of the Ryman premier league. It was a poor performance from the arrows, even the notable Bradley Goldberg was an insignificant entity in attack. Hasting’s first ever visit to the Towner’s will definitely be one to forget for the team. Enfield however came out of this slightly better off – the three points garnered here saw them move out of the relegation zone and into seventeenth place, certainly not a mile away from possible doom, but something of a lifeline for the struggling club.
I would encourage anyone looking for some decent football entertainment on a Saturday to pop up to Enfield to support the team. The brilliant atmosphere was only heightened by the lovely club house with its very special cheese rolls. It’s not far to go for anyone living in London, and it is somewhere that the T.I.G crew already plan to revisit as we save the date of March 16th in our diaries to travel back and watch Margate away. With our plan to visit non-league clubs fortnightly, I for one am pleased we chose Enfield Town FC as our first destination – if all of the other homes for non-league football are as appealing and inviting as theirs, then every other Saturday I’ll be a happy, happy man.
Illustrations by Alice Devine and Phillipe Fenner
Please follow The Illustrated Game on Twitter @ www.twitter.com/IllustratedGame
And on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/theillustratedgame
If you’d like to write a guest article, or come along on one of our non-league trips, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org