Andrew Warshaw on how Enfield Town’s strong start to the season has raised hopes of a first-ever promotion to National League South
It’s still early days and no-one is getting carried away, but a sense of anticipation is in the air after Enfield Town’s best start to a league season in what is their 20th anniversary.
Despite a last-gasp defeat to Bishops Stortford ending a long unbeaten run in mid-November, the borough’s leading club have been in and around second place for much of the campaign.
Points are bound to be dropped among the leading contenders with so many evenly matched teams in what is an extremely competitive division. But you can only determine your own results and there is growing excitement at the prospect of a promotion – either automatically or via the playoffs – that would end a decade at the Step 3 level of the non-league pyramid.
A number of factors have contributed to Town’s fast start under experienced manager Andy Leese, achieved despite the absence of a number of key injured players including, for several weeks, skipper Scott Thomas.
A fitter squad, greater strength in depth, and much-improved game management – not letting matches slip when in winning positions, a perennial weakness – are just some of those factors. So is a ‘never say die’ attitude, complemented by the addition of coach Ian Hart, formerly at Southend.
And when you have a striker of the calibre of Mo Faal, who played last season for Bolton Wanderers before returning to Donkey Lane for this campaign, you are always going to score goals. Faal recently signing a new contract, tying him to the club until the end of the season, is massive. And despite being taken on by two higher-level clubs since his first spell, Faal kept in touch and has forged an excellent relationship with the management, board and fans.
Chairman Paul Reed reckons Mo’s goals have been “integral” to the strong start, sentiments echoed by the manager, Andy Leese, who said: “It’s been a few weeks in the making but Mo has kept his head down and continued to deliver on the pitch.”
Enfield Town vice-chairman Paul Millington says the spirit in the camp is as good as it’s ever been. “In previous seasons when we’ve competed near the top of the table, we haven’t normally got going until the end part of the year,” he said.
“The fact we have consistently put in good performances in the early season is something we are not used to. If we can replicate previous years by having a solid second part of the season, we can look forward to challenging at the top come April.”
Enfield’s start has been all the more impressive given their dreadful pre-season. Asked about the remarkable transition, Millington points directly to the management team and their ability to spot talent and trust their judgement.
“Despite the [pre-season] results there was still a good vibe around the place and an incredible amount of hard work from Andy and [assistant] Mario.
“Identifying the right players is often under-estimated. Most of the settled squad we have now were with us in pre-season. It’s a tribute to the management staff that they have been able to separate the wheat from the chaff, if you like. It’s probably the best squad we’ve ever had.”
No-one is getting ahead of themselves, but the ‘p’ word is understandably on everyone’s lips. “It would be a tremendous boost,” says Millington. “We’ve been in this league for ten seasons. For us to get to the next level and pit our ability against Step 2 teams would be a great challenge.”
Potentially, some might argue, a challenge too far given the limitations of the council-owned stadium, Arsenal and Tottenham being close by, and the fact Enfield are supporter-owned.
“Obviously it would mean modifications to the ground and financially a lot of work would be needed, though we would have an additional pot of funding to help.
“The atmosphere may be different to the Premier League but there is no lack of passion – on or off the pitch. Having a day out at an affordable cost is something I believe is becoming more of a draw as top-flight football gets more and more remote.”
And if they succeed in reaching the promised land, can Enfield avoid dropping straight back down?
“Listen, if we do go up, of course on the pitch it would be all about survival for the first couple of years. But you would hope with the extra exposure that would in turn bring in additional support and sponsorship.
“Many Step 3 clubs have been around far longer than us and not been able to progress. We’re a relatively new club, starting at the bottom of the pile 20 years ago. Look where we are now.”