Locked down but not giving up

Neville Nzembela celebrates his goal for Enfield Town in what was the club's final game before the second lockdown; an entertaining 3-2 win against Brightlingsea Regent (credit Tom Scott)
Neville Nzembela celebrates his goal for Enfield Town in what was the club’s final game before the second lockdown; an entertaining 3-2 win against Brightlingsea Regent which lifted Town to third in the Isthmian Premier Division (credit Tom Scott)

Andrew Warshaw on how Enfield Town FC have been managing through another football shutdown

Like thousands of part-time football clubs up and down the country, Enfield Town have been hit hard by weeks of inaction caused by the second national lockdown, which once again decimated non-league teams both financially and in terms of fitness and training.

This week there was a ray of light when the Isthmian League announced that, following a return to the regional tier system of Covid-19 restrictions next month, league games will resume on Saturday 12th December – and that the season will be extended into late May. Town’s first game back will actually be a few days earlier, against Maldon and Tiptree in the FA Trophy on Wednesday 9th December.

Last week it was announced that teams in steps three to six of the non-league pyramid, which includes Enfield Town, will receive a combined £14million as part of the government’s overall but long overdue £300m sports survival package for this winter. It does little to alleviate the financial hardship of the last few weeks, however, and is largely composed of loans.

It still seems grossly unfair that the lower you are in the non-league pyramid, the harder you have been affected by the cessation of part-time and amateur football. While steps one and two – the National League and National League North/South divisions – have not only been allowed to carry on playing (albeit behind closed doors) but have also received a healthy financial bailout, teams in step three downwards – Enfield Town’s level – have had to endure both a spectator ban and a total temporary shutdown.

Why on earth step three downwards were made to pay the price for the effect the virus is having on sport is a question that has not been adequately answered, especially given that so many clubs at Enfield Town’s level have been doing all they can throughout the pandemic to ensure safety and wellbeing.

It seems almost obscene, when there is so much money swirling around the game higher up the pyramid, that lower leagues should be the ones made to suffer most. There is a strong argument that it should be the other way round, because without proper compensation and having already taken a massive hit last season, how are local community clubs supposed to make ends meet when those higher up the scale have far more resources to deal with the crisis?

Not surprisingly given the suspension of our league, it has been impossible for manager Andy Leese and his support team to plan properly for the restart, not knowing which players may or may not be available. It’s hardly an ideal scenario, but off the field Enfield Town’s image goes from strength to strength, carving out a reputation as a favourite media ‘go to’ non-league club.

Within the space of a few weeks, an article about the Towners appeared in the prestigious monthly magazine When Saturday Comes, then the club was featured in the esteemed Financial Times, no less, under the heading: “UK Covid restrictions leave sports teams fearing for the future”. Not only that, but halfway through lockdown, a Finnish publication, would you believe, also ran an article on the club!

The fact that the UK’s first fan-owned club can command this kind of exposure says much about its standing in the non-league game, supporter loyalty, and the work being done behind the scenes.