New year fixture pile-up for Towners

Andrew Warshaw on how a backlog of games is impacting Enfield Town’s season

QE2 Stadium, home of Enfield Town FC
QE2 Stadium, home of Enfield Town FC

Top-flight football clubs forever bemoan fixture congestion, but one look at Enfield Town’s eye-watering programme over the coming days and weeks serves only to illustrate the challenge facing non-league teams.

Unlike full-time professional players, those at Enfield’s level have jobs outside the game on which they rely for their livelihoods. The pressure of working five days a week, then turning up for training and playing matches, is easily underestimated. Throw in the spread of Covid-19 – the club suffered a swathe of absentees in December’s FA Trophy defeat against Eastleigh – and you get some idea of how well-laid plans can suddenly collapse.

The Towners’ arduous January programme includes no fewer than nine league games. It’s a tall order for players and staff as the team strives to remain in the play-off places.

“We need to try and keep everyone fit and available,” manager Andy Leese told a podcast recently. “Somehow we’re going have to find times to train. We’re going to need to suck up all our resources and energy. We tried to get a couple of fixtures nudged into February, but there’s a rule that says you have to re-arrange fixtures within so many days.”

Towners chairman Paul Reed is the first to recognise the task at hand for his players. “Life can be very tough with games coming relentlessly on Saturdays and midweek,” Paul told the Dispatch. “The players need to have understanding employers and families to be able to ensure they are available for all matches, as well as Thursday training.

“The league are in a tough situation as I’m sure they are keen to finally have a completed season at the third time of asking. However, they also need to protect players and volunteers from unnecessary Covid risks.

“We will support our players the best we can and I’m sure Andy and the management team will have a keen eye on the workload of each player. We may need to rotate the squad to ensure we keep everyone fit and well.”

Meanwhile the club has sent three players – Matt Walsh, Ebrimah Sawaneh and Eli Nicholls – out on loan to Colney Heath in order to get game time. All of them can be recalled and they are continuing to train with the club.