Andrew Warshaw enjoys the return of league football to Queen Elizabeth II Stadium after a six-month absence
There may be more important things than football in the current climate but the non-league game has suffered greatly when it comes to Covid-19, ripping the heart out of our national sport.
Hence the delight among the Enfield Town faithful when the new season finally kicked into gear last month, after a worrying summer of unpredictability and uncertainty. Off the field, the club was hit by an unfortunate positive coronavirus case in the weeks leading up to the start of the season, forcing many of the squad to self-isolate and seriously disrupting training and warm-up friendlies.
Luckily, it didn’t stop the Towners kicking off the new campaign on time and with a raft of new players to bolster the spine of the team and replace those who have left; there are high hopes of improving on last season’s seventh-place finish when fixtures were curtailed prematurely.
Importantly for everyone concerned, the board of directors, together with a string of volunteers, have put a tremendous amount of work in to take all the necessary precautions to make the stadium as Covid-friendly as possible, allowing for 250 fans to attend the opening game of the season. They went home happy after a 4-1 win over Lewes, paving the way for a cautious and incremental increase in capacity as long as government regulations allow it.
At a virtual supporters’ meeting before the season got under way, chairman Paul Reed confirmed that, during these unprecedented times, the club needed to tighten its belt significantly in virtually all spending areas, including a first-team playing budget reduction of approximately 20%. Members were informed, however, that the club’s summer-long crowdfunding initiative had raised £11,830, most of it going towards a significant floodlight upgrading.
Achieving the club’s ambition of reaching the play-offs this season and keeping a tight rein on finances represents a difficult balancing act. This isn’t helped by the continuing impact coronavirus is having on the game, making planning almost impossible amid the threat of local lockdowns, crowd restrictions, or opponents having positive cases and matches being called off – which has happened several times at other clubs already this season. Add to that, there’s reduced prize money on offer in cup competitions for non-league teams. This is a headache facing not just Enfield Town but most of their rivals, apart from those with major investors to cushion the financial blow.
Enthusiasm is high and whatever happens over the course of the next few weeks and months, the bigger picture is one of a club that has stabilised under the present board, without the kind of reckless spending that has brought many a larger club crashing to its knees.
Paul said: “Our business plan is always set realistically and our associated budgets prudently. The club has achieved two promotions in almost 20 years of existence, and has come from a ground-share situation to leasing its own ground, and the first team have been either in, or in contention for, the plays-offs for a number of recent seasons.”