From being a park footballer to making his international debut in a few months, Luton's new terrace hero has enjoyed an amazing rise, as Neil Rose writes
There are few park footballers under the age of 40 who do not secretly harbour the schoolboy dream of being spotted by a canny scout and thrust into a starring role at a League club, before graduating within months to the national team.
There are also few managers at cash-strapped lower-division clubs who don’t have the similar dream of plucking some gawky youngster out of obscurity and chucking him into first-team action, where he becomes an overnight sensation, hailed by the media as a wonderkid.
And there are no fans of any club who couldn’t help but adopt a player who is 6ft 5in but cannot head to save his life, awkward but very quick, and highly skilful without giving you the confidence that he’s always in complete command of every limb.
All this would be fantastical in the pages of Roy of the Rovers. But, for Enoch Showunmi, Mike Newell and the fans of Luton Town, it pretty much describes last season.
A year ago, Enoch was playing for Willesden Constantines in the Middlesex County League in north London; his main footballing claim to fame up to that point was as a body double for Patrick Vieira in a Nike advert. He had had an unsuccessful trial at Luton some years before, so went off to university to get a business degree. Nonetheless, his performances at Willesden were getting him noticed. With QPR and Sheffield United showing an interest, Luton came calling again last September, manager Newell saying he was raw but talented. He was also admirably cheap, appearing just for expenses. Though he played in the centre of midfield for Willesden, Newell had him ear-marked as a striker from the start.
He made his debut immediately, away at Plymouth. Having been booked after 25 minutes, he was substituted on 40 be- cause the manager feared he might get himself sent off – through sheer exuberance rather than malice. A few substitute appearances later, he started an LDV Vans encounter at Rushden and scored his first professional goal, racing clear of the defence to slot home. Newell expressed frustration at the lad’s inconsistency. “You look at him at times and think he hasn’t got anything – but other times you think ‘Jesus, if we could just get more of that out of him’.”
Enoch then disappeared from view, a victim of Luton’s then plight in administration. But he was back a month later and hared around a lot nowhere near the ball in a rubbish televised first-round FA Cup match at Thurrock. But, slowly, signs of promise were emerging, as was Enoch as a cult figure at Kenilworth Road. A website dedicated to “Enoch’s Army” went up (“the unofficial gateway to the shrine of Enoch”), as did the cry of “Eeeeeeeenoch” every time he trotted on to the pitch – a role model for those who don’t succeed but try and try again. And then, on February 7, came the momentous day when, having missed several easier chances, he turned well in the box to score the only goal at home to Colchester.
Enoch was up and running. Three days later he tore Brighton to shreds, setting up both goals in a 2-0 win, and then scared the bejesus out of Brentford’s defence, scoring a second-half hat-trick that spoke volumes for his pace and power and led to him being named Division Two player of the month for February.
Somehow, despite the restrictions of administration, the club were finally able to sign him up on a contract to 2007. He celebrated with a 25-yard free-kick, curled perfectly into the top corner of the Blackpool net, a dramatic equaliser at fierce rivals QPR and even a headed goal against Oldham.
Enoch’s form tailed off with the rest of the team’s and their play-off hopes in the last few matches of the season, but that didn’t stop him receiving a shock call-up to the Nigeria squad and he made two late substitute appearances in the Unity Cup event held in London in late May.
Now 22, the big test for Enoch will come this season, when he is no longer a novelty but a key member of the squad and expected to score regularly. But at this point, we should just rejoice in the kind of heart-warming success all too rare in modern football. He was given the chance that remains a dream for almost all and took it with both hands. And woe betide League One defences this year if he can consistently make both feet work together as well.
From WSC 211 September 2004. What was happening this month