Tom Davies recalls the moment when Enfield FC fans had enough with the running and direction of the club and that the way forward was to form their own new club Enfield Town FC
What to do if you’ve reached the end of your tether with your chairman, your club has been made homeless and its fans are powerless? If you’re supporters of Enfield FC you say “sod this, let’s start our own club”. Later this month the newly formed Enfield Town FC will make their debut in the Essex Senior League.
The new club was established after members of the Enfield Supporters Trust voted overwhelmingly to start again from the bottom and ditch their old side, limping along of late in the lower reaches of the Ryman Premier and playing in Borehamwood, way out of their home borough, following the sale of their Southbury Road stadium in 1999. Enfield Town will be run and, initially at least, financed almost entirely by its membership.
Enfield were until recently a distinguished non-League club, having won 12 titles since the Sixties, including the Alliance (precursor to the Conference) in 1986, the last year before automatic promotion to the League came in. Their real troubles began when the chairman Tony Lazarou decided to sell Southbury Road for housing in a deal with the landowner, Enfield Council, arguing that moving was the only way for the club to clear its debts.
The trouble was, Lazarou hadn’t established an alternative home. He eventually set his sights on sharing Cheshunt FC’s tiny ground on the other side of the M25, but Broxbourne Council refused planning permission and Lazarou ditched the plan. By now, Enfield were already homeless.
Exasperated, Es supporters set up a trust under the auspices of Supporters Direct as they sought to step up the search for a new ground back in Enfield. The trust appeared to have effected a breakthrough earlier this year when it struck a deal with the chairman that would have allowed him to walk away with £600,000 of the £750,000 that had been held in a joint council/club bank account after the Southbury Road sale – in return for relinquishing control of the club to the fans and clearing its debts. But Lazarou claimed the rights to a retail unit on the old site that he’d been promised as part of the ground sale (although the council maintains this was only on condition that he found a new ground), and the deal collapsed. Fans began to feel drastic action was needed.
“The old club died when they left Enfield,” says Supporters Trust (and now also Enfield Town) chairman Dave Bryant. “Everyone knew it was going nowhere.” In June the trust’s members voted 263 to 34 to start anew at Spartan League club Brimsdown Rovers, whose Goldsdown Road base is small but, importantly, in the borough of Enfield. Since then things have moved swiftly. Enfield Town were admitted to the Essex Senior League (four divisions below the Ryman Premier) and the old club’s remaining directors, apart from Lazarou, jumped ship. Former manager Jim Chandler, who left amid acrimony in December, returned and has recruited a number of his old charges. Sponsorship deals are being negotiated, and local support appears high.
It’s a huge risk though. The sense of empowerment generated by the new club as well as the vicarious pleasure in sticking one over on the old chairman could quickly dissipate if they fail on the pitch and find themselves tramping around the wilds of Essex year after year. Success, too, could bring problems. Rapid progress up the pyramid will hasten the need for a new ground, but spare land is at a premium in an area of suburban London that has seen non-League grounds fall by the wayside at an alarming rate in the past 15 years.
Meanwhile the old club finds itself stuck out at Borehamwood with a threadbare squad, next to no support – gates had already slumped to around 150 last season – and a chairman who hasn’t attended a game in almost two years. An intriguing season looms.
From WSC 175 September 2001. What was happening this month