Saturday, 18 February 2012

Enfield Town 3 Heybridge Swifts 1

Isthmian League, First Division North
Attendance: 359

Call me a nerd if you like (and I’m sure many do) but I like quirky buildings as much as quirky football matches. What better way, then, to spend an afternoon while on half-term in north London than at the Queen Elizabeth II stadium in Enfield. “It’s a café with a ground attached,” is how my brother-in-law described it. And what a café. This is no tatty little tea hut but a splendid Grade II-listed, Art Deco affair dating back to 1953 and designed to mimic an ocean liner, the tower being the funnel. It was restored as part of a £6m refurbishment of the ground that culminated with its official opening with a match against a Spurs XI last November. Coverage of that match made the ground top of the list on a rare southern sojourn and the ideal place to make my Isthmian League debut. 

You enter the café building via a spiral staircase which leads to a fully glazed bar area. The burble of conversation made me feel like I’d wandered into someone’s retirement party. I almost found myself looking around for the canapés. A door leads to the open deck, so to speak, and just around the corner are a few terraces of tip-up seats. Even though there’s a running track between the spectators and the pitch the view is still pretty good (see below and click to enlarge) and, for those who want to get up close and personal, there are short stands positioned within the track and right up against each goal line plus a further stand on the far side.

We were glad of the cover. The rain slanted down, rattling on the corrugated roofs and providing a suitably Dickensian funeral feel to the minute’s silence for Ronnie Sturgess, former groundsman (who’s tractor boasted a personalised number plate). The downpour continued for the entire first half inevitably prompting those familiar “what the hell am I doing here?” thoughts. If you have the choice the QEII is worth saving for a sunny evening at the start or end of the season.
The conviviality of the bar extended to our shelter. There was lots of talk about developments at Bishops Stortford, Leiston, Cheshunt, Brentwood and, horror of horrors, how the league table in the NLP still erroneously listed Enfield as having forfeited three points for fielding an ineligible player. These boys know their non-league. Not that they were boys. In fact, there was a notable absence of youths in the crowd. There were no chants either but repeated calls of: “Oh, Leon!”, “Go on, Leon!” and “What the hell was that, Leon?” Sporting orange boots and gloves and a tidy little beard, Leon Osei looked like he really didn’t want to come out to play right from the off, lumbering around like a cross between a punch drunk Emile Heskey and ever-collapsing Bambi although he did hit the post late on. Never has a substitution been so unsurprising.

Enfield, lying in second place in the table, took the lead when one of their players was felled just inside the area and Hope put away the penalty. Shortly afterwards a pass back to the goalie prompted an indirect free kick right on the edge of the six-yard box. Always an interesting scenario – and, this time, one that resulted in a first-rate save from the Swifts goalie.

Enfield won the first half and the Swifts won the second. Well, they should've done. They deservedly levelled the match with eight misn to go when a free kick was nodded on and nudged in but went behind almost immediately after the re-start when an Enfield cross was blasted in by sub Ewang.To add insult to injury, Hope danced through the Swifts defence to stroke in a third (above). By this time the rain had eased. It had been a tricky crossing for Enfield. In the dying minutes the sun finally and shyly appeared like the harbour lights at the end of a voyage. One last word of praise for the QEII: the car park – just as trim as the ground ­– is free and we were immediately cruising away. That’s the way I like it.

Programme notes: Very professional publication, the sort you’d associate with a club higher up the pyramid. I was reminded where I was, however, by an item headed ‘Bread Pudding!’ It read: “Don’t forget that Gill has given her famous bread pudding to us to sell for her so don’t miss out. It’s 50p for each generous portion”. The programme also explains the origins of the Swifts’ ground (in a village near Chelmsford) as a carrot field. Sounds like another spot well worth visiting …

Ex-star turns: Seb Coe, Linford Christine and Daley Thompson all trained at the QEII during its previous heyday. This Flickr page has good pics of the ground and an interesting history of Enfield Town (the original fans’ club). It also links to a blog with pics of how the QEII looked pre-restoration.

Long runs: As you’re probably aware, Whitley Bay were finally defeated in the FA Vase today (1-2 at home to West Auckland in the fifth round) having won the last three competitions spanning a total of 24 ties. And, talking of long runners the fella behind this blog is going to as many FA Cup ties as he can this season and has already clocked up a mightily impressive 21.

Highlights: As well as the film below, click here for my film from the café side of the Swifts equaliser.