The game: Enfield Town v. Hendon.
The ground: the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium.
The conditions: windier than a seaside staycation.
The Queen Elizabeth II Stadium is my sort of ground. With its Art Deco front, spiral staircase and ‘Butler’s Bar’, the main stand is a house piano player away from being a 1930s nightclub; looking out over the exposed pitch, confined running track and three windswept shed stands that make up the rest of the stadium, it’s a genuinely unique spot – and a luxury one. Though yesterday’s match with Hendon was yet another North London derby for the Ryman League (there are roughly forty eight in any one league season), my impression of the ground filled me with hope for a sporting game of gentlemen’s football; on the pitch – as off it – I was not disappointed.
From the first whistle, both the home ‘Towners’ and away ‘Greens’ tried to keep the ball on the turf and play good, passing stuff. Tactically, this may have had something to do with the absolute gale that was blowing; still, it made for enjoyable watching. Both teams looked sharp in the opening ten minutes, while there was plenty of pace to the game; Enfield soon started to assert some home dominance with a succession of corners and probing shots, but Hendon’s defence managed well. Slightly against the run of play, Hendon then had the best chance of the initial exchanges. In the fifteenth minute, Greens’ striker Peter Dean ran on to a rare long pass into the Enfield box and, striking the ball on the half-volley, his determined shot was acrobatically saved by Town keeper Nathan McDonald. High-scoring Leon Smith thought he had tapped the visitors ahead from the resulting corner, but – to the relief of the home fans – his effort was ruled out for offside.
Over the next few minutes, Enfield returned the favour with several hard drives at goal, all well saved by the Greens’ man between the sticks, Ben McNamara. The quick passing being attempted by both teams made the game open and exciting, while a goal for either side seemed imminent; this appeared to galvanise both sets of fans, but the Towners in particular, most of whom sang an Enfield-themed version of rock-and-roll classic ‘Twist and Shout’ from this point until the end of the first half (and possibly back into the clubhouse). By the half hour mark, Enfield’s forwards had fired straight across the face of goal three or four times from reasonable positions; the home pressure seemed to be mounting, even if Hendon were just about holding out.
When, after another five minutes of probing, an Enfield goal still hadn’t come, the pace of the game inevitably slowed. The play was still watchable, but competitive tackling in the midfield characterised the rest of the first-half action; there were no more chances of note. Just before the referee blew for half-time, a mistimed slash on the ankles of Enfield’s energetic number nine, Corey Whitely, resulted in a booking for Hendon’s Elliot Braithwaite; indicative of the late, close-quarters battling, this was the last incident before the break. Surprisingly goalless, the teams left the pitch. Naturally, I went straight to the Butler’s Bar for a handmade sandwich and an independently-brewed ale.
The beginning of the second half heralded a return to high-tempo football, as well as high-volume singing from the Town fans; serenading their team with a stirring chorus of ‘All You Need Is Town’ (to the tune of ‘All You Need Is Love’), they picked up the tunes where they had left off – or possibly hadn’t left off. Their team responded accordingly, dominating with early possession. Then, in the fifty-third minute, Corey Whitely made a storming run to the edge of the Hendon box only to be brought down by Greens’ defender Charlie Goode, at the cost of a caution. Taking the free kick himself, the Towners’ nine could only fire into the wall; nevertheless, his attacking ambition was impressive.
Whitely was on target again a couple of minutes later, his shot well saved by McNamara. With the forward’s nippy runs dragging the Hendon defence to and fro across the pitch, Enfield started to assert full supremacy; likewise, nothing seemed to come off for the Greens in their attempts to work the ball toward the Town goal. A succession of shots and mazy dribbles by Town players – midfielder Tyler Campbell especially – left Hendon really clinging on to the game; by the sixtieth minute, the Greens were being forced into fouls all around their box, one of which particularly annoyed the constantly-jinking Campbell and led to some audible verbals – all part of the building home tension. By the seventieth minute, having watched their team pump free kicks into the Hendon box to no avail, the Enfield fans had to sing through the stress.
Finally, in the eighty-second minute, after constant Enfield pressure, the deadlock was broken. Whitely went on his best run of the match, charging from the halfway line to the edge of the Hendon box. Closed out by two Greens’ defenders, he then squared the ball to fellow forward Liam Hope, who slotted into the bottom left from about ten yards. Celebrating in front of the ballistic home faithful, the entire Town team seemed elated. Then it was quickly back to their half to defend the late lead.
As it turned out, that wasn’t too difficult a task. Though Hendon tried to threaten the Enfield goal, winning a few corners and free kicks themselves, they couldn’t carve out any real chances; with Leon Smith man-marked for the entire second half the danger had gone out of their forward line, while tiredness laboured their attacks. A bit of cautious passing around the corner flags, and Enfield got the result they wanted; a really enjoyable game ended with fewer goals than it deserved, but a fair and gentlemanly outcome.
Result: Enfield Town 1 Hendon 0.
My MoM: Tyler Campbell grew into the second half, Liam Hope scored the goal, but Corey Whitely was by far and away the best player on the pitch. Ran directly, pressed from the front, put in some strong tackles and got an assist; his contribution was the difference.
Best fans: the Towners. Probably still singing now. Varied repertoire.