Two slices of honey roast Hamlet

The game: Enfield Town v. Dulwich Hamlet.
The ground: the QEII.
The conditions: windier than myself after a mung bean salad (with extra lentils).

Easter weekend is a time of reflection. It is a time of profound religiosity. A time to think about our many and varied sins, while eating lots of chocolate and sending unwarranted abuse to the people who run Cadbury’s official Twitter account.

However, most importantly of all, it’s also a ruddy good time to catch up on non-league football. With work commitments suspended for four whole days, I found myself with time on my hands come Saturday afternoon.

And how did I spend that time? I spent it watching Enfield Town take on Dulwich Hamlet, obviously.

Both Town and Hamlet have suffered mixed fortunes of late. While the Pink & Blues were top of the league at Christmas, mixed form (and too many draws, in particular) had seen them drop down to fifth ahead of the big game at the QEII. Town, after a strong run in the mid-season, had also stuttered in their previous few fixtures.

As such, the two teams were now in direct contention for a play-off berth. The pre-match tension was heightened accordingly.

Ignoring the pre-match tension, I rocked up in EN1 and immediately trotted up to the Butler’s Bar for a pint of Redemption pale ale. By kick off, the ground had filled out nicely. Home and away fans had assumed their positions at opposite ends of the pitch. The dulcet parps of a local brass band filled the air. The stage had been set for the heady melodrama that is – the football!

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With both sides preferring to play a clever, passing game, the wet and windy conditions didn’t really favour anyone. Nonetheless, it was Enfield that started by far the brighter of the two sides. With five minutes on the clock, Tyler Campbell broke away down the right before teeing up Corey Whitely in the middle of the box; his effort was well blocked by Ethan Pinnock. A half chance for Stanley Muguo came a few minutes later, but he could only shank a shot into the arms of Hamlet keeper Preston Edwards from the edge of the box.

Near the fifteen minute mark, Town carved out the first clear-cut opportunity of the match. The effervescent Whitely got in behind Hamlet’s defence and galloped toward goal from the left. With Dulwich defenders sprinting back to catch him, he clipped a beautiful cross straight to Bobby Devyne. Unfortunately, his strike partner could only blast over the crossbar from eight yards. Hands on heads for Town.

That sense of frustration only grew when, just over ten minutes later, the visitors went ahead. A scrappy period had seen the game level out a little, before Dulwich suddenly broke forward in numbers. A Nyren Clunis cross from the right bobbled in the box before falling for Jack Dixon, who rifled low into the corner of the net. The travelling Hamlet fans went wild.

Moments afterward, that elation turned sour. Having picked up a yellow card for handball early on, Hamlet defender Matt Drage was caught dawdling on the ball by Campbell. Sticking out a leg, Drage brought his opponent down right in front of his own box. The second yellow was inevitable. Hamlet were down to ten.

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Despite all this sudden drama, the rest of the half was fairly subdued. The best chance fell for Hamlet’s new signing (and debutant) Dipo Akinyemi just before half time; after a strong run into the box he opened up his body and fired a yard past the far post. Soon enough, the whistle went.

The Butler’s Bar was out of Redemption, so I had to have a Fosters. Ugh.

Back to the game, and it didn’t take long for ten-man Hamlet to forfeit their narrow lead. Two minutes after the restart, an Enfield corner came straight to Mark Kirby only a few yards out. He couldn’t miss.

While the home end exploded into jubilant celebration, the Rabble didn’t even break song. That clearly steeled the team because, much like their supporters, they refused to be cowed by the setback.

In fact, despite their one-man deficit, it was Hamlet who were to score next.

In the fifty-fifth minute, Akinyemi controlled a long ball in the middle of the park before sending Clunis away down the right wing. Sprinting past his markers, Nyren pinged a floated ball to the back post where – having made up the ground in no time – Dipo was on hand to nod home.

It was 2-1 to Dulwich and, though chants of “Nyren Clunis, makes Messi look shite” were fully justified, Akinyemi deserved a hefty chunk of praise for his all-action role in the goal. Now, Gavin Rose’s men just had to hang on.

Enfield had other ideas, however.

The home pressure built from that point onward, while the depleted visitors looked increasingly stretched at the back. In the sixty-third minute, after Jordan Hibbert gave away a clumsy foul just outside the Hamlet area, Whitely’s curling free kick hit the bottom of the post. Five minutes later, Edwards was forced into a double save from Tyler Campbell and Bobby Devyne respectively. The latter’s shot came from barely a yard out – the visiting keeper deserved huge credit for his efforts.

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A string of saves from Edwards was the only thing which kept Hamlet ahead after that. In the seventieth minute, Devyne ran at Hamlet’s centre backs before unleashing Whitely to the left of the box; his fierce effort was smothered and saved. Two minutes later, Hamlet old boy Harry Ottaway sent a looping header towards the top corner – only for Edwards to pluck it out of the air like a parakeet swooping for a juicy ladybird.

On the eightieth minute mark, Devyne had a gilt-edged chance to equalise when he capitalised on a defensive mistake by Dulwich and went clear through. He fired wide with the goal gaping.

Two minutes later, though, Hamlet were finally breached. Another defensive mistake saw Edwards come early for a loose ball. Whitely got there first, skipped around the keeper and slotted a cool finish low into the net. Could Enfield kick on and win it?

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The answer, in short, was: no. Though Edwards palmed away a vicious Whitely shot in the eighty-ninth minute, the game was relatively calm for the final stretch. With rain now coming down in sheets and both sides exhausted from their exertions, the players seemed fairly satisfied with the scoreline. The final whistle went.

Though Town fans might be disappointed not to have nabbed all three points when facing ten men, the draw was a fair result in the end. Entertaining despite the conditions, full of fighting spirit and with plenty of quality on show, the game was a good measure of the two teams at this point in the season.

Will Town and Hamlet meet once more in the play offs? I can only hope.

Result: Enfield Town 2 Dulwich Hamlet 2.
My MoM: Corey Whitely is surely one of the most dangerous players in the division, but Nyren Clunis was similarly excellent on the day. Two assists for Clunis edge him narrowly ahead.
Best fans: Both sang all afternoon, both braved wind and rain to support the sides. I’m not going to choose between them, and you can’t make me.

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Two slices of honey roast Hamlet

Police, Police, Police, let me get what I want

The game: Hendon v. Metropolitan Police.
The ground: Earlsmead Stadium.
The conditions: warm but moist; just the way I like my pistachio slices.

Finally. It was a rainy Thursday evening in Harrow and – long after its original scheduling – Hendon’s Ryman Premier play-off semi-final was about to take place. The postponement, owing to the FA and Ryman League’s prevarication in docking points from potential opponents Enfield Town, was entirely unnecessary and unwelcome for the sides involved; likewise, Enfield’s last-minute punishment for an administrative error dating back to January made for a truly cruel end to the campaign for their management, players and fans alike. Nonetheless, wrangle ended, here the long-awaited play off was. The Greens were to play Metropolitan Police for a place in the final. The pre-match anticipation was plain.

In the few weeks since the end of the regular season Met Police had triumphed in the Surrey Senior Cup; with Hendon crowned London Senior Cup winners just a day later, this game was a straight fight between two clubs with a fresh taste for winners’ medals. Having finished second in the league standings, Hendon had to be the firm favourites before kick off. Still, I had a sneaking suspicion that the Met would be very tricky adversaries. As it was, my suspicion was quickly proved right.

The away side made a fast start. After only a couple of minutes, physical Met wide man Bradley Hudson-Odoi won a long ball to the left of the area before squaring to midfielder Charlie Collins ten yards out; he fired narrowly wide. Five minutes later, after a little spell of Hendon pressure, the Met carved out another good opportunity. Joe Turner made a strong run through the middle of the park, eventually teeing up fellow forward Jake Reid on the edge of the box. He thumped a shot straight at Greens’ stopper Ben McNamara. Saved. Held.

Come the eleventh minute, it was the home side’s turn to go close. Hendon striker Aaron Morgan went on a strong run of his own only to be brought down twenty yards from goal. Andre Da Costa – something of a free kick specialist – stood over the ball. He then curled it onto the top of the crossbar. The terraces gasped.

It was shaping up to be an even and open game, both teams playing with plenty of offensive ambition. It was, however, the Greens’ defence which made the first slip up. In the seventeenth, as they attempted to usher the ball out of their area, Hendon defenders Charlie Goode and Sam Flegg got their feet horribly mixed up; Joe Turner nipped in and won the ball, before seemingly being tripped by Flegg. With no decision given, Turner leapt up and fired at goal. His shot was blocked in a tangle of bodies. The referee then signalled for a penalty – whether for the trip or for a handball was unclear.

Collins took the spot kick, stroking in to McNamara’s left. One-nil to the Met. As the Hendon fans behind the goal made their heartening voices heard, it was up to the hosts to come back at the visitors. This was no easy task; the away side were tenacious from front to back, Hudson-Odoi and Reid particularly impressive in their energetic harassment of the Greens’ defence.

That said, Hendon did manage to gradually wrest away their opponents’ momentum. A few imposing tackles from Goode – atonement for his earlier error – stabilised the back four. It was Goode who then thumped a long ball forward for Morgan in the thirty-first minute; the Greens’ number nine set off on a direct run before unleashing a stinging shot at goal – this was deflected over the bar by the Met’s ironically-named defender Billy Crook.

The corner produced Hendon’s equaliser. Sam Murphy put in a great delivery. Casey Maclaren leapt highest amongst the seething mass of defenders. He belted a header into the back of the net. The crowd erupted. The Green Army’s klaxons blared.

The Met did have several good chances to go back ahead before the break. In the thirty-seventh minute, Hudson-Odoi got around Flegg before releasing Reid to the left of the box; the Met striker galloped at goal but – faced with an ever-narrowing angle – shot straight at a relieved-looking McNamara. Turner volleyed wide after a corner was only half cleared a couple of minutes later. Hudson-Odoi then got a shot in himself, again making space on the left before stinging McNamara’s palms from five yards. The resulting corner was cleared. A few probing home attacks later, and a well-fought half came to an end.

It was hard to predict which side might score next but, once the second half was underway, it didn’t take long to find out. Only two minutes in, Murphy sent another sweet corner delivery into the Met box. This was shanked away, but the ball was collected by Da Costa just outside the area. From there, he sent a sumptuous curler rippling past away keeper Stuart Searle. Cries of ‘Gary McCann’s Green & White Army’ filled the wet night sky. Dreamland for Hendon.

After that, the game settled down into a pattern of anxious Met pressure and lightning counterattacks from the Greens. Though the away team did go close in the fifty-fourth through midfielder Nikki Ahamed – his low shot was safely pushed out by McNamara – this dynamic played into Hendon hands. The home opportunities were numerous from here on out. In the fifty-seventh, Oliver Sprague broke into the box and curled a shot past the far post with the outside of his boot. Morgan and Ibe both went close. Then, in the sixty-sixth minute, Murphy broke away on the right before putting Morgan through one on one. The latter’s first shot looped over Searle and was scrambled off the line. Morgan then followed up with an angled drive toward the roof of the net. Searle stuck out a hand to save.

Ten minutes more like this, and things were made very difficult for the Met. Defender Rob Bartley was sent off for clumsily bringing down Da Costa as he bore down on Searle’s goal from thirty yards; Bartley may well have been the last man, but whether or not this was a clear goalscoring opportunity was up for debate.

The ten men did have the ball in the back of the net in the eighty-fifth, but the goal was chalked off for a robust foul on McNamara. Then came a pretty unambiguous red card decision. Perhaps put off by the persistent klaxon parping behind him, Searle rushed off his line and fisted the ball away from the onrushing Murphy – a yard outside the box. He duly got his marching orders. The nine men saw off a few more Hendon attacks, but the home side were now happy to keep possession. Before long, the final whistle went.

A highly eventful game ended with Hendon through to the final; despite the last forty-five going in the Greens’ favour, it had been a damned difficult game for them – one in which the Met had certainly done themselves proud. The Greens will now entertain Margate at the Earlsmead after the Kentish side narrowly beat Dulwich Hamlet in the corresponding fixture. The winner of that game will go on to entertain in the Conference South next season. I’ll be watching. May the best side win.

Result: Hendon 2 Metropolitan Police 1.
My MoM: Hudson-Odoi was excellent in the first half, Charlie Goode didn’t put a foot wrong after his early error, but the accolade goes to Andre Da Costa. That finish.
Best fans: Hendon fans. I really should not find ninety minutes of klaxon distraction funny. But I do.

Police, Police, Police, let me get what I want

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Hill)

The game: Dulwich Hamlet v. Enfield Town.
The ground: Champion Hill.
The conditions: picnic weather! Pass the teacakes!

Easter Monday, and the sun was beaming warmly for my first double header of the season. Waddling into Champion Hill all full of delicious, high-quality cocoa egg, I was greeted by the sight of 1,204 fans in shorts and sunglasses, a commendable Enfield contingent included, and two familiar teams about to kick off a high-stakes match in the race to the Ryman League play offs; the fourth-placed Pink & Blues hosted the fifth-placed Blue & Whites with the visitors only a single point behind them – summer wardrobes aside, the next ninety minutes would be as far from relaxing (or ‘chillaxing’, to the kids) as it was possible to get.

To add to the home tension, Hamlet had not escaped their poor form since my last visit for the game with East Thurrock United; a subsequent loss against Wingate & Finchley and a draw with relegation-threatened Witham Town meant there had now been no Hamlet win in eight fixtures. By contrast, Enfield were in fine fettle; having finally found some real consistency, I expected Bradley Quinton’s men to look confident of a result from the off.

This was not quite the case. The opening ten minutes were lively from both sides. The Towners thought they might have had a penalty shout in the fifth minute; wide man Joe Stevens went down in the box under a risky challenge from Jordan Hibbert, but the referee waved play on. A minute later, Town striker Bobby Devyne broke free of Hamlet’s back four and almost played Corey Whitely through; the pass was slightly overhit, and the chance went begging. Hamlet came back at them with determination, the powerful Ashley Carew charging through the midfield before smashing at goal from twenty yards – his shot flew just wide. Carew had another chance soon enough, but his low drive was blocked a couple of yards from the line. It was an end-to-end start. High drama.

After the early exchanges, however, Hamlet suddenly took command of the game. Carew imposed himself on the centre of the pitch, front man Harry Ottaway started to boss the Town back four and the Pink & Blue pressure started to build around the away area. This quickly paid off when, in the sixteenth minute, Luke Wanadio cut in from the right and capered into the Enfield box; he was brought down by an extremely risky challenge from Town’s Ricky Gabriel – so risky, in fact, that the penalty award was a formality. Carew stepped up. The net bulged. One-nil.

Enfield tried to come back at the home side, yet seemed to be playing inside themselves somewhat. They had a chance to level in the twentieth minute, Whitely volleying an inch wide after a half clearance from Ethan Pinnock. Another opportunity came and went five minutes later, Ryan Doyle firing a free kick straight at Phil Wilson – the Hamlet goalkeeper perhaps put him off with his terrifying, Phantom of the Opera-esque face mask, a haunting remnant of the East Thurrock game and his aerial challenge with league top scorer Sam Higgins.

Despite the travelling Towners behind the goal treating the ground to a vocal rendition of the full Enfield songbook, those efforts were as close to a first-half rally as their side were going to come. The home team soon cranked up the pressure once more. In the thirty-second, Harry Ottaway latched on to a ball from Wanadio before sending a stinging shot just over the crossbar. In the thirty-ninth, after almost ten minutes of total Hamlet possession, Wanadio was sent clear only for a last ditch tackle by Town defender Claudio Vilcu to deny him. Then, in the forty-third minute, Hamlet got their second. Albert Jarrett stole a loose pass out on the left before bombing up the wing. Darting into the area, he picked out forward Xavier Vidal with precision; Vidal side footed past stranded away keeper Nathan McDonald to effortlessly extend the home lead.

This was pretty much the last act of the half. The form table was in danger of being defied. All Hamlet had to do now was hold on. All I needed to do now was get a tasty bratwurst.

It was clear right from the start of the second half that the visitors were ready to rally in earnest. Two minutes after the restart, Enfield enforcer Stanley Mugou won the ball on the halfway line before thumping a pass up to Whitely; Town’s talented number nine raced forward – and fired just wide.

Wanadio, Ottaway and Jarrett all attempted tricky moves at the other end of the pitch, yet Enfield’s defence seemed much wilier; nothing came off for the Pink & Blues. Meanwhile, just as Carew had done for Hamlet in the first period, Muguo began to muscle the midfield; in the fifty-sixth minute, a strong run from Town’s number six made space for Nathan Livings fifteen yards out – his ambitious effort was always rising.

After a battling spell in which neither side could really create clear-cut chances, the away team then made a breakthrough. In the sixty-eighth minute, Joe Stevens nipped up the right flank before clipping a cross into the Hamlet area. A scrappy clearance fell perfectly for Livings, who blasted into the top left via Wilson’s clawing grasp. The home nerves were palpable. The threat of yet another lost lead loomed.

For the last twenty minutes, as Enfield sought their equaliser, as Rabble and Towners sang their hearts out alike, the tension mounted to unbearable levels. Every touch was met with a wince, every refereeing decision with a chorus of howls and yet, still, one Hamlet fan was kind enough to offer me a teacake with trembling hand outstretched. Now that’s hospitality.

In the end, the away side couldn’t find a leveller. They weren’t helped in their endeavour by a bizarre straight red for substitute Michael Kalu after a bit of unremarkable argy bargy, yet Hamlet still had to weather a late Town storm. Weather it they did. The win was theirs.

The Rabble burst out into songs about smoking cigars and reading Shakespeare, while the gracious Town fans remained behind to clap off the sides and make more of a racket themselves. The teams were well-matched on the day, the fans were well-matched on the day and, by my reckoning, both deserve their valiant campaigns to end in a bid at promotion – for the moment, though, the stage is set for Hamlet.

Result: Dulwich Hamlet 2 Enfield Town 1.
My MoM: Ashley Carew (Dulwich Hamlet). Won the midfield duel at just the right time, made the penalty look easy.
Best fans: the Rabble were brilliant as always – and thanks for the teacake – but ‘best fans’ goes to the Towners this time; numerous, noisy and generous in defeat.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Hill)

The Belgians are coming

The game: Enfield Town v. Leatherhead.
The ground: the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium.
The conditions: het was koud!

‘Goedemorgen, Enfield!’ That was the cry that could (probably) be heard all through EN1 on Saturday morning. Arriving at the QEII early on a bracing day in North London, a large group of Belgian football fans got an atmosphere going long before a player had set foot on the pitch. These were supporters of YB SK Beveren, fans of a lower-league club from East Flanders and – ever since their fateful meeting in the 2013 Supporters Direct Cup – firm friends of Towners everywhere.

Having crossed the Channel solely for the purpose of renewing amicable ties with their English counterparts, the Beveren fans were ready for revelry; with the Butler’s Bar open early, beer flowing freely and a hog roast in the main stand, they were welcomed with open arms by their hosts. Indeed, it was only after a good deal of hearty singing and happy reminiscing that thoughts started to turn toward the possibility of watching some mid-afternoon football.

In addition to their Belgian visitors, Town were also hosting the ‘Tanners’ of Leatherhead in a mid-table match up of serious importance for both sides’ late play off pushes. While Enfield’s inconsistent flair had kept them in the hunt for a pop at promotion, the away side topped the Ryman League form table going into the game and had been steadily accruing points for some time. A win for either team might put an end to the other’s ambitions; this was certainly as big an occasion on the pitch as it was off it.

The play was pretty average at the start; the first ten minutes were notable only for a pair of unusually early bookings, one to Leatherhead striker Carl Rook for a remarkably late challenge on Mark Kirby, the other to Claudio Vilcu for booting Rook round the ear in retaliation. Nevertheless, as the sides tried to find their feet, the noise from the sidelines grew more and more ear-splitting; with the sound of ‘Enfield, everybody!’ and the mad swirling of specially prepared half scarves bidding them on from behind the away goal, the Town players suddenly seemed inspired.

First, in the twelfth minute, Aryan Tajbakhsh played a great ball through to Corey Whitely. Effortlessly rolling his marker out on the right, Enfield’s number nine got a low shot away at goal; there wasn’t enough power in this, however, and Leatherhead keeper Louis Wells saved and held. Five minutes later, Tajbakhsh dragged skilfully past an opponent before unleashing Jordan Lockie on the same flank. Receiving a good return pass, Enfield’s eight flicked the ball up on the edge of the box and volleyed just wide.

In the twenty-first, Tajbakhsh played a short free kick to Bobby Devyne on the left of the Leatherhead area; holding the ball up well, Devyne then teed up Stanley Muguo to blast well over the bar. Moments later, Whitely won a free kick on the right. Pumped in perfectly by Ryan Doyle, this fell to Kirby five yards out; belting at goal, the Town defender saw his shot frantically blocked.

Town were well on top by this point, while the Beveren-Enfield faithful kept roaring them on. Leatherhead did carve out a chance in the twenty-sixth minute, fall back Becka Kah Dembele curling over from twenty yards. Still, Enfield came straight back at them. After Muguo had battled to win a corner, Tajbakhsh’s half-cleared delivery fell to Whitely almost on the penalty spot. His fierce shot at goal was pushed out by Wells, before Vilcu scuffed his follow up from five yards into the away keeper’s grateful grasp.

Not long after that, Whitely was presented with two golden opportunities. In the thirty-third minute, after the irrepressible Tajbakhsh had flicked the ball nonchalantly over Leatherhead’s Matt Smart and played a flighted ball straight to him on the left, he cut inside before smashing straight at Wells; despite an initial fumble, this was batted away at the second attempt. A minute later, a deflected Devyne shot came to Whitely twenty yards out. Picking out the top right corner, he was only denied by another Wells save; this time the Tanners’ stopper had to dive at full stretch to palm the ball away – just.

With Whitely and Devyne having several more efforts saved before the break, Leatherhead might have felt lucky to still be in the game. Even so, they did create the last chance of the half, and it was a good one. Out of nothing, a free kick delivery found forward Vasieleious Karagiannis unmarked five yards out. Only home keeper Nathan McDonald’s brave decision to fling his face in front of Karagiannis’ shot stopped Town from going behind on the stroke of half time, well against the run of play.

This scare definitely didn’t dampen half-time spirits. Eating my tasty hog bap in the bustling bar, brushed by still-spinning scarves and buffeted by tuneful strains in both English and Flemish, it was hard not to get caught up in the jubilant mood. I mean, it was a really tasty hog bap.

Once everyone was reassembled behind the goal, the game recommenced. Just as I was musing that, despite their dominant first half, Enfield could do with improving their finishing, a dinked ball from the kick off saw Corey Whitely ghost in behind the sleeping Leatherhead defence and roll past Wells for an instant breakthrough goal.

Naturally, this was the cue for beer-stained shirts to start whirling about amongst the scarves; Towners and Beveren fans alike bounded about, kit half off, in complete and utter euphoria. After ten minutes of Enfield pressure, it then got even better for them. With Devyne afforded a huge amount of space in the middle of the pitch, he ran at the Tanners’ back four before slipping Whitely through once more. Sprinting into the area, he was clearly tripped by Leatherhead’s Jerry Nnamani. Penalty to Enfield. Scenes.

Facing up to a building wall of noise, Ryan Doyle stepped up. Giving Wells the eyes, he tucked home before leaping into the now-screaming crowd in appreciation; eventually extricated by his teammates, Doyle then proceeded to pour the entirety of a fan’s pint over his head – gurning with mild insanity as he did so, this felt like an appropriate tribute to the support.

In the sixty-eighth minute, Leatherhead saw another of their rare chances go begging; Karagiannis worked himself into a position to shoot on the left, but McDonald patted his strike down calmly before collecting. Once more, Town straightaway made an opportunity at the other end of the pitch. Tajbakhsh set Whitely off on the left, received another return ball, saw his shot from five yards blocked and then watched on as the sumptuous move ended with Doyle’s strike cleared off the line by Tanners’ defender Adam Green. That should really have been the end of it.

Happily for the Towners and their guests, they didn’t have long to wait before the game was effectively finished as a contest. After another five minutes, Bobby Devyne received the ball on the left, ran thirty yards unchallenged, cut inside and slotted home. In the prolonged madness that ensued, I barely even noticed Leatherhead’s Kiernan Hughes-Mason receiving his marching orders.

A few minutes before time, Paul Semakula pulled one back for the visitors after a bit of defensive complacency from Town; the loss of the clean sheet must have annoyed McDonald considerably after such a strong display, but the result was never under threat. It ended with an excellent three-one win for Town and, as the Enfield-Beveren fans rejoiced, Bradley Quinton brought his players over to gratefully salute what was surely the crowd of the season. Enfield might just make those play offs yet; whether the season is extended or not, this game was one to remember.

Result: Enfield Town 3 Leatherhead 1.
My MoM: Corey Whitely was outstanding, scoring the first and winning the penalty for the second. Nonetheless, Aryan Tajbakhsh is my man of the match; his creativity was at the centre of almost every successful Enfield attack.
Best fans: Beveren fans. Loved in North London. The undisputed pride of the Belgian Fourth Provincial League.

The Belgians are coming

Police on my back

The game: Enfield Town v. Metropolitan Police.
The ground: the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium.
The conditions: drizzlier than a delicious lemon cake.

With a bitter gale whipping the terraces and rain slanting down from the flat, granite sky, Saturday’s fixture between Enfield Town and Metropolitan Police was – much like Luther, Broadchurch or any other good drama involving the force – set to a pretty bleak backdrop. The weather didn’t exactly bode well for smooth, stylish football yet, with the Met occupying a coveted play-off spot only nine points ahead of Town, both sides needed to produce some strong stuff; munching on my homemade spelt bap prior to kick off, I foresaw a tough and gritty game.

For the first twenty minutes or so, the home side actually managed to defy the elements and play with familiar panache; as a result, they were well on top. Tyler Campbell instantly set about the opposition’s defence, running, passing and jinking his way around the away box; in the third minute he set up Nathan Livings twelve yards out, but the young midfielder’s sweet volley was kept out by Met stopper Stuart Searle. In the sixth minute, a good cross from Town defender Ricky Gabriel dropped right to Campbell’s feet; the gifted number seven then drilled wide from close range – a rare lapse from him.

Though Town’s star man Corey Whitely was unusually quiet, the team continued to menace Searle’s net. Bar a few attempted (but largely unsupported) breaks from Met winger Bradley Hudson-Odoi, Enfield held onto the ball unopposed; with Bobby Devyne, Livings and Campbell all full of early energy, the away back four struggled. This was exemplified in the fifteenth minute when, having been turned by some tricky skill, Met defender Will Salmon tugged down Town’s Joe Stevens in the box; no penalty was given, but this was a very risky approach indeed. However, a few wayward shots later, Town’s initial élan began to fade. The game soon became about grinding the opposition down; only by working hard in the gruelling conditions might either team prosper.

The Met’s first real chance came from a twentieth minute free kick out on the right; this was headed well over the crossbar. In the twenty-third minute, Met midfielder Ryan James won the ball high up the pitch and, bursting into the home box from the left, fired low at Town keeper Nathan McDonald; this was confidently saved. The away side were definitely getting better, though the game was not; constant fouls and free kicks for both teams broke up the majority of play. Half chances were exchanged, but neither keeper was called upon to make a save; the real action was in the crunching slide tackles slicing through the middle third of the pitch, most of which elicited deafening siren noises from the home crowd.

In the thirty-fifth minute, there was another penalty shout for Enfield. After a decent passing move initiated by Campbell, Whitely nicked the ball past Will Salmon and into the box. As he went to cut the ball back from the by-line, Salmon seemed to clip his heels from behind. Though Whitely, Campbell and the Town fans all appealed vociferously, the referee laughed this incident off. Again, this was a risky approach from the Met defender, one that might well have seen a spot kick granted.

The next ten minutes were devoid of chances; the Town fans sang some inventive police-related chants, and a hard-fought half came to an end. It would have taken an optimistic supporter to predict a goal fest to come but, conversely, there was a sense that a single moment of genius – or luck – could win it; there was still drama in the game.

After a few minutes of second half scrapping, Enfield had the best chance yet. A Met corner was cleared to Campbell, who went racing away down the right wing. Searle stormed off his line and was promptly rounded, leaving the net wide open; Campbell then pinged a perfect pass to Nathan Livings on the edge of the box, only for Livings to pump his shot high over the bar. Heads fell into hands on and off the pitch. That might well have been the crucial chance.

It certainly looked that way for the next forty-odd minutes. There were some threatening set pieces, quite a few bookings and many more half chances, but hardly any clear-cut opportunities; the Met went closest in the seventy-fourth minute from a stinging Joe Turner effort, but McDonald was equal to it. Campbell worked tirelessly for Enfield, but a scoreless draw seemed inevitable. A goal just would not come.

Then, in the eighty-eighth minute, Town won a free kick out on the left. The initial delivery was cleared by the Met’s massed defence, but the ball fell to substitute Darnell Wynter fifteen yards out; from there, he hooked an inch-perfect volley past the static Searle and in. Bradley Quinton’s Barmy Army went, well, barmy. That moment of genius had been coming after all; a few more minutes battling, and an unforgiving game ended with an agreeable result for the home side.

Result: Enfield Town 1 Metropolitan Police 0.
My MoM: Tyler Campbell. Hardest worker on the pitch, and always full of intent.
Best fans: the Town fans. ‘Nee-naw, nee-naw!’

Police on my back

Sexy football

The game: Enfield Town v. Dulwich Hamlet.
The ground: the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium.
The conditions: nocturnal, moody and sensational. A bit like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Enticing. Exhilarating. Mouthwatering. Sorry, but this artisan pork pie I’m eating really is top notch. Fortuitously, these same adjectives are apt to describe Tuesday night’s match up between Enfield Town and Dulwich Hamlet. Having seen both teams before, knowing that both sides like to play open, attacking football, I was filled with a childlike giddiness as I trooped across the shady Enfield playing fields and toward the home ground. Hamlet were seven places above Enfield in the league, but Town went into the fixture with their recent trouncing of league leaders Maidstone fresh in the memory; altogether, the game promised to be a full-on footballing feast.

With the mass of Enfield Ultras and Hamlet’s sizeable ‘Rabble’ filling out opposite ends of the pitch, the off-field entertainment was just as promising. Heralded by the vying tunes of ‘Edgar Kail in my heart’ and ‘All you need is Town’, the match kicked off; straightaway, both sides looked to establish passing patterns. After some early precision from the home side, striker Liam Hope fired high over the crossbar from a good position; then, after Tyler Campbell and Corey Whitely combined with their accustomed flair, the latter saw his low strike saved by Hamlet keeper Phil Wilson. Enfield had made a strong start. Soon, however, the away side started to stifle them.

Hamlet’s wide men, Nyren Clunis and Luke Wanadio, began to run the wings almost unopposed; their pace and acceleration caused massive problems for Town’s defence. Seemingly inspired by the away fans’ frank musings on Tooting, Mitcham and Leatherhead, they tightened their grip on the pitch with a succession of corners and menacing free kicks. In the sixteenth minute, one corner was played short to Hamlet midfielder Ashley Carew, who set up teammate Xavier Vidal on the edge of the box; his shot was deflected toward three free players in Pink & Blue, but the offside flag was raised. Though Town threatened to score from a corner at the other end – defender Taylor Hastings heading wide – the momentum was with Dulwich. This showed when, in the twenty-first minute, a long ball from the back put Nyren Clunis speeding through on goal. Home keeper Nathan McDonald charged off his line, made himself big and saved the initial shot bravely; unluckily for him, the deflection flew into the path of away striker Serge Makofo, who slipped the ball into the net.

After the opener, Hamlet seemed inspired. In the twenty-second minute, a mistake from Town’s Claudiu Vilcu gave the away side a free kick twenty yards out; this went close, but was pinged just over by Vidal. Powerful running from Nyren Clunis caused chaos on the left; this earned him some bold comparisons to Lionel Messi from the Rabble. Two cut backs and a nifty shot from Luke Wanadio received a chorus of Supergrass-based chanting as well as a cacophonous cry of ‘Sexy football!’; the save from McDonald was equally deserving of praise. Then, after a great cross from Wanadio, Vidal should have scored; his scuffed shot from five yards was blocked, before the rebound was walloped out onto the running track. It felt as if the away side might strike again.

In the thirty-fourth minute, they very nearly did. First Vidal and Wanadio found themselves two on one, but the former overhit the final ball. Then, within seconds, Michael Abnett, Carew and Makofo all went close; Abnett’s drive was denied by an astounding save, Carew’s shot cleared off the line and Makofo’s curler put a touch wide of the post. Town needed to recover, and quickly.

To their credit, they did manage to re-establish themselves and see out the rest of the half. Bar a bobbling shot from Carew in the thirty-eighth minute – again, saved well by Nathan McDonald – Hamlet’s chances were limited; meanwhile, Campbell and Whitely tried hard to get Town back into the game, the former winning a couple of positive free kicks, both fired high by Nathan Livings. The half came to a close with the away team one-nil up and, though it could have been more, Enfield’s revival towards the end meant there was still all to play for; as I sloped off to the Butler’s Bar, my childlike giddiness was in no way diminished.

The next forty-five minutes saw Enfield improve markedly. Though the first action of the half saw Makofo curl just wide of the home net once more, Town soon began to express themselves alike. In the fiftieth minute, Whitely won a long ball from Vilcu out on the left, cruised past his marker and fired low at the advancing Wilson; the ball almost squirmed between the away keeper’s legs, but he managed to stop it. An away counter saw McDonald keep out Abnett, while a home attack saw a stinging Whitely free kick cleared; the open, attacking football was irrepressible. In the fifty-sixth minute, a blistering run from Wanadio led to McDonald stopping yet another strike, before the Enfield keeper saved – and held – the header from the subsequent corner. I was convinced a goal was coming at this point, but the scorer was anyone’s guess.

The end to end football continued with barely a pause. Whitely and Campbell were everywhere for Enfield, Clunis and Wanadio likewise for Dulwich; Whitely and Wanadio were both denied yet again. Some settled passing saw fewer chances over the next ten minutes, but both sides showed plenty of quality. Hamlet manager Gavin Rose then brought on Harry Ottaway, and the forward’s first contribution was to win a central free kick on the edge of the Enfield box; this brought perhaps the best save of the match from McDonald, who palmed Ashley Carew’s wicked, dipping attempt away to safety.

Over the last twenty minutes, Enfield really started to push for a goal. Whitely was inches away from being put through in the seventy-seventh minute, only to be cut out by defender Frazer Shaw. Campbell and Whitely started to exert sustained pressure on Hamlet’s back four, while the former blazed over after a clever short-corner routine. The away side never stopped posing a threat, of course; only another act of goalkeeping heroism kept out Clunis in the eightieth minute. Still, the home fans sang Corey Whitely’s name in the hope of an equaliser; it was not so far-fetched a hope.

Frustratingly for the Towners, it was not to be. Great running from Enfield enforcer Stanley Muguo created another chance for Campbell, but he could not get his effort on target. At the other end, Hamlet substitute Albert Jarrett shot wide. In the eighty-ninth minute, an Enfield corner was cleared, before Vilcu nearly worked an opportunity for Whitely; the crucial through ball was overdone, and comfortably collected by Wilson. That was the last chance of the match, and a merited result for the visitors was decided – somehow – by a single goal. The Rabble were jubilant in victory, the Town fans gracious in defeat; result or no result, it had been sensational.

Result: Enfield Town 0 Dulwich Hamlet 1.
My MoM: Clunis and Wanadio were devastating at times, while Whitely and Campbell fought back tenaciously. However, Nathan McDonald was outstanding throughout; the Enfield stopper gets top plaudit.
Best fans: nothing to decide between the two in terms of noise, passion and all-round support. Nonetheless, the Rabble ought to be commended for coming in numbers and matching the Town fans at home; from what I’ve seen, that’s no mean feat.

Sexy football

The boys are back in Town

The game: Enfield Town v. Canvey Island.
The ground: the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium.
The conditions: colder than the shady side of my ice cream maker.

It was a chill Tuesday night in North London, and I found myself back in Enfield – back at that art-deco beauty, the QEII. Though there was still no house piano player (a wildly unnecessary expense for a fan-owned club, on reflection), the pre-game atmosphere was very much positive for the visit of the ‘Gulls’ from Canvey Island; with a history of high scores and late winners in this fixture, with Town still in the running for a play-off spot and Canvey struggling badly, there was a strong sense of home anticipation in the ground.

The game began, and it was all Enfield. In the third minute, the effervescent Corey Whitely ghosted a perfect through ball to Tyler Campbell, but the latter had just strayed offside. In the fifth, after a thumping foul by Canvey defender Josh Banton on Campbell, a free kick from the left was very nearly turned in at the far post by Town’s Joe Stevens; he couldn’t quite latch on to the ball, however. Though both Jay Curran and Enoch Showunmi were showing glimpses of attacking promise for the away side – the former even skimming a free header past the post in the eighth minute, after a quick counter – Canvey were laboured in the midfield; Enfield seemed like the only side with a final ball. It was no surprise that the home team scored first, in the twelfth; after a good passing move had been ended by another foul out on the left, a precise free kick was taken down nicely by recent arrival Claudiu Vilcu, who then stroked a low shot into the back of the net.

Just as I was preparing to watch a comfortable Enfield victory, the Gulls turned the game on its head. Four minutes after the first goal, some nonchalant one twos between the Enfield defenders led to striker Showunmi stealing a loose pass; from just under twenty yards, he then fired an arrow of a shot past home keeper Nathan McDonald. The equaliser was definitely against the run of play, but the finish was sublime. The home side’s momentum was checked.

The next twenty five minutes were more level; even though Town continued to shade the play, Canvey put themselves about, Showunmi especially; regularly dropping back to help the midfield out with his physicality, he caused Enfield all sorts of problems. Still, Town had almost all the chances. In the twenty-second minute, the home team nearly scored from a corner, captain Mark Kirby making a decent connection on the volley; this was pushed away by Gulls’ keeper Tim Brown, and eventually cleared. A minute later, a quickly-taken free kick gave Corey Whitely a chance to fire at goal from the right, but this was also saved. In the twenty-ninth, Whitely got a low shot away from a central position; Brown diverted this into the path of the onrushing Campbell, but the Town winger was just offside once more. The game then took on a to-and-fro character, both sides attacking without creating clear openings.

Showunmi continued to impress for Canvey, Whitely, Campbell and tough tackler Stanley Muguo for Enfield; the half seemed pretty much settled. Then, in the forty-fifth minute, the Gulls changed the game once more; an attack on the left saw a weighted cross fall right at the feet of Jay Curran, who tapped in to put the visitors ahead. As the referee played on for an inexplicable six minutes of additional time, the home side were heavily rocked by this; they had already let Canvey bear down on goal several times when, in the last additional minute, the ball broke for Curran to go one on one with McDonald; he could only put his shot wide of the Enfield post. It was a let off for Town, who could have gone from supremacy to a two-goal deficit in just over half an hour; as they trudged off the pitch and I reached for my pre-packed dinner of vegetable crisps, I wondered if they would be able to find a response.

If there were any worries amongst the Town fans, they didn’t show; reminding the players of their status as ‘champions of Europe’ (winners of The Supporters Direct Cup) once they re-emerged, the singing section struck up a proper performance. Accordingly, so did the team; from the first minute of the second half they passed tidily, attacked keenly, fought hard and dictated the tempo. In the forty-eighth minute, Campbell burst forward and unleashed a curling shot toward the top left corner of goal; Brown made an excellent fingertip save to keep him out. The resulting short corner went to Whitely, who then jinked past two Canvey defenders before thundering another shot at goal; this was only just blocked. In the fiftieth, a Whitely skimmer crept centimetres wide of the post after the slightest of saves from the away keeper. The next corner was nearly tapped in by Muguo, but was desperately cleared; this led to a foul on the edge of the box and a promising Enfield free kick – the leveller was clearly coming.

It wasn’t coming just yet; the free kick hit the wall before the ball was ultimately hoofed away. Canvey’s attackers seemed entirely cut off at this point, and the siege of the away box was only interrupted by the fifty-sixth minute introduction of Enfield’s brand-new forward Bobby Devyne for Jon Constant. It did not take him long to contribute; three minutes later he rounded Brown, yet couldn’t quite control the ball for a tap in. Devyne, Whitely and Campbell combined instinctively; in the sixty-fourth minute, Whitely was sent slaloming away on the left by Campbell before going close again, while in the sixty-seventh Devyne was sent away on the right, only to be fouled. With the new man an attacking catalyst, the inevitable happened after another five minutes of pressure; Campbell rushed into the box from the left, his initial shot was pushed out by the beleaguered Brown, but Devyne slotted the rebound from the edge of the area. The home fans went spare. Hot drinks went everywhere.

Somehow, a winner felt certain. It nearly came in the eighty-third minute, when a Devyne shot also trickled past the post after a slight save. Canvey tried to slow the play to a standstill, but they couldn’t avert what everyone behind the goal was expecting. In the last minute of normal time, great running by Whitely and Devyne led to midfielder Nathan Livings having a chance from fifteen yards; his scooped shot fell crashing into the away net. The subsequent scenes were absolutely mental. Town now had to hold on.

Hold on they did; a few minutes of extra time passed with minimal pressure from the dejected Gulls, and the whistle went. Bouncing up and down, bellowing out a chorus of ‘Bradley Quinton’s Blue and White Army’, the Enfield fans saw all their pre-match anticipation realised; what a comeback from Town, and what a game.

Result: Enfield Town 3 Canvey Island 2.
My MoM: a special mention for besieged Canvey keeper Tim Brown, but Enfield’s new man Bobby Devyne gets the luxury accolade; though teammates Corey Whitely and Tyler Campbell were excellent too, this was an outstanding, scoring debut.
Best fans: the Blue and White Army. Champions of Europe.

The boys are back in Town

Enfield of dreams

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.

Enfield of dreams