Club Culture

Diaries of a Groundhopper

After a long, barren and parched summer, I needed a fix. Football is back! It’s August in Europe and most typical football destinations are prohibitively expensive and blighted by over-tourism. Never mind, because Michael O’Learys fine folks at Ryanair have a penchant for the unfrequented and lesser visited locations. Where else but Poznan and Eindhoven? I have been released from my pre-season prison.

The first stop is Poland, and after an eye wateringly early departure, I land at the tiny airstrip masquerading as a commercial airport. In the west of the country, Poznan is the 5th largest city and one of the oldest, and on my cultural exploration of history, art and architecture, also cheap vodka. A beautiful renaissance style old town is a delight to walk around in the midday sun, heightened by a short stop at Pijalnia wódki i Piwa, where a beer, vodka and sandwich can be procured for less than 20 zloty, or approx £4. If you want to groundhop on a budget, this is the place.

The city holds a strange juxtaposition, as it’s clearly a very old, storied, slightly decrepit town, but brand new trams and a thriving independent boutique scene. Time to head to my reasonably priced but opulent hotel for a quick rest (read, beer) and get ready for the match. As I leave the hotel, I spot a coach out front and note that it happens to be for tonight’s opposition team, Slask Wroclaw. I talk to two men in branded tracksuits who turn out to be coaches, I tell them I am coming to the match, they ask with no small hint of incredulance “Are you crazy?”. Quite. I offer them luck as I head for the match (which I would later regret), and think briefly about asking them for a lift. One thing I did notice as I was walking away, was a small boy of no more than 10 skipping away from the hotel with a huge grin clutching a homemade A3 poster with signatures of the Wroclaw players, the innocence and audacity of youth raised a smile.

The INEA Stadion is a 42,000 capacity, relatively newly built and sanitized modern arena built for Euro 2012, has a curved canvas roof which does a great job of keeping atmosphere in, and the now seemingly compulsory, LED exterior.

The atmosphere is exactly what struck me at first, a large group of Ultras congregated behind one goal to my right and did not stop with flags, banners, tifo and chanting. Honestly, never quite heard a racket like this. The away fans, despite the vast distances of awaydays in Poland, turned up in good numbers, leading an intimidating corteo around the stadium.

It’s kick off time, top plays third, and the only player I recognise is Football Manager 19 wunderkid Robert Gumny who has been linked with Celtic. Another thing that hit me was the intense smell of turf, that sounds strange as it should be a given at a football match but it isn’t, and it transported me back to the halcyon days of sunday league and Puma Kings. If you are after a match report, you have come to the wrong place, as I spent a lot of the time staring at the rampant home fans who continued to dazzle, and despite being 3-1 down at half time, on 70 mins, let of flares and smoke bombs of biblical proportions to create a thick, red smog that engulfed the stadium. 3-1 is how the game finished (told you I shouldn’t have offered the Slask coaches luck), a truly memorable atmosphere from fans who never booed their team and a new stadium with character, it’s off to the local Irish bar to recover!

Another early morning and it’s back to Poznan airport for a short hop back across Europe to Eindhoven. The Eredivisie is a groundhopping dream, or so I thought. The fixtures are announced at the start of the season for the entire year both the date and kick of time, and rarely change. The conditional rarely is doing a lot of work here, as a few days before travelling, my plans were thrown into disarray.

I had a ticket purchased for PSV Eindhoven (a ten minute walk from my hotel), but FC Basel very selfishly beat them in a Champions League qualifier, which meant PSV dropped into the Europa League and Thursday night matches, and therefore their fixture was moved to Sunday at 17:45, some four hours after I was due to take off for home. Never fear in the Netherlands is a maxim worth remembering, as it’s a very small and flat country, with an excellent Intercity rail network and a quick look at the fixtures informed me Willem II were playing on Saturday night, a mere 35km or 20 minute train ride away from Eindhoven. Never doubt the Eredivisie and the fixture gods!

A quick email to the ticket office and my place is reserved in Vak E. Tilburg, the quaint student city, happened to be hosting Flag Week, culminating in Flag Day on the Saturday (I know, exciting times!) where everyone hangs Willem II paraphernalia all over the town. I am told this emanates from Bristol City, who do the same thing before their first home game of the season, and the two clubs have a friendship. These friendships, or gemellagi are a very strange thing, for example, Juventus and Notts County, Ado Den Haag and Legia Warsaw, and Ajax and Millwall and Vicenza. Nonetheless, this useless knowledge would come in handy for me.

The 14,500 capacity Koning Willem II is a tidy little stadium with a curved roof and a wonderful brick facade that wouldn’t look out of place on a terraced house on the commuter belt. I make my way to the stand to try to find my seat and struggle to, so ask a steward who tells me to just sit anywhere. I find a plot and within seconds a large gentleman asks me to move, I of course apologise profusely and we strike up a conversation. He asks where I am from and points to the terrace behind the goal. He says in the most monotone and matter of fact way “they make the atmosphere, we make the fights”.

I then tell him, without a second’s hesitation, I support Bristol City. It’s the smartest move I make all weekend as he high fives me, nearly knocks me over and introduces me to the rest of his friends, each bigger than the last, and tells me he is going to buy me a beer! I felt like a combination of Danny Dyer and Louis Theroux at this point, but I couldn’t be safer. Right next to Vak E (home of the hooligans) is the away mob for Vitesse Arnhem and my eyes are drawn to a rather large, bald man sporting a Stone Island jumper whose best days were no doubt behind him, but you still wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark Vak. It’s a fractious atmosphere and Vitesse take a 1-0 lead. Cue beer throwing, and lots of banging on the perspex that separates the two groups of ultras. The aforementioned large gentleman tried in vain to scale the fence to comedic effect.

As the game petered out, there were dueling Allez Allez Allez chants (Liverpool have a lot to answer for here) and not much else. A late second from Vitesse meant game over and I had an Intercity to catch back to Eindhoven. Side note, well done to the diligent Dutch police who questioned me at length when I left for taking so many pictures, they said they thought I was a terrorist. I showed them my Diaries of a Groundhopper Instagram as proof I was just a really cool Groundhopper, a quick check of my passport, handshakes all around and I’m away. A memorable trip with some spectacular atmosphere, intimidating fans, average football and almost a night in a Dutch prison. Where next!?

Zamora FC: Venezuela’s Footballing Halfway House

In the west of Venezuela, 500 kilometres from the capital, Caracas, Barinas’ Zamora FC have become the Liga FUTVE’s biggest exporter of players overseas[1]. El Blanquinegro, presided over by Adelis Chávez, brother of the former president of the country, Hugo Chávez, have sold 17 players to clubs around the world since Jhon Murillo’s 2012 departure to Benfica.

It is an impressive list, as well. Of the 15 players (two have left on two separate occasions), 12 of them have represented Venezuela at senior or U20 level, and a further one, Gabriel Torres, has 83 caps for Panama and was in their World Cup 2018 squad, starting in their 2-1 defeat to Tunisia.

Venezuela are yet to qualify for a World Cup finals, so the same cannot be said for the several former Zamora players who have represented the senior side, but four played a prominent role in La Vinotinto’s recent Copa América 2019 campaign, which saw them reach the quarterfinals in Brazil and go 278 minutes before conceding, including clean sheets against both the eventual finalists, Peru and the hosts.

Of their 23-man squad, just two play football in their homeland – defensive midfielder Arquímedes Figuera of Deportivo la Guaira, who had only returned from a spell in Peru in January, and Zamora’s 22-year old goalkeeper Joel Graterol. With such an illustrious record developing on the transfer front, the young ‘keeper may be the next big thing to come out of Barinas.

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“He can still become more,” Zamora fan Leopoldo Taylor believes. He has been following the club, which was founded 17 years ago, since 2008 and goes to games regularly.

“I love the way he carries himself. I really like the effort he puts into every game, the way he goes for the ball; I think he can be Venezuela’s second-choice ‘keeper after Wuilker Faríñez.”

“He needs to play outside of Venezuela. He has done everything asked of him at Zamora, and as a fan I could not ask for more either. I think Brazil or Argentina is well-suited to him.”

Joining Graterol in Brazil were former Zamora players Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil), Yordan Osorio (Porto, Portugal), Ronald Hernández (Stabæk, Norway), and Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portgual).

Although a late call-up to the squad, following visa issues preventing him from joining La Vinotinto at their pre-tournament training base in the US, Soteldo was picked out as one of the country’s best performers at the Copa, despite being limited to just 95 of the 360 minutes they had at the competition.

“His work was great,” Marie Ferro, a football talk show host for Meridiano TV and Difusión Latina, told me. “He created a lot of opportunities, opening spaces, dragging markers, and unbalancing the other team, and he also helped the defence when they needed him.”

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A substitute in all four games, the diminutive trickster made an impact every time he was introduced, including setting up Josef Martínez for his goal against Bolivia. Also assisting that game was Hernández, who drove down the flank from right-back before crossing to the far post for Darwin Machís to head in.

Osorio was part of Venezuela’s most resolute performance of the Copa, partnering Mikel Villanueva at centre-back, and managing to hold firm in a game that saw Brazil take 19 shots, hit the target just once, have more than one goal ruled out by VAR, and also see a goal chalked off due to a foul in the build-up. He then missed the final two games through a knee injury, leaving many fans wondering what if? after his excellent man-of-the-match display.

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Murillo was trusted to start in three of La Vinotinto’s games, only dropping to the bench for the final group game against Bolivia in which he was introduced in the second half. His hard running and willingness to track back made him an invaluable asset to head coach Rafael Dudamel and kept more creative players, such as Soteldo, on the bench.

Since Venezuela’s quarterfinal exit, Zamora have continued to trade on the international market, with Erick Gallardo and Christian Makoun leaving for Toronto FC and Inter Miami respectively, and Antonio Romero joining Royale Union Saint Gilloise of Belgium on loan, with an option to buy.

While Toronto fans have every right to get excited about Gallardo, scorer of the goal that won Zamora the 2018 Apertura, Makoun is the player being touted as the future defensive lynchpin of the international team; an eventual heir to La Vinotinto captain Tomás Rincón, even if not in the exact mould. In January, for example, he wore the armband at the U20 South American Championships, 18 months on from being part of the squad that got to the U20 World Cup Final, losing 1-0 to England.

Joining David Beckham’s MLS franchise, which will start competing in 2020, Makoun not only has experience of playing in Europe already, having spent last season on loan at Juventus’ U23s, he also has access to a European passport courtesy of his Belgian-based Cameroonian father – a stumbling block for many South American players with the continent in mind.

However, Zamora’s ability to do business this way isn’t comparable to, say, Southampton F.C.’s development of youth players who are then sold at high profits, such as Luke Shaw, Gareth Bale, and Adam Lallana. In Venezuela, academies haven’t existed in the same manner as they do in Europe and those that do are fledgling and rudimentary. Instead, players tend to join professional clubs at 15 or 16 years of age.

This route was – roughly – the case for 10 of the 15 players in question, with the exceptions being Gabriel Torres, Juan Manuel Falcón (who had been playing professionally for six years before he joined Zamora and then French side Metz two years later), Anthony Blondell, Danny Pérez, and Romero. Those five had all played professionally elsewhere before joining Zamora.

This is why, rather than being similar to Barcelona’s La Masia or Ajax’s De Toekomst, Zamora is a footballing halfway house; a finishing school where some of La Vinotinto’s brightest stars have passed through on their way to Europe, the MLS, and the bigger leagues of South America.

By Jordan Florit (@TheFalseLibero), author of upcoming book “Red Wine and Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela’s Religion.”

You can preorder his book through Kickstarter. Link Below:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/redwineandarepas/red-wine-and-arepas-book-on-venezuelan-football-and-society



[1] https://twitter.com/SoccerDataVEN/status/1158747942297231362

It is worth noting that Anthony Blondell was playing for Monagas SC when he was sold to Vancouver Whitecaps, being co-owned by Zamora FC.

Orlando City vs Atlanta United – US Open Cup 2019

The passion for soccer in the American South is red hot, almost more so than the weather, and it was nowhere more apparent than at the U.S. Open Cup semifinal at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando on 07 August 2019.

Orlando City and Atlanta United was the semifinal draw made in heaven, as Orlando have yet to beat their southern neighbors and both sets of supporters claim their club as “soccer kings of the south”. Nowhere else will you see more unwavering support and passion from a group of supporters in the south than during each respective club’s fixtures. Orlando City has had many groups around, like the Iron Lion Firm and the Ruckus, to support the club from its inception in 2011, and never do they falter. Atlanta United, on the other hand, has had massive attendances to every one of their matches and the fever for the game is rife across the North Georgian City. 

The match lived up to its month long hype, with a fairly open game for the entire 90 minutes, and Atlanta coming away with a 0-2 win. Orlando seemed ambitious, coming out firing on all cylinders as Dom Dwyer delightfully chipped one over Brad Guzan after some delicious build up play in the first ten minutes, but it was deemed marginally offside, and they couldn’t seem to finish their moves in the attacking third from then on.

This didn’t change the wall’s support though, as they kept chanting, jumping and singing all night, even as Atlanta took advantage with goals from Eric Remidi in the first half and Bournemouth loanee Emerson Hyndman in the second half. Orlando City had a magical run to get to their first open cup semifinal in club history, and it’s a crying shame their unbelievable support on the night wasn’t rewarded. But Atlanta’s machine didn’t falter, and the 200 or so away supporters in the upper corner of the stand were rewarded for their long journey and traveled home happy. 

American soccer and the desire for it is alive and well, and the open cup exemplifies this spirit year after year. The final is on the 27th of this month, but we’re already looking forward to next year’s magic.

Author – Dom Conrad of Eleven+You. Eleven+You are a collection of US Soccer enthusiasts and look at the best in fan culture and football jerseys. Go check them out on Instagram @elevenplusyou

November 16th, 2005. The Night Australia Became a Football Nation.

One night in November. One bloody magical night in November where nerves were really, really tested, hoodoos were broken and the legend Johnny Warren looking down was finally able to say ‘ I told you so’. Oh what a night! 

The date was November 16th, to be exact, and the setting was Telstra Stadium, Sydney. The opponents were Uruguay and the occasion was a sudden death World Cup playoff if you don’t mind. The winner would head on over to the Cup in Deutchland whilst the loser would have four long, drawn out years to think about what might have been. The stakes really didn’t get much higher. 

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For those poor, long suffering fans of the Australian football team, or the Socceroos as they were known down under, this was something we were all to used to. We hadn’t qualified for the biggest dance in intenational football in over 31 years and had seen Scotland, Argentina, Iran and Uruguay break our hearts at this stage before. With the WC fairytale master Guus Hiddink at the helm and arguably our finest squad assembled featuring Viduka, Kewell, Cahill, Schwarzer, Emerton and a certain J. Aloisi, there was a silent air of positivity milking around the country – but any team that featured the magician Recoba was one not to be taken lightly. 

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Now learning from failures of bygone years we’d managed to ensure the second leg was played at home, and coming off a narrow 1-0 first leg loss there was an absolute sea of gold ready and willing to spur the boys on to overturn that deficit and get the team where we needed to be; The World Cup. 

The scene was set for 90 minutes and then some that would deadset see it all. It was tight. It was tense. But after 27 minutes we were level on aggregate, thanks to the bald Messi Mark Bresciano who bulged the old onion bag after an inspired mis-kick from Kewell. The next 83 minutes would see chances for both teams go begging to win the match with Uruguay missing a sitter that would’ve ended it. “Jeez, maybe it really could be our night” we thought. But before we dreamt too big or got too far ahead of ourselves the whistle was blowing for the end of extra time. We were entering the lottery that was pens, where anything could happen. Penalties are an absolute dog of a way to end a game we reckon, but that’s how it goes and that’s how we’d have to try and win. Bring on the drama. 

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Kewell stepped up first. Goal. Rodriguez from Uruguay next. Miss. You bloody ripper. Lucas Neill and his pretty boy good looks next. Goal. Get in son. Bloke by the name of Varela steps up next and slots it. Well played. That see’s Tony Vidmar stride on down. That got me very, very nervous. Two defenders taking pens so early. Not sold on this, but what do I know as Tony puts it away. 3-1 Australia. Almost there. 

Estoyanoff is the next Uruguayan to march to the spot, and fair play to him with the pressure on he makes no mistake. 3-2 Australia. Next up is the man, the myth, the legend: The Duke of Oz aka Mark Viduka. It was meant to be – until he bloody missed it. He bloody missed it. Dukes you muppet. How could you? We were almost there. Got to stay positive now as we were still in a good spot. Zalayeta steps up, and Mark Schwarzer that absolute weapon, pulls out his version of the hand of god and SAVES it. He’s gone and saved it. What a man. We are one kick away, again.

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Almost there as it falls to John Aloisi to seal the deal. Almost can’t watch now. Tension is through the roof. The stadium goes silent as Aloisi steps up and smashes it in. It’s gone in. It’s gone bloody in!

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The commentators are losing it. We are through. After 31 long years Australia is back in the cup. Aloisi’s got his shirt off and is running around the stadium as everyone loses it. What a time to be a football fan. We didn’t win the cup but by sheer virtue of been there the underdog of the Australian sporting landscape had finally made everyone take notice of how beautiful our game could be.

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November 16th, 2005. This was the night Australia became a football nation. It was one of those nights when you’ll never forget where you were. It’s a date that will forever be etched in both Australian football and sporting folklore as it changed the game for the better and woke the slumbering giant. Australian football was on the map thanks to the Socceroos triumph, and all over the papers and TV where it rightly belonged. The media recognition was well overdue and wonderfully timed as the newly formed Australian league had launched just months before. A sweet connection from the left peg of Aloisi that bulged the net gave the newly formed A-League one hell of a marketing boost that could not be bought. Amongst all this jubilation somewhere up above, smiling, was Socceroos legend Johnny Warren thinking ‘’Jeez, I told you so. About time.” 


The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Parma

It is great to see that Parma appear to be stabilising themselves back in the top division of Italian Football with their 14th place finish in the 2018/19 season. It is also easy to forget just how far they had fallen in such a short space of time and just how much they have achieved to have a seat again at the top table.  

Looking at European football at large, the demise of Parma was on a scale rarely seen before (with the closest comparable being Glasgow Rangers. In the ten years from 1992 to 2002, Parma won eight trophies including three Coppa Italia’s (1991–92, 1998–99, 2001–02), one Italian Super Cup (1999), two UEFA Cups (1994-95, 1998-99), one European Cup Winners Cup (1992-93) and one European Super Cup (1993). Such was the success of Parma during the 90s and early 2000s, it made them one of the most prominent and respected clubs throughout the glory years of Italian football (and arguably club football).

The football aficionado would rejoice at some of the names that played for Parma in the 1990s. It really is like a who’s who of talent – Buffon, Thuram, Cannavaro, Zola, Crespo, Veron , Stoichkov, Asprilla. Parma really did find the perfect blend between established international stars and local talent.

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The glory days began to curtail in 2003, when their main financial backer and shareholder Parmalat (which adorned their iconic shirts of the 90s) went bankrupt. While the clubs financial difficulties were multiplying, the club bizarrely stayed in Serie A, alternating between European qualification and mid-table mediocrity. Their difficulties caught up with them in 2008 when they were finally relegated to the Serie B. Some thought that the club would find it difficult to recover. However, the team only remained there for one season, finishing the season in 2nd position and booking a ticket back to Serie A.

Their financial issues finally caught up though, with Parma FC made bankrupt in March 2015 with total debts of c€220m including unpaid wages to players and staff of c€60m and were docked points in the months preceding. Things became so desperate for the club that games had been postponed because they could not even pay the match stewards.

To the leagues credit, Parma were allowed to finish the season in Serie A but with of course, relegation to Serie B a formality. Serie B then denied the club a place in the league as the club could not find a new buyer or pay their aforementioned debts meaning the club were folded for the second time in a decade. They would have to start the 2015-16 season, as Parma Calcio 1913, in Serie D.

The club were on the verge of going out of existence, but as has been proven when clubs are in their dying embers, the last thing to leave the club is the supporters. Parma fans supported their club financially when it was at its lowest point, with a crowdfunding scheme resulting in the fans owning 25% of the club. A consortium of local entrepreneurs, called the Nuovo Inizio (which translates as new beginnings), bought the remaining 75% of the shares and with it took over the new club, which was renamed Parma Calcio 1913. In doing so they brought in prominent figures from Parma’s glory days in the 90s such as Luigi Apolloni and Nevio Scala to help boost morale and connect the club with their past.

The fans were remarkably loyal, buying more season tickets in Serie D than they had in the club’s final season in Serie A. Their support on the terraces was reciprocated on the field with Parma Calcio 1913 winning promotion to Serie C in style, going unbeaten all season in the process and amassing the highest points total ever recorded in the league.

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Parma’s next promotion, in 2016/17 to Serie B, was a little less straight forward. Parma finished second, which gave them a spot in the last-16 stage of the gruelling play-offs, beating Piacenza, Lucchese and Pordenone and Alessandria in the playoffs to secure promotion to Serie B.

Following the back-to-back promotions Chinese businessman Jiang Lizhang went on to purchase a 60% stake in the club to become majority owner and new president. Lizhang ensured the club did not repeat the mistakes of the past and kept it a fan-friendly club. As a result of the investment, Nuovo Inizio reduced their stake to 30% with the supporters retaining 10%. Parma then appointed their iconic former talisman Hernan Crespo as vice president with the club firmly set on a third straight promotion.

Again, promotion in the 2017/18 season to Serie A was full of twists and turns. Going into the final day of the regular season, Frosinone were in prime position to finish second and with it, earn automatic promotion to Serie A. Parma needed to win at Spezia and hope Frosinone would drop points at home to Foggia. With just over an hour gone Parma were 2-0 up and Foggia were beating Frosinone 1-0. The club had one foot in Serie A. But this script would offer at least one more twist.

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In the space of five minutes, Frosinone scored twice to take the lead against Foggia and leapfrog Parma in the table. With the clock ticking down, it seemed as if Parma would have to settle for another tilt at the play-offs. But then, with just one minute of the season remaining, Foggia substitute Roberto Floriano scored an equaliser at Frosinone. They had left it late, but Parma had done it!

Their leader, their captain, Alessandro Lucarelli  had been the cornerstone of the clubs renaissance. He had remained loyal to the club throughout their journey and offered to stand by the club. True to his word, he stood by the club when they fell to Serie D, the only player to do so.

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Lucarelli was 40 years old when the club secured promotion to Serie A and personified the strength, determination and team work that the team showed on their journey from Serie D. He is also a man who kept a promise: That he would take the club back to Serie A.

At the end of his final game he was understandably overcome with emotion. “It can’t be true, it’s not possible, I can’t believe it,” he said, his voice cracking. “We have done something incredible in these past three years. Something out of this world. No one could have imagined a finale like this. I’m dying. It’s more than a dream. This promotion is a great prize for our fans who together with us never gave up. I am proud to be their captain. Now I can even retire.”

True to his word again, Lucarelli hung up his boots immediately after promotion to Serie A with the club retiring the Number 6 shirt in his honour, a fitting way to end his career. Here at KAISER Football we hope that Parma emulate their success of the 1990s but, whatever happens from here, the story of his incredible club’s renaissance and Alessandro Lucarelli’s instrumental part of it will be told for many years to come.

Enfield Town FC – For the Fans

In a world where teams are being dragged further away from their community and top-level football clubs are now ever increasingly owned by billionaires, one North London side is doing things differently. Step forward Enfield Town FC.

The UK’s very first wholly owned fan club are now striding towards its second decade in existence, lighting the way for others to follow the model. Formed in June of 2001 it was, according to Ken Brazier (Director at Enfield Town FC), “a result of many disenchanted supporters of the former Enfield FC wanting to be sure that the leading club in the borough would have a bright, thriving future”.

Perhaps surprisingly, during these nigh on twenty years of groundbreaking existence, theirs hasn’t been a tale of a directionless club floating aimlessly in non league backwaters. Honours include Essex Senior League champions (2003, 2005), Ryman League division one runners up and most recently The Velocity (Bostik League cup) trophy. They currently compete at the Step 7 of the English football pyramid, the Isthmian League.

Ken mentions “Our three-year business plan is based on the assumption of promotion to Conference South (Step 6) during the planning period under the current club (i.e. Trust) structure”. The club has a defined mission which is “to develop football facilities for ETFC” and the vision of being “an inclusive club for all and a football and social centre for the community”. Lofty targets, but they do not seem out of reach. Inclusivity is already being achieved by having a women’s team, as well as a disability team and various age groups. Who said football isn’t for everyone?

Ownership and disenchantment isn’t just a UK centric issue, it seems to affecting growing numbers of fans globally. One only has to take a cursory glance on Instagram to see that the hashtag #AgainstModernFootball currently has 175K posts, which highlights the growing sense of disillusionment.

Germany has a well publicised 50+1 Regel which the Deutscher Fußball-Bund passed down in 1998, allowing clubs to convert to a public or private limited company, but always ensuring the members own at least 50% plus one share, allowing a majority voting share. Of course, where you find a Deutschmark, you will find a deviation, or in this case, several. Where an organisation or person has continuously funded substantial amounts for a period of 20 years or more, the rule can be circumvented. This has occurred most notably with pharmaceutical giant Bayer (Bayer Leverkusen), Volkswagen (VFL Wolfsburg) and SAP (1899 Hoffenheim).

Most controversially has been Red Bull, and their interests in RB Leipzig. One can become a voting member at this institution, but Die Rotten Bullen can reject any application without a reason, and most of their members are actually employees of the energy drink corporation. These teams all have various levels of dislike levied at them by the rest of the Bundesliga, and couldn’t be further from the model of fan and community ownership.

Back to Enfield and “The Jewel in the crown” as Ken puts it, is the wonderful Grade II listed Queen Elizabeth Stadium. The Stadium looks resplendent with its Art Deco pavilion that wouldn’t look out of place in a Wes Anderson production, and where I have had the pleasure of visiting, for the 2019 edition of the Brian Lomax Cup pitting Enfield Town against FC United of Manchester. Ten articles couldn’t do Brian justice and I won’t even try, but he was the forefather of the fan movement we see today, believing that clubs belong to the supporters, as well as founding supporters trusts, sadly passing in 2015. This cup is played annually between two supporter owned clubs celebrating both the model, and Brian’s impact on the sport. The trophy was first contested between, fittingly, Enfield Town and AFC Wimbledon, and it is engraved with Jock Stein’s famous quote “Football without fans is nothing”. Enfield Town offered a hand to AFC Wimbledon, and a few other clubs starting on this path, Ken says they are proud to be “a go to club for advice on fan ownership”.

To the match, and despite the Friday evening kick off, FCUM fans were down in numbers and their contingent was in good voice, joined by two supporters of another fan owned club in YB SK Beveren all the way from Belgium. There wasn’t much to cheer about for the away fans, as after 8 minutes, ETFC were 2 up, scored by Josh Davison and then a real poachers finish from the industrial number 9, Billy Bricknell. Bricknell would add his second, and the Enfield Town third of the night as a free kick on the edge of the D is smartly saved by the goalkeeper but only into the centre forwards pass for an easy finish. FCUM could not handle the constant overlapping on the left and Sam Banticks trickery was a constant threat, and he would rightfully be awarded the man of the match award.

The Enfield Ultras were creating the atmosphere with their continental style drumming and capo from the first whistle to the last, and whilst it didn’t have the numbers and rhythm, they certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a Curva Sud . FCUM hit back rapidly for what turned out to be a mere consolation, but it sent the travelling Mancunians into frenzy. The Enfield Ultras responded with a typically pithy chant of “we forgot that you were here”, it seems the Enfield defence did also.

Come the second half and a raft of substitutions killed the game as a contest but Enfield Town’s number 17, the tall, languid and elegant Muahmmadu Faal got some minutes, and when he had the ball, it seemed nobody could take it from him, a non league Dimitar Berbatov. The game petered out and remained as it did at half time, 3-1 to the home team. As Ken says “ the club is continuing to grow in a sustainable way to maximise its potential”, is this a sign of more success to come?

So a trophy lifted by Enfield Town that less represents on field proficiency and tactical dexterity, but more a trinket that embodies fan culture, accessibility, ownership and belonging.

If you are looking for an alternative to corporate giants where you are merely a consumer, maybe pop down to the QEII, and if you like what you see and yearn for that community spirit, to feel part of something again, perhaps you can even become an owner. This is how football should be.