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.