Trailblazers from the outskirts of the capital land at Longmead when the pioneering Enfield Town visit on Saturday (April 14).
The Towners established the first supporter-owned club in 2001 - then a radical and ground-breaking project that has since kept grass-roots football alive in many communities across the UK.
The initiative provided a template for fans of other teams who have seen favourites join the list of Defunct FC, or become hacked-off with the shenanigans or, sometimes skulduggery, of a certain type of owner. Increasingly, the model is becoming the preferred option for stable outfits too, as people attempt to set-up a more democratic organization to prevent problems in the future.
On the field, the progressive team have climbed from the Essex Senior League, the starting point in 2001/02, to the Bostik Premier, via the lower divisions of the Southern (during 2005/06) and subsequently the Isthmian (from 2006/07).
Current status was achieved at the end of 2011/12, courtesy of play-off wins over Grays Athletic and Needham Market. The significant season also involved the move into the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, after approximately a decade of ground-sharing at the home of Brimsdown Rovers.
It was concern about the future of the original Enfield club, particularly following the sale of the old Southbury Road venue, years earlier, plus other shenanigans, that prompted the formation of the fan-owned Town. The crystal ball proved telling as the once semi-professional giants were eventually destroyed by debts.
The Middlesex men are likely to be aiming for a place in the higher echelons of the non-league game and, perhaps, reviving the glories of days-gone-by. However, any such hopes will be on ice for a year at least, for a side in the lower reaches of the table.
The old Enfield FC were one of the strongest semi-professional sides in the country during the 1980s, clinching the equivalent of the National League (then the Alliance) title twice (1982/83 and 1985/86) and runners-up spot (1981/82). Entry to the 92-member full-time set-up then needed an election victory, in a system often described as a “closed shop” or requiring “turkeys voting for Christmas”!
Last term, Town finished fourth in the Isthmian but lost to Dulwich (by 2-4) in the play-off semi-finals, in front of a 2,500-plus crowd.
Following the departure of Bradley Quinton to Braintree during the close season, the experienced Andy Leese took over the managerial reins, with former Premier League performer Darren Purse as his assistant. They assembled a competitive squad, “virtually from scratch” and, within a few months of their arrival, matched the furthest the Towners have progressed in the FA Cup - taking Maidstone United to a 4th Qualifying Round replay before bowing out. The Stones, of the National League, triumphed 3-1 after extra time in the second clash.
However, the bread and butter of the Bostik proved less satisfying for a squad containing much experience and pedigree. In fairness, a transitional season was likely to have been on the cards following a change in manager, especially losing a boss with a 55 per cent win-record.
In Middlesex, several players are Enfield-born and have returned to their roots. There are also strong connections with Chesham United – the location of the hot-seat previously occupied by the current Town boss – plus considerable Football League experience in the ranks. On paper, it’s a strong squad.
Before moving to the Queen Elizabeth Stadium (QES) in June 2017, Leese had spent a decade in charge at Chesham, having moved to the Meadow in the summer of 2007 from Potters Bar. His successful spell at the former included reaching the Southern League Division One Midlands play-offs twice, including promotion at the end of 2009/10. In the Premier, he then led the Generals to three consecutive play-offs.
In 2015/16, the Second Round of the FA Cup was reached, and last term he followed that up with another appearance in the First Round. During his time at Potters Bar he guided the club to the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, having saved the team from relegation the previous season.
The man now at the helm at the QES started his managerial career in the Spartan South Midlands League, lower levels of the Isthmian, plus enjoyed brief spells at Boreham Wood and Wealdstone.
Enfield should be in buoyant mood after holding leaders Billericay 1-1 (April 7th), courtesy of a Ryan Blake equalizer shortly before the final whistle. On Tuesday (April 10), Burgess Hill were beaten 4-2 in West Sussex.
Before those outings, the Middlesex men drew 2-2 at Dorking Wanderers (April 5th). The useful recent results helped make amends, to some extent, for a humiliating hammering, by five goals, at Harrow a few days earlier, on Easter Monday.
Tonbridge did not enjoy the springtime festive period either, with the only completed outing involving a 2-1 defeat by Billericay, on the evening of Tuesday April 3, at Aveley. The Essex side avenged defeat by the same margin, but in the Angels’ favour, at the end of March.
Last weekend, basement outfit Tooting held the mid-table guests 0-0. Steve McKimm's men visited the same ground again on Tuesday (April 10), for a clash against homeless, crisis-club Dulwich. They returned to West Kent with maximum points, thanks to a superb 2-1 triumph over the title hopefuls (please see report).
Match and Ball sponsors for today’s game are Dave and Marion Netherstreet, and Jim Rowe while the mascots are Oscar Hill, Ollie Graham, and Kian and Theo Ayling. We thank them all for their support and hope they have a great day with their friends and family.
The Bostik Premier match between Tonbridge and Enfield Town, at Longmead Stadium, on Saturday April 14, is a 3pm kick-off.
Updated 16:42 - 15 Apr 2018 by Jim Rowe