8th August 2015, Enfield Town 0 – 1 Tonbridge Angels
In the three years I became friends with the delightful Giles, a lot has changed. He’s won a series of Countdown, come of age, gone to uni, tried his first double vodka shot (courtesy of me), had his first hangover (partly courtesy of me) and gone to IKEA for the first time (courtesy of me). In the spirit of introducing him to great life experiences, it was inevitable that I would take him to his first non-league game as well.
That game would be Enfield Town v Tonbridge Angels, the first league game of the 2015/16 season, as – conveniently – Giles was staying in Enfield for an internship. We meet at Highbury and Islington tube station (owing to train works, I have taken four separate trains to get this far, and have another two to go), where a man with a continental accent asks me to go for a drink with him at Seven Sisters. I pretend to have a boyfriend, and he gets very awkward and launches himself onto the nearest train.
It’s a leisurely 20 minute walk from Enfield station to the Queen Elizabeth II ground, made easier by spotting other Angels making their way through the town. The ground itself is very odd: a part-time athletics ground, with a running track around the perimeter of the pitch, and a quirky art deco clubhouse building with a balcony of sorts and the word ‘CAFE’ marked in huge letters on the round tower at the top.
We munch through burgers (OK, but not a patch on a classic Paul’s burger from the Longmead), get drinks and stand on the balcony. I introduce Peter and Mary, friendly Angels stalwarts, to Giles, and when he disappears to use the facilities I end up chatting to an Enfield fan. He’s passionate, and understandably upset by the Ryman Premier’s controversial decision to deduct the club points at the tail end of last season for a minor infraction they thought they’d already been punished for – especially as the deducted points pushed them out of the play-offs.
We toast to the hope of both of our teams getting to the Third Round Proper of the FA Cup and drawing Man United and Arsenal away (sadly, no longer a possibility this year). A fellow supporter greets him and, clearly already friendly, they have a chat. This friend then pokes me for no apparent reason, says “Heeeellooooo!” in the manner that my dad speaks to our gerbils, and stares at me intensely, with a look of wonderment, as though I am a particularly impressive and bizarre animal at the zoo. Mildly terrified, it’s a relief when he leaves and Giles arrives, and we make our way to the stand for the first half.
It’s a slow game of which Enfield have the better chances and go close on a number of occasions. The August afternoon is hot and languid and, as ever in these conditions, the fans are largely quiet but for the occasional lethargic shout. However, there is another reason we’re subdued: Neale “Griff” Chamberlain, one of our most passionate, vocal fans, has passed away in the night, and it’s jarring to watch a match knowing that we’ll never again hear him berate the referee or call any of the players “son”.
It’s a tame start to Giles’s non-league experience, then, and as the match draws to a close it looks like the result will be a similarly tame 0-0 draw. Those of us in the away stand are happy with that – the Angels, nearly relegated last season, taking a difficult away point from a team who should have been in last year’s playoffs would be a solid start to the season.
And then, in the 88th minute, Tom Parkinson gets a head to the ball… GOAL!!! 1-0 Angels, which turns out to be the final score, and we’re pumped. It’s a great win and a great way to start the season – especially considering our horrible pre-season, in which our triallist Junior Dian collapsed on the pitch during a friendly at Whyteleafe and died just hours later in hospital.
And what did Giles think of it? He said he enjoyed it… although arguably not as much as we enjoyed our cheeky Nandos in the town centre after the game. 👌