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CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Saturday 11th September 2021

On Thursday 20th May we had what could be described as a momentous occasion in the club’s history when we got together at Enfield Playing Fields at 6.00 pm for our first training session with our new group of predominantly 16-year-old players that included Harry Dorward, the son of our All-Time Record Appearance holder Stuart Dorward, and a number of Harry’s former team-mates from Enfield Youth’s Under-16 team that had just completed their season in one of the lower divisions for that age group in the Mid-Herts Rural Minors League.

Also attending were three players from Enfield Town Youth’s Under-16’s who had been playing in a higher division for that age group in the Watford Friendly League, while two or three other small groups of players or individuals were also invited along. Most of the players attending were known to Stuart and our veteran goalkeeper and former Manager Simon ‘Jacko’ Jackson from their time spent coaching in Youth football over the past few seasons while their sons Harry & Patrick had taken part. Unfortunately Patrick will not be 16 until the end of this season, so he will be unable to play for us until then, but it was clear straight away that the players attending this first session all knew how to kick the ball properly and play the 11-a-side game…unlike a large number of players who we had been having to field in Division One over the past two Covid-hit seasons thanks to a shocking lack of loyalty whenever we suffered a defeat (on You Tube).

Regular Thursday night sessions then continued throughout June and thereafter, but with most of our Management team having increasing work & family commitments that stopped them from being able to attend, we had to bring back Tony McKay as Team Manager for his second spell in charge, and at most sessions it was myself, Tony and Tony’s son Leon, our long-serving attacking midfielder, who were left to do the organising when we didn’t know any of the players ourselves. That wasn’t easy, but although we had the occasional poor turnout and had to call one or two sessions off because of bad weather, the players and ourselves all gradually started getting to know each other, although most of them were still very quiet and the word ‘communication’ had to be used by Tony countless times in order to get them calling each other loudly on the pitch as an adult team would do.  

On Monday 5th July, despite certain Covid restrictions not having been eased, we had a club Annual General Meeting for the first time for two years and we had an excellent turnout at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club (our Home ground) for that. It included pretty much all of our new players and a large number of their parents, all of whom were very impressed with the plans that myself and Tony spoke about for the club this season and what we were looking to emulate in terms of our team from the 1990’s going up the divisions with a young group of players who then stuck together for many years.

On the following Sunday, with the goalposts having been left up at Enfield Playing Fields all Summer by Enfield Council thanks to Covid having put paid to the Annual Pageant of Motoring show over there, we decided to scrape up 22 players for a bibs-wearing 90-minute Practice Match amongst ourselves with the help of Dads and Vets joining in. Although the pitch markings from the end of the 2020-2021 Season a couple of weeks before were barely visible, we had a really worthwhile exercise where we could see just how good the 16-year-olds were. Particularly impressive in this ‘match’ was club legend and originally-intended Manager Lexton Harrison’s son Tairique, who was able to attend for the first time thanks to Lexton being able to find time to bring him along and play himself, but unfortunately it wasn’t a great day for the Dads & Vets as midfielder Josh Wakeford’s Dad Tim went and ruptured his Achilles on the final whistle while ‘Jacko’ had to abandon his hopes of playing in goal this season (if needed) after doing his knee in trying to bowl at 90mph in a cricket match a few days earlier despite being in his mid-40’s. All he could do in this match was just stand there ‘between the sticks’ to make up the numbers.

We were then able to arrange our first Pre-Season Friendly on the back of that Practice Match and another Thursday night training session though, with our opponents being Estudiantes London, a team who had beaten us 10-2 the previous season when we were a Division One team. Due to the usual shortage of available pitches for Pre-Season Friendlies in July & August, this match had to be played on a Saturday morning at the CONEL 3G pitch in Enfield which therefore ruled out certain players and Management, but with our Club Welfare Officer Darren Wiltshire running the Estudiantes London setup from Haringey 6th Form College and fielding mainly teenage players himself, we agreed to take part in the fixture with the aim simply being to see if we could lose by a much lesser margin. Indeed we managed to achieve that by ‘only’ losing 7-2 this time, with four of Estudiantes goals coming in the last 13 minutes as we suffered from a lack of available substitutes and our opponents players being generally three years older than ours. We did have three real bonuses from this game though in Harry Dorward becoming the first son of an ex-Rovers player to score for the club in our 45-year history, Lexton Harrison’s 15-year-old nephew Gianni Dipo (see picture right)…who is already well over 6 foot tall and a real ‘powerhouse’…making his debut and causing our opponents all sorts of problems, and high praise from Darren Wiltshire himself for our impressive team performance bearing in mind the age of our players compared to those we had playing for us in the corresponding fixture the previous Pre-Season.

For our second Pre-Season Friendly the following Sunday (25th July), we arranged another Friendly against a newly-formed team from the East Herts Corinthian Sunday League in AC Nextgen, whose name and social media accounts suggested they were young players who were the sons of former players of AC Italia, a team we had played in the London Sunday Junior Cup back in the 1990’s. However, most of those ‘young’ players were apparently ‘not available’ or had changed their minds about joining, and Nextgen turned up with a team of amateur heavyweight boxers, weightlifters and experienced ex-Semi-Pros instead…plus a 16-year-old who was far better than any of ours and surely must have been on the books of a Pro club somewhere ? Despite predictably getting ‘kicked up in the air’ for a lot of the game though, our players were not intimidated whatsoever and it was a perfect learning curve for them. We only lost 4-2, although our two goals were scored by 21-year-old Nana Obeng, who was now back from a three-year-spell at University, but decided not to stay with us after this match and to try his luck at Step 5 Semi-Pro level instead for Spartan South Midlands League side Harpenden Town. It will be good for our club of course if Nana can progress from there, as we know that the professional filming of our games certainly helped his development and that it will do the same for our new young players if they treat it seriously enough.

The AC Nextgen Friendly was also memorable for the sheer numbers of supporters who attended the game, which was being played at one of our old Waltham Sunday League stomping grounds from the 90’s in Goffs Lane Playing Fields in Cheshunt. Most of our players had relatives there watching, including grandparents, while many of those relatives had also regularly been attending training sessions since we started them back in May. Half-Time oranges, fold-up seating for eight (2 x 4 sets), antibacterial wipes and all sorts of other things are now being brought along by them in addition to helping to wash the club shirts and the training/warm-up bibs, which was a job I had been doing totally on my own since ‘somebody’s Mum accidentally left green dye in their washing machine back in 1978 to turn our then white shirts a sort of ‘mint’ (#99EDC3) colour !

Also in attendance at Goffs Lane were two of our ex-players from the 90’s in Mark Howley and Lee Osborn, while our Treasurer and ex-player Alan Barnard was also able to pay a rare visit as he lives nearby. With Stuart Dorward now involved again, we are certainly hoping that more ex-players from his era will come along now and again for a catch-up and to see how Harry and Lexton’s son Tairique are getting on.

We then had to take a four-week break from playing Pre-Season Friendlies due to player holidays before resuming on Sunday 22nd August with a Home game against Whitewebbs Vets. Again, this game was specifically arranged to give our young players a taste of how experienced adults play the game, as we are likely to encounter those sort of teams in the bottom division this season. However, Whitewebbs Vets often field some of the Dads of our new players, and although only Dan Vanvynck (the father of our midfielder Jack) played for them in this game, it was more a case of them teaching us a lesson in how to pass the ball accurately and finish rather than putting in dodgy challenges. We ended up losing 6-3 and we played a lot better in our previous two Friendlies, but one consolation was Harry Dorward scoring a spectacular long-range goal which was nothing like the scruffy mis-hit goals his father normally put away for us !

With the pitch at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club being in superb condition, we then decided to take on the team who we hire that Home pitch from for our next Friendly the following Sunday, namely Norsemen Youth’s Under-18’s, who were all a year older than our players and had convincingly won their division in the Watford Friendly League last season. This was on the late-August Bank Holiday Sunday but we only had one player missing in left-back Lenny Charles and we more than matched our opponents for three-quarters of the match. However, a number of niggling injuries to players and the Dorwards having to leave early to go to Spurs saw us concede five goals in the last 20 minutes to lose 6-1 in the end.

It then got worse for a Pre-Season Friendly arranged against Enfield Town Youth’s Under-18’s at Enfield Playing Fields the following Wednesday night as none of our Over-35’s made themselves available whatsoever, leaving Manager Tony McKay completely on his own. Our players then started larking about and didn’t take the game seriously enough, and with goalkeeper Tyler having nobody to give him a proper warm-up, we found ourselves 9-1 down at Half-Time with only goalscorer Myreon Keane really being able to hold his head up high for his efforts. We played better in the Second Half but still lost 12-1 in the end and that forced me to give our Management Committee/’Coaching Staff’ a good talking to in requesting they make more of an effort to attend matches when they can to come along and help Tony out despite their other commitments.

Fortunately for our final Pre-Season Friendly on Sunday 5th September against Estudiantes London’s younger Development side, we had Stuart Dorward, Leon McKenzie-McKay and even Lexton Harrison all able to attend to give the players a strong pre-match lecture and then coach them vociferously throughout the 90 minutes, and that led to us producing an excellent performance to notch our first win with a 2-1 victory against a better side than Darren Wiltshire (Estudiantes Manager) had led us to believe beforehand. Making his debut for us in this match was pacy winger Luke Davidson, and when he combined with Gianni Dipo in the Second Half, we looked a lot more dangerous in attack, even though Myreon Keane was missing this game. We are certainly looking forward to the 10th October when those three will all be eligible to be picked for the squad and be able to play in attacking positions together, as a lack of pace up front has been our main problem so far.

For our midweek training session following that last Friendly we then had my brother Trevor over from Cyprus for three weeks to run some tactical and set-piece ideas through which our players really enjoyed. Trevor is of course our longest-serving Team Manager and responsible for our rise up the divisions throughout the 90’s with some innovative coaching ideas as we became one of the best Sunday sides in London by the early-2000’s when Stuart was at his peak as a player.  

We now have our first League match of the season this coming Sunday (12th September), and although we really have no idea what awaits us in terms of the strengths of our opponents, we certainly have a very positive outlook with a good squad of around 18 regular players who are all turning up to matches and training, they have all got to know each other now with the help of social media, and they (or their parents) have all paid their subs…and the last time that happened was when we were winning every week in our Division Two title-winning season of 2016-2017 and nobody dared get dropped ! There are also signs that some of our Management Committee members may be able to start attending more matches and training sessions to help with the coaching as the holiday season comes to an end. It is going to be vitally important that they do so.

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