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In these strangest of times, Enfield Town are taking tentative steps this week towards a competitive 2020-21 season start with a friendly against QEII Stadium tenants St Panteleimon FC this Saturday (2pm).  Please note that spectators are not permitted at this match and there will be no gatherings at the stadium allowed.  There will be no programmes for home friendlies, but a team sheet should be available on social media, and a summary of each match will be made available on the website.

St Panteleimon were formed in 2015, initially competing in the KOPA League for two seasons before joining the Middlesex League. After winning Division One at the first attempt unbeaten, 2018-19 brought further success with the Saints claiming a Premier Division league and cup double and reaching the first round of the FA Vase. Last season the club were lying second in Division One of the Spartan South Midlands League before the pandemic suspension.

Town manager Andy Leese gave his thoughts earlier this week: “We’ve now had a handful of training sessions led by Mario – with all the necessary covid precautions, including temperature taking, track and trace procedures, coaching from distance, masks in evidence, and ball cleaning etc – and overall we are delighted with the shape the players are in.

“I must pay thanks the two Johns – Abbott and Dolan – for enabling us to operate in the safest possible environment during this uncertain period when the “dos” and “don’ts” of pandemic recovery guidance can change at very short notice.  As Mr Chairman mentioned in his latest update, we are working towards a potential league start of 19th September, although the government’s postponement of a selection of designated sporting events to pilot the safe return of supporters, due to start on 1st August, might have made this date less likely. 

“The FA have this week announced that the FA Cup will start on 1st September and, with our own first qualifying round entry scheduled for Tuesday 22nd September – maybe behind closed doors – it looks increasingly possible that that may be our first competitive game.  But we are assuming nothing and I’m sure there will be amendments to the various authorities’ guidance to take account of as we move forward towards the resumption that we’d all dearly like to see.

“I can confirm that the core of last season’s squad has returned for training and, as I say, it looks as though the enforced break has given various niggling injuries a chance to recover and the boys are all looking good.  The players have generally kept themselves very fit during lockdown and beyond and that is to their great credit.

“You will no doubt have read elsewhere that Ken Charles, Joe Payne and Glen Wilson have moved on for various reasons; close-season movements of course being part and parcel of football at this level.  I am also aware that, as always at this time each year, there is a keenness to know who has joined the club – particularly when other clubs  are making announcements.  As  I said this time last year (and probably the year before!), we have to be sure we are recruiting as wisely as possible, working within our tight playing budget and making sure that we are in the best shape to start the new season, whenever that may be.

“We will be looking at some trialists in the St Panteleimon game and beyond, and we have had discussions with a number of players we would like to add with a view to improving the squad in various positions for what promises to be a very challenging campaign with so many unknowns.  It will no doubt disappoint some supporters that I cannot yet name names, but I can assure all Town fans that I am confident of landing some very good players who will improve us. Most have played at a higher level and, as soon as pre-season progresses and I feel that the time is right to make announcements then rest assured I will do.   

“It’s been very pleasing to see the boys again after their enforced absence – including James Potton and Lewis Taaffe raring to go following injury.  James has made a remarkable recovery supported by John Abbott and I hope we can see him playing before the end of the year.  One or two of the boys have had work commitments, which is understandable given the circumstances, but there has otherwise been a decent turn-out for each session. The boys have returned looking trim and with real desire to get playing again. I am concerned that this pre-season will be longer than any other I have experienced in over twenty years of management and that a competitive start as soon as possible is vital.  We need to manage the next few weeks carefully and if we need to change our planning we will do so and make the best of it. We will try to play more games than usual in pre- season as playing is what the players have missed the most with the break.

“All clubs, particularly at our level, will be operating within similar resource and budget restrictions. It is to everyone’s credit off the field that we have stayed afloat during closure and I’d like to finish by thanking everyone involved in that hard work. I will  update you on incoming players as the squad takes shape as soon as I can”.