“Where they are kicking about now, used to be the water jump. There used to be big wooden green gates up that end, and a turnstile there. When you came in, if you remember those Xerox things, that’s how they used to do your programme. They used to charge sixpence or whatever, and all the money went into a fund for injuries. Where that hedge is over there, there used to be another stand. It was standing only but was the length of those bushes, and there were also toilets there” … “This here, has all been banked up when the running track was taken away. When it rains the pitch is no good, because it all runs off and there is not enough drainage”.
I’m standing outside the pavilion at The Henry Barrass Stadium, as John Mills, Secretary of the Edmonton & District Sunday Football League, describes how what is now a large, but mostly empty expanse of land in North London, once looked. As someone who has been involved “on and off” in various capacities since his mid-teens (he is now sixty-seven) he is very well placed to comment. “I’ve been here a while”, he says, which is something of an understatement.
Looking out from our elevated position overlooking the football pitch in the distance where the players are warming up, it is not too difficult to see how it was once surrounded by a running track, and to imagine a long covered stand bordering its far straight. To our immediate left, cut into a large grass bank, is all that remains other than the pavilion: a grandstand underneath a large pitched roof, which once accommodated five hundred seated spectators. Even stripped of its seats, it is still an imposing structure and a reminder of a more glorious past, when it oversaw the mostly dwindling fortunes of several local football clubs, and numerous other events staged at the venue.
Largely created by a workforce of unemployed men, funded by a government scheme to provide work for the millions rendered jobless by the depression between the wars, work first began laying out a new recreation and sports ground in September 1925. A sixteen and a half acre site adjacent to Houndsfield Road in Lower Edmonton had been purchased by the Urban District Council for £4,000 with the aid of a Barclays Bank loan; with a further £18,535 set aside for excavation and landscaping.
Attention was focused on creating a large central area, around which a cinder running track was laid. Along the north side of the track, a large grass bank was created, and a network of crush barriers erected to accommodate the large crowds that were anticipated. On the north-west corner a pavilion was constructed, incorporating changing rooms for competitors.
By the start of the 1927-28 football season the ground was ready, and two local clubs: Edmonton FC; and another club, Lower Edmonton FC, became its first tenants. Edmonton Football Club had been formed from the ashes of the old St Martin’s Athletic club in 1921 and previously played home games on a private sports ground in Montague Road. Competing in the London League, they enjoyed a fine run in the 1922-23 FA Cup competition, reaching the fourth and final qualifying round before succumbing to Ilford in a replay. In 1927 the club jumped at the opportunity to play at the newly developed sports ground. Attendances had been poor and it was hoped that the improved facilities on offer would attract more fans. The ground was officially opened with a visit of a Tottenham Hotspur XI, when around a thousand spectators watched the professionals not surprisingly win by six goals to two.
The same year, the hitherto unnamed ground became The Henry Barrass Sports Ground, in recognition of Edmonton’s long serving Councillor. Originally from Birmingham, Henry Barrass had moved to Edmonton and begun work as a filer at the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield Lock in 1878. A keen trade unionist, he became an official of the Toolmakers’ Society, and in 1895 his fellow workers presented him with a gold chain and an illuminated address out of gratitude for his efforts to secure improvements in their conditions.
He first joined Edmonton Council in 1897 after winning a seat in the Bury Street ward, just to the south of then-undeveloped site that would later bear his name; and although forced to retire from the Factory due to ill-health in 1913, that did not stop him from continuing to pursue a political career. Although unsuccessful when standing as an Independent Labour candidate for the then-newly created Edmonton constituency in the 1918 General Election (won by Conservative candidate Alfred Warren) he was ultimately more successful in local politics.
By the time of his death from asthma and ‘heart problems’ in January 1935, just two weeks shy of his eightieth birthday, Henry Barrass had twice served as the Chairman of Edmonton Council, having been a member for considerably longer than any other. Indeed, he was commonly referred to as the ‘Father’ of the Council. In addition he became a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex, and a Governor of the Latymer School where incidentally Edmonton-born Sir Bruce Forsyth was later a pupil. On a more personal note, I might mention that the late Richard Cook, co-author of the esteemed Penguin Guide to Jazz, and biographer of Blue Note Records, also studied at the school.
The very fact that the sports ground was named after Barrass in his lifetime, is testament to the high esteem in which he was held, illustrated by the tributes paid to him on his passing. During the funeral service at a packed St. James’s Church, the Rev. H.C. Scott gave a glowing eulogy in memory of “a grand little man”, recalling that “In all his work, his main purpose was to lift the poor from the mud and dirt of life, by making things a little easier, happier, and better for them”. He added: “It is safe to say that of all who have guided the destinies of Edmonton, there is none who have exercised a wider or more wonderful influence than did Henry Barrass”.
There were further, public tributes. Alderman H. S. Button, Chairman of the Middlesex County Council for example, described him as “champion of the weak and defenceless, and of the under-dog”. Elsewhere, magistrates stood in silent tribute and Alderman W.D. Cornish, a fellow Justice of the Peace, proclaimed himself “more shocked at the news than I have been over anything else for many years”, describing Barrass as “always a kindly man” and “one of Edmonton’s finest public men for so many years” before adding: “He devoted his life to making the lot of the working-class better and brighter. He was always a champion of the working man”.
Unfortunately the move to the Barrass Sports Ground did not bring about the turn in fortunes hoped for by Edmonton FC. In fact, it only made matters worse. As Graham Frost notes in his well-researched history of the club, by Christmas 1927 the team had not won a match and had amassed just a solitary point. A large part of the problem was that because the ground was not enclosed, those that turned up to watch would often do so without paying. The club had only played two home matches in ten weeks, but even so their seven home games to date had only realised £13 in gate receipts and they had only been kept alive by the generosity of three local benefactors. They faced an annual rates bill of £50, owed money for works carried out over the past three years and the close proximity of Spurs did not help their cause. In January they withdrew from the London League, incurring a £20 fine, and opted to become a Sunday team, taking their debts with them to their new status.
No sooner had Edmonton played their first game on a Sunday, the London FA intervened. They saw the club’s move as an intention to avoid their financial obligations and immediately banned all thirty-five players registered with the London League until they paid their share of the fine, as well as stopping the club from playing any matches. The matter was eventually settled, but the name of Edmonton Football Club disappeared from the scene. At the end of the 1927-28 season Lower Edmonton FC also quit the sports ground, citing high rates as the reason.
Five years later, and still with no senior football being played at the ground, plans were drawn up with the intention of erecting a grandstand on the spectator slope on its north side, with the hope of enticing a club to take up residence. After inspecting grandstands at Dulwich Hamlet and Ilford, agreement was reached for the construction of a 180 foot long concrete and steel structure with seated and standing accommodation for 2,400 spectators. However, permission to borrow the estimated £10,000 for the works was refused by central government. Further discussions took place in 1938, but were stalled by the outbreak of war the following year.
Shortly before the war, the adjacent Jubilee Park was opened, laid out across thirty-seven acres of land acquired by the Urban District Council. The site had previously been used for brickworks, a major local industry until the 1970s, and many of the surrounding houses were probably built from local bricks. In common with recreation grounds the length and breadth of the country, Jubilee Park was originally planned to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935, but did not open until 1939, three years after the King’s death.
In 1947, the newly formed Edmonton Borough FC moved into the Barrass Sports Ground. The first match for the new club was a friendly against Chelsea Reserves and a crowd of 1,620 saw the visitors win seven-four. Taking their place in the London League, the club quickly put pressure on the council to provide covered accommodation for spectators. Due to the scarcity of building materials after the war, it offered to provide these if the council met construction costs. The offer was however refused, forcing the club to erect a temporary structure made out of tarpaulin and scaffolding when it staged an important cup tie in February 1948.
The level of support was disappointing and the lack of covered accommodation was identified as a significant factor keeping the fans away. In 1949, the council finally gave approval for a covered stand, albeit on the opposite (south) side of the ground, facing towards the existing spectator slope. The stand was in fact re-located from the recently closed greyhound track in Edmonton, and work was completed in February 1950 at a cost of £1,000. The new structure provided covered accommodation for five hundred spectators, but there was still no seating at the ground. The same year the ground was re-named The Henry Barrass Stadium. Although the cover no longer exists, having succumbed to asbestos, it can be seen in the background in a silent film of the Edmonton Horse Show, staged at the ground in 1959.
1950 was also notable for the arrival of Tufnell Park FC (formed 1907), who merged with Edmonton Borough to form Tufnell Park Edmonton FC. Ever present in the Isthmian League since joining following the First World War, they had finished adrift at the bottom of the table at the end of the 1949-50 season, and had been playing at Hendon, and latterly Cheshunt since losing their own ground in Holloway in 1938. However, poor attendances had prompted a return to North London.
With the new club taking up Tufnell Park’s place in the Isthmian League, it was necessary to effect further improvements to the Barrass Stadium, and to address the need for seated accommodation in particular. A central portion of the grass bank on the north side was excavated, concreted, and a large roof erected with seats installed beneath. At the same time concrete terracing was laid beneath the existing cover on the south side. Despite improvements to the ground, the team struggled on the pitch, and Tufnell Park Edmonton again finished bottom of the Isthmian League in 1950-51. They occupied the same sorry position at the end of the following season, after which they joined the Spartan League for a couple of years, and then the Delphian League. In 1960 there was another name change, this time to Edmonton FC. There was no direct connection to the original club of the same name, but it was hoped that it would help generate more support. Four years later the Delphian League was disbanded and the club found itself placed in Division Two of the Athenian League.
Edmonton suffered a major setback in December 1966. The clubhouse, on which the club relied on heavily as a source of income, was burnt down in an arson attack – the fourth in six years. The only assets that escaped were two sets of football kit that were at the laundry. The damage was estimated at £600 and an appeal for funds was launched immediately. The biggest donation was from Dagenham Football Club who organised a match with West Ham United the following April, when a crowd in excess of 1,000 raised £100 towards getting the club back on their feet.
When Edmonton’s lease at the Barrass Stadium expired in 1972 the club, not happy with the vast expanse of the area and sparsely populated grandstand, proposed that the stadium be divided in two, and that it take one half for its own exclusive use. The council however, was not in favour of the idea and instead proposed that Edmonton move out and merge with Haringey Borough FC, then playing intermediate football. Perhaps not surprisingly, there was a close relationship between all of these clubs. Before changing its name in 1970, Haringey Borough had previously been known as Wood Green Town FC since 1930, and the club had originally been formed (as Tufnell Park Spartans) as a breakaway club of Tufnell Park in 1911.
Enfield Council provided £11,000 towards renovation of Haringey’s dilapidated Cole’s Park ground, and the newly formed Edmonton & Haringey Football Club began playing there in October 1972, still in the Athenian League. In 1976, the name reverted back to Haringey Borough.
As previously mentioned, all that remains of the Barrass Stadium is the main stand, with its seats long since removed; and the pavilion in the north west corner, now painted in all green as opposed to the white and colours of Edmonton Football Club. Although all remnants of the crush barriers have also disappeared they, along with the cinder track and south stand, are clearly visible in a film of the 1980 Edmonton Sunday League Weekly Herald Cup Final, won by Edmonton Rovers. When the track was removed, the excavated earth was used to form another bank on the south side of the ground.
Until the end of last season, when they decided to take a (hopefully temporary) break from football, on Saturday afternoons the ground was home to Old Edmontonians FC of the Amateur Football Combination. Having been founded in 1926 by former pupils and staff of Edmonton County Grammar School, in the early 1970s the ‘Old Eds’ secured the lease on premises at the Barrass Stadium, and constructed a clubhouse at the end of Houndsfield Road. Although destroyed by a fire in 1987, it is also visible in the 1980 film. Its replacement, opened two years later, is still in use for private functions although not for football at the current time. It is hoped that Old Eds will soon be back, possibly in the Edmonton & District Sunday Football League (EDSFL).
Founded in 1925, the EDSFL is the oldest surviving Sunday League in England, and is now solely responsible for keeping the Barrass Stadium in use. Although smaller than it once was, the EDSFL still runs three Divisions and in addition to some League fixtures, the Barrass Stadium is used for the League’s many cup finals. “In the League we used to have the ‘Match of the Day’ which was a Sunday afternoon” explains John Mills. “Of course there wasn’t a lot of football on the TV then, so people used to come along. When some of the older teams were playing, you’d have crowds of six hundred people here. Today we might be lucky and get about fifty”.
This morning the Stadium is hosting the Brigg Cup Final. The competition dates from 1980, and as John explains: “Brigg Sports was a local store that nearly everyone used to go to for balls and kit. But the likes of JJB Sports and Sports Direct were undercutting them all the time. However, they still sponsor the cup and medals. It is open to everyone in the League, but if you get to the semi-final of another cup you can’t be in this one”.
Competing for the Brigg Cup is one of the League’s oldest clubs, Travellers United, who joined in 1959; and one of its youngest, Finchley Hibernians, who joined as recently as 2013. Although one might be forgiven for assuming that the Travellers club has roots of a Romany persuasion, it was in fact formed by Spurs supporters who regularly travelled to away games. Hibs meanwhile describe themselves as “Finchley's number one, Enfield based, Irish themed football club”. There is never any shortage of self-deprecating humour in Sunday football.
Whilst this is Hibs’ first ever appearance in a cup final of any description, Travellers are old hands and boast a long list of honours, including Division One champions in 2013-14 and 2014-15. They have however, never appeared in a Brigg Cup Final … probably due to doing so well in the other competitions! Rather than a traditional knock-out competition, at least until the semi-final stage, the Brigg Cup is based around a complicated League-type system that has meant Hibs having to play six matches to reach this stage. These have included a ten-nil win over the League’s oldest club Earlsmead, and a three-nil win over their own B team in the semi-final; Travellers by contrast have evidently played just three matches. With Travellers competing in Division One, and Hibs in Division Two, the former are firm favourites this morning.
Inside the pavilion, the dressing rooms have been allocated by way of hand-written post-it notes stuck on the doors, as the players begin to arrive, and deposit their kit bags before retiring outside for a pre-match smoke and the inevitable banter. It is a cup final, but there is little indication of any pre-match nerves. As one player remarks to me: “Why have you come to photograph the losers’ final?”. Meanwhile, inside the small kitchen, John and I are joined by League Chairman Derek Ward, who offers me a welcome cup of tea and biscuits. David Lyons (Fixtures Secretary) and Garry Brooks (Registration Secretary) are also there. With one of the match officials unavailable, Garry will also be running the line this morning.
With a number of Polish players in their line-up, Travellers are well-named, but unfortunately there are no first names included on either the complimentary four page, or team sheet. It is under a drab grey, featureless sky that the match gets underway in front of quite an impressive crowd for a Sunday morning, probably a little more than anticipated by John. It is quite an even first half that ends all square at two goals apiece, with Hibs’ twice coming from behind courtesy of Joe Rice and Frank Robinson, to cancel out a brace by A. Reid for Travellers.
The turning point of the match arguably comes when an error by Hibs’ keeper Rory McMonagle results in Travellers taking the lead for a third time through T. Kalisz. McMonagle redeems himself with a couple of decent stops, but the Hibs keeper can do nothing when M. Jarvis scores a fourth for Travellers from well outside the area. The scoring is completed in the dying moments when M. Staniec heads past McMonagle to make it five-two to Travellers United. It is rather a harsh scoreline on Hibs, but they have been found wanting in the second half.
In Jubilee Park next door, other matches and informal kickabouts are still going on as the perimeter rope is packed away and the nets unhooked from the crossbars, bringing the curtain down on another long season in the EDSFL. John Mills and the others will be back in a few months time, putting in the long hours behind the scenes that players and spectators do not always appreciate, whilst another constant will no doubt be the Barrass Stadium. These days the somewhat grand name may now seem rather incongruous, given its diminished appearance, but nevertheless it remains a reminder of the days when crowds would flock to the Edmonton Horse Show and other events; and most importantly, an enduring memorial to Henry Barrass, the ‘Grand Old Man of Edmonton’.