There is a notably bigger crowd than our last visit, and this time I have to queue for a fine cup of tea from the café serving food and drink through an open double glazed window. With tea in hand we wander around the pitch in the warm sun, with a blue sky overhead, trying to avoid the BP players taking a piss in the shrubs around the pitch, and trying not to get smashed in the face as the BP players shoot at goal.
As we make our way to sit down, we bump into the smiling face of the Chairman Aki Achillea, who greats us warmly, just like last time, and thanks us for our write up on our last visit. He generously lets us pitch side, and the great opportunity to grab some pictures of the teams coming out.
A notable buzz fills the air, and some members of the team who are not playing today, have already taken up pitch side seats at the base of the main stand, the officials appear through the open double doors, and the captains of each team fill the space, almost shoulder to shoulder, one in the yellow and blue of Haringey, and the other in the red and white stripes of BP.
Aki told us last time that BP were the ones to watch on the run for promotion, so it’s ironic that the team they can win the title against is them, and the next 90 minutes might just be some of the most action packed, drama filled of any game I have ever seen live.
We hurry up the stairs at the side of the main stand, and there are a lot more bums occupying the green plastic seats, than last time, but we position ourselves on the back row, Aki takes up his vantage point next to us, leaning on the yellow corrugated metal wall of the stand, the HB team huddle and off we go.
Straight from kick off there is a great atmosphere, someone has cracked out the horn, but Aki is still the loudest shouting “COME ON BOROUGH”.
The first ten minutes is stop and start as tackles are flying in, it’s clear the occasion is not lost on either team a victory for BP can keep them in the title race. 15 minutes in and things for a brief moment seem to be going to plan, as HB score, only for it to be chalked off for offside. Unfortunately not long after, the plan seems to go out of the window, as a BP player is rashly charged in the box, goes over and the referee points to the spot.
Up steps the BP player to take the penalty, and in the goal stands Ashley Harris, the BP penalty is low and to his right, he is down quickly, gets a strong hand to it, and pushes it wide, he is up again and as quick as a flash dives on the ball and denies any further threat. A huge cheer from the crowd, and they break out into “England number 1, England, England number 1”, Ash holds up his hand towards the stand in acknowledgement.
After the heroics of the HB keeper, and his save helping keep the plan on track, the plan is now once again out of the window, as a corner from the left is converted and BP go ahead, 1–0, a poked finish into the roof of the net past a helpless keeper. The goal in the eyes of HB is shrouded in controversy, and it would seem the ref did not blow his whistle for the BP player to take the corner, and it caught HB unawares and out of position. The whole team are in shock and remonstrate with the referee, Aki offers the best advice to the players still talking to the referee “Ref fucked up, get on with it!”
HB are out of sorts, rattled and perhaps the occasion is getting to them, and are 2nd to every ball, Ash bellows at his defence, and there are a few moments of tension, as the team remonstrate with each other. Aki has left his station next to us, and is giving our ear drums a rest, as he moves pitch side, where he can still be heard, “Football Boro”
A few chances come HB’s way, their pace on the counter gets them in a good position only for a last ditch BP tackle, a ball over the top results in a one on one with the keeper, the clearance falls to a HB player outside of the box, and if composed could have been side footed into a gaping goal, only to shank the shot a fair way wide.
There is a long stoppage in play as the BP keeper is injured, he is carried off the field to applause and is replaced.
The half finishes with HB a goal behind and the party atmosphere in the stand is much muted. The BP physio calls up to someone in the crowd asking after the injured keeper, “think it’s his foot, not sure might need an x-ray”
“Pick up Boro” “Come on Boro” are shouts from the stand as the teams make their way back to the changing room. BP have looked a lot more composed, HB have looked a bit of a mess.
Some chips all of a sudden are calling us, and as we stand in the queue we hear Aki say to someone, “bit of an anti-climax”. The increased numbers in the crowd, mean the café is struggling a little, and we only get back to our seat just before the whistle for the 2nd half. A sign of just how friendly a club HB are Director George Kilikita is acting as delivery man, and is dropping off peoples orders of food, so they do not miss a minute of the match, and what a 45 minutes that is about to unfurl.
HB come out a much better side, and 10 minutes in to the match get an equalizer, a free kick from number 10 Dean Fenton, on the edge of the box, is hammered in, low and direct past the BP keeper. Aki is celebrating like a mad man in the car park behind the goal, and the fans with him sing “we’re the carpark, we’re the carpark, we’re the car park Haringey”
HB are on top now, but the tension is clear as Aki rocks from foot to foot behind the goal, John Bacon the club secretary walks along the front of the stand doing a head count.
The last 15 minutes of football are some of the most nail biting, I have ever experienced, it is one thing watching a tense game at home on the sofa, but seeing it with your own eyes is something else.
HB go from cruising to despair, once again a rash tackle from behind on a BP player, results in the second penalty of the game. Ash’s attempts to put the BP player off, as he perhaps had done on the first penalty, by jumping and banging the cross bar, has no effect as he is sent the wrong way and BP score, their first shot of the half, puts them ahead 2–1.
HB are making this hard for themselves, and look rattled and disjointed again, only a bit of luck and a piece of brilliance can save the day.
On 87 minutes a HB corner from the right, perhaps with the help of the wind, evades everyone in the box, falls at the foot of the post, and perhaps though a combination of the bounce and the BP defenders, finds itself in the back of the net. This sends Aki in to a dance/dash of ecstasy around the car park, the horn is blaring again, and just how they left it late on our last visit, and just how Aki had told me last time they had been doing it most of the season, this was going down to the wire, 2–2.
“WORK HARD BORO”
The result of the last time we visited was a late, late goal from Leroy “The Finger” Griffiths, that clinched the win, and resulted in him, not adopting his well-known celebration which gives him is nickname, but instead roaring like a lion, removing his shirt and flexing his muscles.
This time though a simple back post header was not enough, instead a goal in the the style of Charlie Adams or Wayne Rooney, in added time, a half volley from just inside the BP area, from almost on the touchline, literally right below me I have a birds eye view from my new position up against the railing of the stand, this shot flies like a rocket, bird or Superman up and over the back pedalling BP keeper, 3 -2.
The few moments that follow are of pure joy, excitement and amazement, and the people in the crowd are pinching themselves at what they have just seen, has that goal, that wonder goal, Puskas goal of the year contender just won the title?
A flash of yellow and blue flies into the corner of the field, the Referee almost like a policeman at a riot, is telling the subs and staff not to join the celebration.
Once “The Finger” emerges from the bottom of the blue and yellow pile, he blows kisses to the crowd like an Opera singer after a performance, and makes his way back into his half.
HB are moments away from the title but very nearly throw it away, when BP hit the cross bar from a header, and a fine fingertip save from Ash in goal, tips over the last BP chance of the game.
I rush from the stand, to stand pitch side, hoping to catch the moments of celebration on film. The referee keeps saying 1 minute, for what feels like 5 minutes, but he finally puts the whistle to his lips, gives 3 blasts, and HB have won the Essex Senior League and promotion.
The crowd on the edge of the pitch surge towards the team already celebrating on the field, the horn in the stand has gone into overdrive, and the crowd offers the team a standing ovation. The players joy is only occasionally interrupted by shaking hands with players from a clearly dejected BP side.
From behind me Aki appears shrieking and running like a giddy school boy towards the players, and I follow, admittedly not nearly as quickly.
Players rip off their shirts and throw them in the air, embrace and high five each other. Water bottles are squirted in celebration, as the team jumps in a huddle together, singing in unison, “Champione, Champione, Ole, Ole, Ole”, something fizzy appears in someone’s hand and is quickly covering everyone in sight.
The team makes its way back across the pitch, and someone has made a visit to the bar and douses the team in bubbles. A man in a dark suit, holding the League Trophy appears from the stand, and the captain approaches him, the rest of the squad hold back “ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”, he lifts it high above his head, “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH”
“Champione, Champione, Ole, Ole, Ole”
Camera phones and cameras are flashing all around as players and staff, take turns to pose with the spoils of their season.
The team toss the manager, Tom Loizou in the air, and then its Aki’s turn. The bar has now been raided and green bottles of bubbles appear and are popped in the air like at the end of a Grand Prix, Aki holding the cup, is drowned in it, head down it pours down his face, the cold taking his breath way.
Emeli Sande the singer, who was sitting in front of us the whole game, is presented with a shirt with her name on by Aki and the Manger, and is grinning from ear to ear and looks chuffed.
I get swept up the in the crowd, as it makes its way to the changing room, and am lucky enough to be in there, as the celebrations continue. More bubbles and water shower the room, and the whole team is singing along to a song playing on the boom box. I’m drenched along with everyone and everything else, as the team bang on the walls, and a player in the shower is shooting water from a hose.
In unison the whole room sings, “we are going up, say we are going up”
Stinking of booze and wet through, I make my way to the bar for a drink and the chance to dry off. David Bauckham @CentreCirclePub, joins us at our table, also needing to dry off, and clean his glasses. His cameras are a lot nicer than mine, and were in peril in that changing room.
George who was selling the tickets on the gate on our first game here, is now offering sandwiches on a platter to the few people sitting in the bar.
Final business of the day is for Aki to present the Club Secretary John Bacon, with a club shirt with “Bacon 15” on the back. A long servant of the club and a fan since 1953, when they were called Wood Green Town, Aki sings his praises, and applauds the invaluable part of the HB machine he is. Even National Service and moving out of the area, couldn’t stop him supporting the team. I think a quote from a 2011 interview he did with a local paper, will resonate with most if not all people who love non-league football:
““I just happened to be passing the ground one day and I had a look in, and I immediately liked it. I loved that feeling of being part of something, being able to walk right up to the barriers, and chase the ball when it went for a throw-in. It was a totally different atmosphere to what I’d experienced at professional games at places like Tottenham and Arsenal”
He is very bashful and is totally unwilling to receive the accolades, bestowed upon him, and is clearly a stalwart and a much loved figure head at the club.
As we leave the trophy is still doing the rounds, and the camera phones are still clicking away. Aki announces to the team that, he is going to take them out “I mean out, out” to celebrate, which is loudly appreciated by the room.
What a fantastic day, and it could not happen to a nicer bunch, from the women behind the bar, the man making the great tea, the grounds man, players, John Bacon, George Kilikita and Aki. In Aki they have a shrewd Chairman who has the clubs interests at heart that was clear by his celebrations today. Last year they missed out on promotion by 2 points, so this year it feels that little bit better. I was told improvements to the ground will be underway shortly, including a 3G pitch. A fantastic investment at this level, not only for the first team’s ability to play all year round, but also the revenue the club would make from hiring it out.
We can’t wait for the fixture list for 2015 -16 to be released, because I will be at their first home game, in the new league, with bells on, COME ON BORO!