The first day of the new season, and we could think of nowhere better to be than watching Haringey Borough FC (HB) play their first game ever at this level, and returning to the Isthmian League for the first time since the 1988/89 season.
Once past the stragglers from the morning car boot sale, still held in the clubs car park, George, one of the clubs board members, greets us with the same smile he greeted us with at the first game we attended. Still on the gate, selling tickets, but this time with the turnstile open, unlike on the previous visits, so we click through it, housed within what looks like a converted shed.
I ask him how he is, and how he is feeling, and with his normal cheery response he tells us “I’m really looking forward to it”.
Coles Park looks like it’s had a lick of paint, no dramatic changes, they have not whipped up a two tier stand in the off season, but everything just looks like it’s had a bit of sprucing up, and this goes for the chairman too, who is busily moving between the clubhouse and the changing room, when we arrive. The last time we saw Aki he was drenched in champagne, celebrating winning the league, today he is in a shirt and Isthmian League tie, he says he is only dressed up “because the league chairman is coming!”
Despite the big day, he still has time to say hello, just like the first time we came, when he was quick to introduce himself, and make us feel welcome, and nothing has changed.
One thing that does stand out is the large coach parked next to the main stand that today’s opposition have come from Norfolk, Dereham Town FC (DT) “The Magpies”. A new league means the net is cast a little wider now, and instead of Essex descending on Coles Park like last season, the away teams will be coming from a little further afield, DT in fact making one of the longest journeys any team will have to make.
Inside the club house, a few DT fans sit around a table, and even though it’s a really warm summer’s day, one sits with his club scarf around his neck.
Aki comes into the club house clutching a small brown box, and apologising that through the craziness of the day, he had forgotten the programmes, and it’s not only the ground that has had a revamp, the match day programme has gone from a photo copied affair from last season, to an all colour glossy number. All this for just an extra 50p, I don’t even bat an eyelid, to handing over my £1 and getting my hands on one.
The clubhouse cannot contain us for long, so we make our way pitch side, and into the beaming sun, to watch HB go through their pre match drills. We edge across the pitch, the team are engaged in a high tempo possession game, the players all seem in high spirits. One of the team’s coaches counts down the minutes left, and calls time, “have a stretch” “drinks, drinks, drinks”.
Players jostle for the water bottles, some taking shelter from the heat in the shade of the dugout. As soon as they are down, they are up again, the same possession warm up, but the intensity seems to have been ramped up a bit, “train like you play”.
Tom Loizou the first team Manager, now entering his 7th season in charge, stands in the doorway of the main stand, the changing rooms at its base, and the seats on the first level. He casts his eye over the squad, and disappears back inside.
Kick-off is not long off now, and the session ends at a frantic pace, the coach once again encourages the players to “drink, drink, drink”, various players now offer their own words of wisdom, “100% concentration” “no easy games”. DT came 7th in the league last season, and will be a good bench mark for what HB will be coming up against. As the players, much quieter now and in a contemplative mood, a vast contrast to the jokes and laughter a few moments previous, make their way inside, the coach leaves them with one thing to consider “no what if’s”.
The music playing in both changing rooms is off now, as we hover outside, with about 10 minutes left until 15:00, all we can hear are the muffled instructions of the managers. The air of calmness is about to be shattered by the match officials, “give it 30 seconds more, and we are off” says the referee to his assistant’s.
“Let’s enjoy it”
The bells goes, the muffled talking turns into shouting, and the noise of the players studs can be heard as they all jump to attention. Both assistants stand outside each changing room, their ears almost pressed against the door, waiting to see if the team’s arrival is imminent, they look at their watches, listen again, nothing.
BANG, BANG, BANG “come on guys” they both prompt each team to get a move on, and thevolume from each room goes up again, DT are the first out, in their black and white stripes, followed by the choking smell of Deep Heat, that hits you like a ton of bricks. Each player is inspected, first his boots, and then in turn they pull down the collar of their shirt, to show he is not wearing any jewellery.
John Bacon, the club Secretary, stands in one corner, his mouth close to the microphone of the grounds tannoy, welcoming the visitors, and reading out the starting line ups.
HB are a little slow out the blocks, DT are lined up, and once the HB changing room door is opened, one DT player who peers in shrugs his shoulders and announces “they are not even ready”. The area for the teams to line up is not big, and we have now been pushed right to the back, one of the last HB players out is the keeper Ashley Harris who is happy to give me a big smile as I try and take a picture, and gives me a fist pump.
Before kick-off and the excitement of the occasion can be released, a minutes silence is to be observed, in memory of Junior Dian, a player who lost his life during a pre-season match, who had previously played for HB. Both teams line up, and the silence is impeccably observed, some players bow their heads in respect, at what is a truly tragic event.
A round of applause rings around the ground, as the referee signals the end of the silence, both teams shake hands, the captains choose a side of the coin, HB win, “all the best lads” says the ref as they make their way to their side of the pitch, HB join in a huddle, and break on a loud shout of “WIN”.
“Come on Dereham” shout the traveling fans, who have taken up position behind the goal their team is attacking in the first half.
George is standing just a few feet from us and nervously shouts “we’ve got to step up now”. No one at the club is under any illusion that 2015/16 will potentially be the most testing in the clubs recent history. It’s a big step up from the Essex Senior League, and the team will have to hit the ground running. This could not be further from Georges mind when a wild shot from a DT player sends the ball over the surrounding fence “oh no the allotments” more concerned about getting the ball back I think, than someone’s prize marrow or greenhouse.
The early part of the match is punctuated by a game ending injury to a HB player. The fans near me seem to think it’s a malicious attempt to stop the player, and he goes down clutching his ankle. He looks genuinely hurt, no rolling around or theatrics, just lying motionless, as the physio rushes over to help. He gets up, and limps off. The resulting free kick comes to nothing, even when the DT keeper has butter fingers, and drops the ball. The DT player involved in the incident, which resulted in the injury attempts to reconcile, the HB player perhaps has the same opinion as the fans next to me, and is in no mood to listen, the referee has to intervene “enough guys, enough”.
The pitch is green and lush and HB are starting to get a grip on the game and are looking increasingly dangerous.
Aki who always starts the game at the back of the stand, but inevitably isn’t their long, and roams the pitch, is now pitch side and giving encouragement “well played Boro” “better Boro”.
“We are competing now” says the ever vocal fan next to us. There are clear signs that the early nerves are gone, HB are getting into their stride. The Finger holds up the ball expertly “you ain’t moving him!” says one fan, but the biggest threat of the half, and the whole game is from the number 11, Anthony Macdonald “Macca”. His pace and touch is catching out DT over and over again, and it’s just this that creates the first clear cut chance.
Ashley Harris pumps a clearance down field that Macca controls with one touch, turns and leaves his marker for dead, and is flying into the box. His ball into the six yard box can’t be controlled by the first player, who finally gets it out from his feet and is able to roll it into the path of his team mate, whose side foot shot clips the post and goes out, “ARGHHHHHH” the team and fans, can’t believe it’s not gone in, both Harris and Macca get the recognition from their team mates, for creating a great opportunity.
A second chance comes shortly after and it’s all HB on the half hour mark, “it’s coming Boro, you got them nervous” DT just can’t get out of their half.
Out of the corner of my eye a multi-coloured apron wearing food delivery service appears and Aki is brought something to eat pitch side, all the perks of being the chairman.
Just before half time Macca is back at it again, beats two, ball across the box, but no goal.
It’s been a great first half, HB have more than held their own, but have squandered good chances, something that will turn into a running theme. The HB keeper is baffled as he walks off “how’s it 0 – 0, how many chances do we need?”
The injured player, who went off early in the first half, is carried off by his team mates and looks gutted. In the treatment room he lies with his hands on his head, and I over hear the physio say “let’s not jump to those conclusions” another player tells me, he is only recently back from injury.
DT are back out for the second half first, and kick off is held up after the referees assistant finds a hole in the net, and a patch up job is required, courtesy of some tape from the HB dug out.
“Let’s go Haringey, let’s go”
The visitors also come out much brighter than the first, and their main threat in the first half, the winger number 7, is starting to have a bit more joy down the right wing.
I manage a quick word with one of the HB coaches, and the diagnosis for the injured player is not a good one “we think it’s his ligaments”.
DT’s early energy is quickly put to the sword, by HB’s brightest player, as Macca continues from where he left off in the first half. Once again his quick feet, take him past and away from his two markers, cutting inside the box and now baring down on the keeper, but instead of squaring it to the HB player free and unmarked, for an easy tap in, he tamely scuffs a shot into the chest of the neon orange goalie.
HOW? No one can believe it, how are HB not in front?
After HB’s multiple chances, but no goal, frustration starts to show in their game, and the match starts to descend into a niggly affair, with the referee seemingly blowing his whistle for one thing or a another more than before. One HB player is lucky to stay on the pitch, after he seems to kick out at a DT player, after coming together and both falling to the ground. The referee can’t have seen it as if he had it would have been a red for sure. He calls the captains together, and instructs the other players to “get water, get water” .
“Come on yellow”
In the last moments of the game DT nearly perform the picture perfect smash and grab, but to no avail, the player stands in the box aghast, it would have been a total robbery, and I’m sure he knew that.
“Unless you’re a fucking magician, you ain’t going to score that” is the response from one HB fan, after a DT clearance drops the ball just outside of the box, and instead of the HB player passing out wide, or retaining possession, he attempts the spectacular, and sends the ball high, and off into the allotments.
The last chance of the game, the chance to grab all 3 points, and the glory on the first day of the season, falls to Macca, after a ball over the top releases him, and one last burst of energy leaves the DT player in his dust, with only the keeper to beat.
“I would of put my house on Macca, but he is knackered” was the response from the chairman, after the match, a match that finished all equal, after a clearly exhausted Macca was unable to score, and fired once again at the day glo goalie.
The HB players are clearly frustrated after the final whistle, the goals were there to be had and DT offered little in the way of threat, but I’m sure there is also a tinge of relief, relief that the first game is over, the first point is on the board, and they can now start looking forward to the next.
There will be highs and lows to come, as the first season in any new league is a hard one. We hope HB can tough it out, its more than they deserve, if only just for being so nice, more than any footballing reason, which I will add though is some of the best, most exciting we have seen at this level, they love to do things in the final minutes, a real love of the dramatic!
We urge people to go and support them, we will be, and you might even hear us shouting “COME ON BORO”.