It’s not that I dislike driving to all corners of the UK to watch football, the back footwell of my car becoming a squalid dumping ground for coffee cups and Tom's rubbish that he never takes home with him; but once in a while, it's nice to go to a match a little closer to home.
As it seems that most games we go to are in Essex, admittedly that's hardly far away; however it’s much closer to Tom’s new East London pad than to mine in North London, so it is somewhat of a novelty to be going to a game where it will only takes me about fifteen minutes to get there. A place I might just take a bet from you that I could get to blindfolded. A place that requires me to partly trace some of the well-trodden path to my first football love- Spurs.
With me not picking Tom up from home, it means relying on his ability to get up, get to the station and catch a train. Going by the message that's just appeared on my phone, he’s managed the first two, but has fallen at the final hurdle, “sorry running late, missed my train”.
The very thoughtful message that follows “go get a coffee”, is making the presumption I’m close to some cafe lined Parisian boulevard, where I can find a table on the pavement, snap my fingers, shout garcon, light a Gauloises and have a quick cappuccino. I admit he may not know this particular part of North London all that well, but the retail park just off Green Lanes is not the most cosmopolitan.
Out of pure laziness, I opt for McDonalds. The fact I don't have to get out my car to order, receive and then drink my coffee is a big plus for me, so I do just that, but not before the car in front is handed what must be at least five or six happy meals, and it’s really not that big of a car. The coffee is not awful, it's hot and mildly stimulating. Only a day into the Easter holidays and I’m already a bit frazzled, the combo of my eleven year old son and nine month old daughter has already taken its toll. Although she didn't say it, I’m sure my fiancée’s eyes were screaming ‘stay’ as I bid them a farewell.
Here come the teams...
Eventually Tom arrives. I’ve not had to wait long. The hood of his coat firmly pulled up and over his head to keep out the rain, he's almost retreated completely into the back of it like a turtle. That very rain that put the kibosh on our intended game today, so instead we’re heading somewhere where the magic of 3G means that- come hell or high water- you are always guaranteed a match.
“Not sure I can eat today” says Tom. I query why, and instead of telling me, he opens his mouth, and shows me. There is a large gap on the bottom row, where a tooth should be. An “abscess” he tells me, in fact he has “two”. A visit to the dentist a few days before resulted in the quick extraction and a dose of antibiotics. More troubling though was not the decaying root still in his jaw that requires a visit to hospital to remove, or the pain of the infection, but the fact he will only be able to eat “something small” today, he doesn't think with the state his mouth is in, he’ll be able to fit a “massive burger in it”.
It’s almost one continuous road from the station to Coles Park, the home of Haringey Borough FC (HB). Their home on White Hart Lane, is just over a mile from White Hart Lane, that actually isn't even on White Hart Lane, and once the new stadium is built and the naming rights sold off, it's unlikely to be called White Hart Lane anymore.“Have you tricked me?” asks Tom, as he spots the old brown sign pointing to the aforementioned currently being remodelled home of Spurs.
We catch the tail end of the well known and well frequented car boot sale, that takes place every Saturday morning at Coles Park. A few people are still stashing away their wares in the large beige shipping containers that almost circle the entire car park.
I’ll be honest, Coles Park is never going to win any awards for aesthetics. Nestling between an allotment, some houses and a builders merchants the simple yellow and green rectangular stand with the changing rooms at its base and a small, single storey clubhouse adjacent to it, is all there is. It’s not one of those grounds that is ever going to end up in a glossy coffee table book, but as I learnt from a few visits here before, without Tom, in the early days of our search, it’s what is below the surface that makes it stand out.
Tom at the moment could not give a flying fig about my love affair with what might be my most local of non league clubs, he is far more concerned with the weather. Mentally preparing himself as he gets out of the car, he is satisfied, that it is at least, “dry for now”.
Having not really had any need to come to this part of the borough we grew up in, as he headed to Islington for his football fix, I think he is a little disorientated. When he spots in the distance, high up on its hill, I think he takes some comfort, and is able to get his bearings a little, when I answer yes to his question, “is that Ally Pally?”
Inside the clubhouse, the afternoon kick-off is playing on a small screen. Above the bar hangs a White Hart Lane N17 road sign, and so it should. Below the TV is a small stage, and on that sits- slightly incongruously- an overly ornate ‘throne’, behind a table covered in different sized tatty cardboard boxes filled with old programmes for sale. Perhaps the throne is for the unmistakable figure of Aki, HB's chairman, in his blue and yellow club scarf. Always positive and friendly, he seems especially so today.
The Haringey Borough (and perhaps a few from Mildenhall) faithful
The team, he says, are well prepared for the “final push” towards securing a play off place. As he puts it, they have strengthened “at the right time” with the signing of “two new players”. It really has been a “great season” so far for HB he tells us, especially in the cups. They had a super run in the FA Cup and welcomed Leyton Orient here in the FA Trophy, which he describes as the “best day ever”. A shot at the play offs really would be the icing on the cake.
When Aki moves on, it's certainly a lot less lively in the clubhouse. Only the noise of the commentary coming from the TV and that being made by the boy in the corner with a mop of curly brown hair and large blue headphones on. “Judging by the button bashing” says Tom, assessing the situation, “the young man is “gaming.” He is desperate to know like me “what's he playing?”
In shorts and flip flops the occasional player will make the short walk across the gravelly car park to join the HB manager, to stand and watch the match on the TV for a couple of minutes. One woman, returning from a tea run, is super excited. “The sun's coming out” she says to her partner, as its rays flood the room. Tom is just hopeful that it “stays out”.
Standing pitchside I, quite by mistake, instigate a squabble between Aki and HB's manager Tom, who has been here for “ten seasons” and tells me he thinks he is the “third” longest standing manager in the football pyramid currently, after “Wenger, Folkestone Invicta, then me”. The disagreement is over HB’s club record twenty three game unbeaten run. Tom wonders why everyone is always going on about “(Manchester) City and Cray” when it is they who should be getting all the accolades. Aki tries to explain that it's because theirs is across two seasons, but Tom's not buying it.
Our conversation soon turns nostalgic, as we talk about the last but one time I was here, the day they won the Essex Senior League, “had tears in my eyes” says Aki, all the memories and emotion of the day, visible all over his face. However talk is quickly back to the present and getting three points. Aki reckons they will “do well today”. Tom saying they “need a good win” against Mildenhall Town FC (MT). With their “two new strikers” Aki adds, who have been “banging them in” they have bolstered their already considerable firepower, and in his eyes they are now bristling with “four top” forwards.
He just hopes this afternoon unlike “last weekend” that they don't go three goals ahead, and then “collapse”, the game eventually ending up in a 3 -3 draw.
The back of the net at Haringey Borough- the ball ended up there six times
This article is continued at the Beautiful Game Blogspot- we'd love to feature it all here but it's so long we'd have to build an extension which would need planning permission from Sadiq Khan.
It also features lots of Bostik themed articles, and some fabulous pictures and videos- so go and take a look!