If we were to tell you that the best attendance on White Hart Lane this season was one thousand, one hundred and thirty three, you’d undoubtedly nod wisely and state, “of course, Spurs are currently playing at Wembley.” But what if we were to tell you that this was also the best attendance on White Hart Lane for as many years as anyone can remember? At this point, given your blank looks, we’d have to refer you to an interview we did with Haringey Borough manager Tom Loizou six months ago, just before his side took on Heybridge Swifts in the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup.
“That other lot down the road might call their ground White Hart Lane, but they are actually on the High Road. I have a sign above the bar that says 'White Hart Lane,' and everyone who comes in comments on it and asks whether I'm a Tottenham supporter. They couldn't be more wrong, I support Arsenal, and it's important that those imposters realise that Haringey Borough are the only team to really play at White Hart Lane!"
And on that basis those who turned out to watch Borough take on Leyton Orient back in January can pat themselves on the back, and glory in the fact that they are record breakers. Somebody call Norris McWhirter- and if you don’t know who that is, ask your dad (or perhaps your grandad)!
As the sun shone down on Coles Park this afternoon, Haringey Borough Chairman Aki Achillea and his manager could have been forgiven for taking a moment to reflect on the success of their club this season. A third place finish in the league, unbeaten since February 10th- that’s fourteen matches- getting to the final qualifying round of the FA Cup, the First Round Proper of the FA Trophy, and increasing their average attendances by 173%; whatever happened in today’s Bostik North Division Playoff Final that was some set of statistics to take into the summer.
Paul of Canvey Island
Finishing one point from promotion- and nine ahead of their opponents today, Canvey Island, even if the sun hadn’t been shining down it wouldn’t have removed the warm glow felt by most of those in the only football ground on White Hart Lane.
Amongst those enveloped in that warm glow were Borough supporters Gary and Michael. Gary explained that he’d visited occasionally for years, but that last year he’d come along to a Monday night match, been attracted by the experience and became a regular, and now hardly misses a game. “It’s been an amazing season. Not just the FA Cup and Leyton Orient, but our form at the beginning and ends of the campaign was superb. I’ll be gutted if we don’t go up, but it will have been a great season nonetheless. “ Michael added that it wasn’t just winning that had increased the crowds. “We play the right way. It’s always entertaining to watch, no matter what.”
Haringey would perhaps have come into this Final as favourites, had it not been for some transfer news from Canvey which only came to light a week ago. The Gulls, it was announced, had signed- entirely in accordance with the rules, it must be said- the top scorer in National League South, Sam Higgins, and his team mate James White on a dual-registration deal with East Thurrock United. Higgins duly started the Semi-Final match at Bowers & Pitsea and opened the scoring, whilst White was introduced from the bench.
Canvey hadn’t had the season that many observers had expected. After relegation from the Premier Division last season they were many people’s favourites to set the pace in the North Division, but although they finished the campaign eleven points clear of their nearest rivals for the final playoff spot, Maldon & Tiptree, they’d performed with an inconsistency not necessarily expected from them. The last time they visited Coles Park, one day short of one month ago, goals from Ralston Gabriel and Lauren Luke had sent them back to the seaside with nothing to show for their trip. They had won three of their last four matches, however, so perhaps they’d found form at exactly the right time?
Away fan Paul was very much a glass-half-full sort of chap, but was also sure that anything other than promotion would be “disappointing. We’ve kept hold of much of last season’s squad and we should have been challenging for the title this year, not just scraping into the playoffs. We tended to play better against the top sides, and then fall to defeat against those at the bottom- conceding eight goals to Norwich United, for example.”
Asked for a prediction, he didn’t hesitate. “We’ll win- and we’ll do it in normal time. I’ve just travelled up on the coach with the team, and they were very confident and extremely buoyant. Our away form has improved immensely, too, and that bodes well for today.”
As we approached kick off the players warmed up on the pitch, gently. After the season we’ve just had it seemed rather strange to be commenting on extreme weather and not be talking about rain or snow, but today it was the heat. Yesterday’s match at Corinthian-Casuals had definitely been affected by the temperature, and today was even hotter. They’d need to conserve their energy were they to be able to play at a high intensity for ninety minutes. Aki’s Army, now ensconced at the back of the stand, were certainly not short of energy, however. “Sing if you’re Haringey, sing if you’re happy that way,” they trilled, accompanied by a cow bell, starting the party at half past two whilst those around them adjusted their ear defenders. Nobody could explain where they’d left the cow.
Gary and Michael of Borough
After a minute of heartfelt applause in memory of AFC Hornchurch secretary Pete Butcher, the away side got the game started. The home side were in yellow and blue, the away side in blue and yellow. For those of you reading this in black and white, look at the pictures!
Canvey started quickly, Sam Collins drawing a save from Valery Pajetet within two minutes and with both of their East Thurrock partnership looking lively. Indeed within six minutes Borough were trying to slow the game down whilst their supporters were attempting to liven it up. On eight minutes Canvey forced Pajetet into a rather more difficult save, a ball over the top finding Higgins who aimed for the bottom corner, the keeper getting down to push the ball away one handed. Only an excellent tackle from Rakim Richards denied Mitchell Gilbey a minute later, as Borough struggled to get out of their own half. Anthony McDonald earned the first yellow card for the home side shortly afterwards, pulling back Gilbey and giving the referee little choice.
Borough weathered the initial storm, however, and after a quarter of an hour penned back began to attack. Andre McCollin wriggled free of three defenders and was felled just outside the box, getting up to strike the free kick. Sadly for the home fans he struck it straight at the wall. But it was a start, and it seemed to give the whole team confidence as they started to find their range. In the 21st minute a tug on Lauren Luke earned them another free kick to the left of the box, and on this occasion it was deflected just past the post- it appeared by a defender, but the referee gave a goal kick. This sparked the home singing section into a pastiche of a seventies classic- Earth, Mirth and Wind. They then moved on to slay Slade. It was enormous fun, and they made up for in volume what they lacked in tune.
George Allen for Canvey was the second player into the book for a similar challenge to that which saw McDonald yellow carded. The game became stretched, and at the first available opportunity the referee halted proceedings sensibly for a drink break. It’s a shame referees hadn’t done the same during February and the clubs provided hot chocolate. Chances came at either end, Higgins for Canvey running into trouble when he should have done better, whilst Gabriel slipped whilst shooting and ended up flat on his back with the ball a distance over the bar. Then a chance for Canvey saw Steve Sheehan hit the target, but find only Pajetet. The fifth period of the playoffs so far came to an end without a goal.
Canvey line dance to Achy-Breaky Heart...
Tom Loizou made a change at half time, bringing on Michael Ademiluyi for the booked McDonald, and Borough got the second half underway. Ademiluyi was quickly involved, his run and pass allowing McCollin to turn and shoot, but his effort was far too close to Henry Newcombe in the Canvey goal to do any damage. Two minutes later Ademiluyi was inches from connecting with a cross from McCollin which would undoubtedly have brought the breakthrough, before at the other end Higgins had a free header which he couldn’t direct away from the keeper. A cross from Djassi -Sambu then squirmed from the keepers grasp and had to be hacked away, as the first seven minutes of the second period brought almost as much goalmouth action as the previous 45. And then, in making a double save, disaster for Haringey. Keeper Pajetet, after a period of treatment, had to come off. He was clearly angry, but Austin Byfield had to be sent into the fray as his replacement. Did that give Canvey an advantage? Only time would tell, as we approached the hour mark.
The game became rather end to end, and indeed both sides displayed a great deal of hard running, admirable given the conditions. A pattern of pressure-break-pressure-break punctuated the next five minutes, without either keeper being tested. Ashley Dumas then earned himself a booking, as unable to catch Ademiluyi he pushed him over, and this led to free kick which Newcombe could only touch behind for a corner. Borough maintained the pressure, as Canvey made some desperate blocks and equally desperate clearances. But the game remained without a goal.
As we entered the seventieth minute Canvey made their first change, Gilbey coming off, Ryan Charles coming on. Jake Pitty then became the next player in the book, inexplicably pulling the ball back with his hand whilst grounded, giving Borough a dangerous free kick. This was only partially cleared, and a corner resulted as momentum built. The ball sent into the middle, Mark Kirby rose and planted the ball firmly into the back of the net with his head. It had been coming. “we’re the best team, on White Hart Lane,” sang the home faithful, demonstrating admirable geographical accuracy.
Canvey made their second change. Off came Sam Collins and on went Ryan Melaugh. They had fourteen minutes to find a lifeline. They did quite the opposite. In the 81st minute Gabriel had a tussle with the Gulls defence and the referee pointed to the spot. Gabriel stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way. Surely game over? Canvey showed some urgency, but peculiarly committed another hand ball, substitute Martin Tuohy- who had just entered the fray- clearly handling in the Haringey area. Another yellow card was brandished.
A Flock of Seagulls
As we approached full time a cross from the right found the head of George Sykes. He was unchallenged, but could only direct the ball wide of the upright. The fourth official then signalled four additional minutes, and the Borough choir became even more animated. Two minutes in and Canvey got a lifeline- Steve Sheehan unmarked sent a header home. Could they? Surely not. And then, controversy. The ball was played through to Chinedu McKenzie. He looked offside, but allowed the ball to roll to Ademiluyi who planted it past the keeper. The linesman had his flag aloft, the referee went and spoke to him, then…gave the goal, to general pandemonium.
But it didn’t really matter. The final whistle went, and Haringey Borough were deservedly promoted!
As the fans awaited the presentation, they sang “We’ve got the best chairman in the league.” It’s not often that chairman are lauded so highly, but Aki Achillea is most definitely a fan first and a chairman second. He’s worked miracles since taking over at the helm- but can he work more miracles next season and make Borough firm fixtures in the Bostik Premier Division? Who knows- but you can bet that everyone in Coles Park will have fun finding out.