Football makes even the most rational of us as superstitious as a New Orleans shamen. In the search for omens and signs ahead of the next ‘biggest game in history’ for Haringey Borough, I looked at the weather and the traffic. Their last two cup wins were both at Coles Park, both played in the rain and both preceded by unusually placid traffic in the Tottenham Hale area. Today was different. The sun was out, and like wasps at a picnic, so was the traffic.
Tom Loizou’s team don’t appear to be as aware of these signs as a fearful football fan like me. Why would they be when they have a squad bursting at the seams with quality players to call on. The club appeared in an article in the Sun newspaper on the morning of the game. They also marked the occasion with a pre-kick-off ribbon cutting for their latest sponsorship deal. Anxious onlookers like me might see this as tempting fate, pride before a fall. The clubs confidence, however, in its formula and its players is one of the main ingredients in their success.
Competition: FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round
Ground: Coles Park (CVS Van Hire Stadium)
Refreshments: £4 (burger and coke)
Dogs spotted: 3
The road to Wembley: the non-league rounds
Before this nervous Saturday afternoon, I set out with the goal of watching every round of the FA Cup, well at least the qualifying rounds that are reserved for the nation’s non-league sides. I started local at Walthamstow FC. I couldn’t have imagined how little I’d have to travel for the six rounds of qualifying games. Following Walthamstow, there was a midweek trip to Mile End which led to a Saturday afternoon in Brentwood, my furthest journey so far. Haringey Borough won a thriller in Essex and we’ve made Coles Park our FA Cup home ever since.
When I set out I expected a few more journeys into the unknown – every game so far has been at a ground I’ve visited before. Instead, however, I’ve had the privilege of seeing one of my local clubs make it to the verge of history. Boro reached this stage last season but were knocked out by Heybridge Swifts. Could this club, that has crammed so much achievement into the short time I’ve been following them, go one step further?
The Sun article led with the club’s USP – ‘the only club on White Hart Lane’. It’s a fun fact, but there is a lot more to attract people to Haringey Borough FC than a claim to a street in Tottenham. A friendly club that plays great football. You can feel them progressing in front of your eyes as you sit in the main stand. There are more and more familiar faces every time you visit.
Boro’s new sponsorship deal was with CVS Van Hire and the players gleefully posed with their new sponsored shirts prior to kick-off. Before they were called over for photo opportunities I stalked around to some shade to watch them warm up. They were relaxed as they always seem to be. There were no signs of nerves here for what the Bostik matchday feature billed as the latest, ‘biggest game in their history’. They’d been here before, literally. The boys in yellow and blue avenged their FA Cup exit to Heybridge by beating the Swifts in the promotion play-off semi-final before overcoming favourites Canvey Island in the final. Both games were played in N17.
Dolphins uncomfortable inland?
Looking for points of comparison to settle the pre-match anxiety was tricky. These two sides had no recorded previous. They’d been two levels apart last season, but now shared step three’s FA Cup hopes. Poole were relegated from the National League South in May along with Bognor Regis Town and Whitehawk. Boro had already drawn Bognor and beaten Whitehawk this term. In the Southern Premier League Poole have already faced former Bostik Premier sides Hendon and Metropolitan Police. Drawing to the boys in blue and losing to the gents in green.
Those games aside, the Dolphins have been in good form. They were unbeaten in six games prior to a league defeat to Gosport Borough in midweek. Boro likewise had experienced a minor pre-cup wobble. They’d been knocked out of the league cup by Bowers & Pitsea and lost a second league game in a row, at Burgess Hill Town.
Poole have the edge when it comes to FA Cup pedigree. They’ve made the First Round on four previous occasions playing QPR (twice), Watford and Newport County. Their last visit to the promised land of live TV games and the national consciousness was, however, 35 years ago.
Time to make history
A crowd of 402 basked in the autumnal sunshine including some vocal away fans from Dorset equipped with a tambourine, some reflective, replica FA Cups and a couple of cardboard Dolphins. There was a buzz in the air as both sides eyed a chance to get in the televised draw on Monday. I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog extolling the financial virtues of a cup run, but money wasn’t important here. This was all about the magic of the cup and the chance to maybe meet a Sunderland or a Portsmouth.
The bell, of ‘Bell End’ fame, went toe-to-toe with the Dorset tambourine as the teams made their way onto the pitch. The early exchanges were as nervy as the banter in the stand. The realisation that this could all come crashing down at the final hurdle has a strange effect on a football crowd. Nouble had a chance for Boro and Kirby looped a header over the bar. Meanwhile, in the middle of the pitch, Poole captain Devlin was winning every aerial duel, even those against opponents he’d need a stepladder to look in the eye.
Soon the deadlock was broken. An apparent push on a Poole forward in the box went unpunished. Moments later another challenge in the area from Stone caught the eye of the referee. He assertively pointed to the spot. Devlin showed that all that heading of the ball hadn’t affected his composure as he put the visitors in front. Boro though were galvanised for the rest of the half. Staunton had an attempt cleared off the line and a few minutes later was unable to finish after McKenzie had pulled the ball back for him.
Poole led at the break but Haringey started the second half in the ascendancy. Ademiluyi was suddenly in the game a lot more and giving the Poole defenders a lot to think about. He had a shot saved while Nouble fired over. It looked as though it was going to be one of those days, just when you really didn’t want ‘one of those days’. Minutes later Poole caught the home side on the break and Gillespie raced through on goal. He slid the ball past Pajatet. Somehow it bounced off the post avoiding any onrushing Dorsetonians.
Djassi-Sambu of bundling set pieces over the line fame entered the fray and did…well… just that. Boro overloaded the box and it fell to the man who can, and he dutifully did. Finally, the home fans had something to celebrate and Boro were level. It was a different game now, but plenty of home fans could be seen checking phones for their Tuesday night availability and the best route to Dorset.
Sometime later the game was decided. A deflected shot sent the ball looping towards the corner of the Poole net. Nouble was luckily on the end of it and managed to simultaneously fall into the net while flicking the ball into it with him. Haringey had won it, a few nervous final minutes withstanding. The following moments were reserved for wild celebrations in front of the main stand. History had been made. Haringey would be in the draw on the BBC on Monday evening and we were all happy that way.
So the non-league phase of the FA Cup has finished and the ‘proper’ rounds begin. Haringey will be there and so will I. Who knows what adventures await but the chances are I may have to travel a bit further and endure a few more nervous mornings.