Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful game continue their non-league odyssey, this time taking in Haringey Borough v Mildenhall Town in the Bostik League North. 

Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks

It’s not that I dislike driving to all corners of the UK to watch football, the back foot well 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.

P1010488As it always seems most games we go to are in Essex, admittedly that’s hardly far away, however its 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 there 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 its 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 fiancee’s eyes were screaming ‘stay’ as I bid them a farewell.

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. The very rain that put the kibosh on our intended game today, instead we’re heading somewhere where the magic of 3G, means 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 “abcess” 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”.

IMG_20180331_141810It’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 coffe 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 fuck 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, 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 kickoff 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, on that sits slightly incongruously and overly ornate what I can only describe as a thrown, 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 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.

20180331_145626“Judging by the button bashing” says Tom, assessing the situation, he reckons the young man is “gaming” and 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”.

The other side of the wooden shed housing the blue turnstiles, where George, another familer face at HB, he tells me they don’t do a raffle, but reckons “they should” it would be “exciting”, a few Spurs banners are hanging around the pitch, and Tom is less than impressed, “fingers everywhere” he sneers.

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 Grays” 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 music over the PA mingles with the noise of the players, and the ever present W3 buses, that thunder along White Hart Lane, just the other side of the fence. Wandering around I lay my eyes on one of the finest examples of a football sticker/ultra stickers I’ve come across in my three years searching them out.

A simple and stylised design, a few flashes of the clubs colours, yellow and blue and dead centre, the very TV mast at Alexandra Palace that Tom noticed before. It really is a stunner.

“Got to win the next two games” says Liam, our very own HB troll, a friendly troll mind, who has been trying to get us to a game here for a while. The “top three” of the Bostik League North is “nailed down” already he thinks, so six points from their next two games are crucial. As long as HB do that, then it will just be a case of waiting to “see what the fuck happens”.

Better dressed than your average football fan in his magenta shirt and grey wool jacket, with a very fetching and understated green HB badge pinned on his lapel, it is not long before he is singing Aki’s praises. Making the point, and one that had not passed me by, that its “changed a lot” here since our last visit, as he puts it, and I don’t think I could put it better myself, “Aki has done a great job”.

DSC_0227There is not a lot of room in the narrow enclosed tunnel protruding from the base of the stand. From the front of the viewing gallery on the first floor someone has hung what by the looks of it is a hand stitched blue flag with yellow lettering that reads “come on boro”. Lots of the green seats are full, and in its back left hand corner, a small group of by far the loudest home fans are standing.

“Come on Borough” shouts the loudest of the loud group. I’m pretty sure it’s his gruff voice that follows the name of every home player as they are being read out over the PA with a “wey”. A PA that had only just come to life following a crackle, a tap, tap to see if its on, and a mild mannered “welcome to Coles Park”.

As the players walk out, amongst all the noise of the fans and the PA, HB’s keeper has a moment of quiet contemplation, pointing both fingers to the sky, he offers up a silent prayer.

For the first time we hear in the distance the cowbell, Liam having told me he had it with him today, and the fans break into their first song of the day. Moments before the game kicks off, a much larger flag, a more professional looking one, less arts and crafts, is hung. A yellow and blue Saint George’s cross with “Haringey” written across it.

“Lively start” shouts one HB player to his team mates, and that’s just what they get off to, in fact I don’t think they stop being lively for the whole ninety minutes.

HB get off to a very “good start” indeed as one grinning fans puts it to a passing Aki. “Come on Boro” shouts the single booming voice from the back of the stand, as the team show very early on, they mean business.

Despite the promising home start, its not them who the very respectable turnout, a mixture of people drawn here because of the 3G with so many cancelled games today and the fact that HB are starting to build a solid fan base in their own right, that watch MT hit the post with an insane effort. A header out by the HB defence following an MT free kick, is stopped by the chest of one player on the edge of the box, who doesn’t let the ball fall far, before swinging his boot at it, hitting a looping volley that comes back off the wood work.

MT keeper watching his team go close, shouts “unlucky” to his teammate.

Tom’s need to take prescribed medication, means he is off much earlier than normal, in search of
something to take them with, returning not long after with a bottle of water. Not thinking he was eating today, as he puts it he “caught me of guard” when he produces a perfectly formed cheese burger from this coats large left pocket, wrapped up very neatly in white tissue paper.

Unable to eat normally, he is forced to tip his head to one side, to ensure the food doesn’t make contact with his newly acquired cavity. He admits that he may be forced to nibble what he describes as a very “juicy” burger, instead of talking normal mouthfuls.

Seventeen minutes gone, and HB take a deserved lead. “Go on, go on, go on” shouts the HB supporter as the player bares down on goal. He lets rip a high rising shot, the keeper can’t get anywhere near. “We are Haringey, we are Haringey” chants the same fan who was just willing his player on.

Not long after going ahead, we see the kind of save, back pedalling and with one hand he turns over a fierce curling shot, Aki was talking about when he described their keeper as a “great” one. One that makes “massive difference” to the team, one that breeds great “confidence” amongst the “back four”.

DSC_0265The group in the stand, makes sure the man in goal knows how much they appreciate his fine work, “he’s the worlds greatest goalie and plays for Haringey”.

Even though its all HB, they go close again, but the player through on goal is deemed offside, it was tight, if offside at all, they are prone to tiny lapses in concentration. One of which nearly lets MT back into the game when they really have no right to be. The forward drags his shot wide of the post, “oh fuck” shouts the MT keeper in his long black trousers.

It’s all gone very disco in the stand with a chant to the tune of Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘September’, but they don’t have long to indulge their 70’s reminisence, because fifteen minutes after their first, HB add their second and are already starting to look like they might just run away with it.

‘’We are Haringey, say we are Haringey’’ sing the supporters now, before reverting to their previous disco hit.

On the pitch the team are attacking at will, a ball across the box is almost tapped in for a quickfire third at the back post by the sliding number 9, but he just misses it. ‘’This front four!’’ coo’s an impressed Tom. HB’s attack harmoniously finding each other with ease, they look like scoring with every attack. Tom even goes as far as to compare them to the current forward line of ‘’Liverpool’’, but I remind him of a half decent attacking force from much closer by, who aren’t doing too bad, and it’s not got Ramsay and Jack Wilshere in it.

Even though he just nearly conceded a third, MT’s keeper is still moaning about HB’s second which he was sure was offside. He remonstrates with the referee who tells him he ‘’explained’’ why it wasn’t, and to ‘’leave it’’.

Whereas HB look confident and assured, again going close, only for an air shot in the box and a well placed cut back, that two players shout ‘’leave’’ for and both do just that, has stopped them adding a third. When MT do get the ball, which is oh so seldom, they look timid and inevitably give it away. ‘’Sloppy’’ says Tom, the words from the MT bench are I’m sure a little harsher, but I can’t quite make out what the coach is saying to accompany his flailing arms.

For all the things to enjoy like the match, his burger which despite his oral issues Tom finished quickly enough, something is bugging him. ‘’Don’t like a shirt with no sponsor on it’’ he finally declares. HB’s mostly yellow with blue trimed kit is lacking he thinks in its Hewlett Packardness.

MT chalk up their only real chance since the shot that required the impressive save. One on one with the keeper, the forward conspires to drag it wide.

‘’Good way to walk the dog’’ says Tom, as we notice the lady with the large brown K9 pass us again. Tom pointing out that she is “doing laps” while watching the game, killing two birds with one stone.

HB’s number 9 has already scored one and at times is running rings around the MT defence, no more so than when right in front of us, marked by two players, he gives a quick drop of the shoulder, turns them inside out, and leaves them for dead. “Nice!” I shout, one of the MT players maybe only an arms length away from us looks up and smiles, fully aware of having just been what I think you might say ‘done’.

DSC_0331The half finishes with one last offering from the HB fan in the back of the stand, a person from the Brian Blessed school of shouting, “come on Haringey”.

There is no obnoxious half time music at Coles Park, just the noise of the substitutes having a kick about. Before the players were even off the pitch, the calm voice returned over the PA giving the
halftime scores from around the league, but after that it’s just the sound of a football skidding off the 3G and the occasional tweet of a bird, celebrating the fact that the sun is out. “Oh that’s nice”, says Tom. Tilting his face towards it, and closing his eyes.

I’ve not even finished my halftime Polo and the teams are already back out. “Come on Borough”, “come on boys” shout the HB supporters. MT are on the pitch in a loose huddle, being given what you might call a pep talk before the restart. They perform what I can only describe as the hokey cokey. On the signal of the coach in the middle, they all run away from him, before running back towards him, away from him, then back again.

The mild absurdity of this is not lost on the group at the back of the stand, the group who sound like they crammed in at least two pints each at the break, they all let out a sarcastic “wey, wey, wey” on each motion of the warm up.

“Come on, come on” screams the MT keeper, clapping his hands together, looking inevitably a bit like a clown with his big gloves, just before kickoff. He barely has time time however to compose himself, because two minutes later he’s conceded a third.

“We are Haringey, we are Haringey” sing the usual suspects, the cowbell is back out again, and they soon change their song, a bit of Seven Nation Army with an N17 twist, “oh Haringey Borough”.

“Have a bit of pride” says one MT player sheepishly before the restart.

The Earth, Wind & Fire number is a definite fan favourite, but let’s say it’s catchy tune is starting to grate on Tom a little. “Not again” he says as the fans start it up once more. He explains how he’d “just got it out” of his head, and now they’ve just firmly put it back in.

“Really nice goal” says a nearby HB fan, the home team adding to their goal tally with their fourth, that’s two in the opening eight minutes. As Tom puts it HB are “ripping” the visitors “apart”. Back out comes the cowbell and the chant of “we are Haringey”. MT’s keeper is livid, the poor guy is close to breaking point.

What’s rarer, the fact there is blue in the sky, and the sun is out in full force, it’s glorious, or that MT have a chance of a shot at the HB goal? “I didn’t touch him” proclaims the HB player who gave away the foul. The free kick though sums up MT’s day, its woeful, way over. The potential of MT getting a goal back got the home fans worried for a second, “4-0 and we’re still not safe” they sing. A very similar mentality of the fans, me included, of the team who play just down the road.

DSC_0353It’s always great to see fans singing. It is less great however, more awkward when a group of supporters haven’t quite nailed down the lyrics to one of their own songs. Maybe it’s a work in progress, maybe it’s just been hashed out in the queue for the next pint, but the HB fans attempt at a song to the tune of the Happy Days theme song, which has promise, is a bit of a mess as no-one seems quite sure how it goes.

It may have something to do with the fact they just seem to be getting “drunker and drunker” as the games goes on, says Tom.

What a goal, the absolute pick of the bunch, HB’s fifth is one to cherish. From the cross field pass to the left back, his chest control to take it down, to his curling left foot cross of Roberto Carlos’esque curve, to the headed finish, it was sublime. It was the kind of cross that you knew was going to result in a goal, before it was even in the back of the net. Tom thought the crosser had “fucked it” put far too much on it, but holds his hands up as the players dash towards the corner flag to celebrate, the player who whipped it in “saw something” he “didn’t” he says.

HB look deadly, every time they venture forward they look like scoring. “Enjoy yourselves” shouts one fan, I’m pretty sure they are doing just that.

“Heads up” shouts a MT player, it might just be a bit late for that.

HB go close to their sixth, only for a “de Gea” style save, the keeper quick off his line, spreading himself, with the chipped shot hitting him in the chest. Steadily slipping into a state of not remembering how you ended up behind the Cineworld in Wood Green with no trousers on, the HB fans have another stab at the Happy Days chant, but are most definitely too far gone.

Penalty to HB says the referee who Tom says looks like Bradley Wiggins because of his sideburns. Up steps number 9 who strokes it in and “completes his hattrick” confirms the voice over the PA, who is now talking into the microphone, and not just sitting on it whilst its still on.

“Like watching Manchester City Vs West Brom” says Tom, HB have totally dismantled MT. The only difference is there might be more atmosphere here then at the Etihad. You can keep your Poznan jumping, the cowbell is much better “we are Haringey, we are Haringey”.

Fifteen minutes left, MT are in the HB half, “have a shot” suggests Tom, “might as well”. They so seldomly get down that way, what’s the harm in trying. Normal service is though soon resumed. HB almost score an even better goal than their fifth, one with a touch of the “Bergkamp’s” about it, according to Tom. The player making his way into the area, controls the ball with his chest, spins the other way to the ball, and around his marker, but can’t quite add the all important finish.

For all the singing and high spirits of the crowd, the opinion of one quite vocal pitchside home fan is slightly contradictory, “people were booing last time I was here”. Not much chance of that today, the small group of HB fans have decided they are now the “Haringey ultras”, who then give their third and last attempt at the Happy Days song, which to be fair to them is their best rendition yet, but also the drunkest.

It’s positively carnival like in the final minutes before full time, now standing below the “Haringey ultras”, they are their loudest,singing about one of their team who “once scored at Anfield” and who now “plays for the Boro”. Some of that local pessimism though comes to light when MT get to the edge of the HB box, “don’t throw it away” shouts one fan.

DSC_0346“6 – 0 to the Haringey, 6 – 0 to the Haringey” sing the fans, still standing, just, and to no great surprise are the last to leave the stand after the final whistle.

MT’s keeper dashes his gloves to the ground in front of his own dugout, his threshold for punishment has come and gone. There are two contradicting team huddles on the pitch, MT’s is a quiet and solemn one. HB, is the extreme opposite. “Everyone came alive second half” says the manager, but he is soon to remind them not to rest on their laurels, “we go again Monday”.

There are a few more songs from the crowd before the flags come down and for the first time since kickoff, there is a hush about the place, “we’ve got Ralston Gabriel, He’s better than Eusebio, He always scores for Haringey” they sing for the hattrick man, who refers to himself, to his friends as “Tottenham’s Mbappé”.

The mood among the players dips ever so slightly, when the manager reads out the results from the teams around them. They by the looks of it, have not quite gone their way, but they did their part today, so that’s all they can do.

There is not much more I think I can say about this place, the warmth and spirit of this little corner of Tottenham is very special. I know its not particularly picturesque, I know the burnt out shell of the self storage place over the road is a bit of an eyesore, but its the soul of the place, plain and simple. Its the soul, the vibe, the energy, call it what you will, of Haringey Borough that will keep me coming back well after our search has finished, because I think a little bit of me already thinks I’ve found what we’re looking for.

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