There’s nothing like FA Cup First Round action. Minnows against the (relatively) mighty, non-league grounds stretched to capacity, dogs in team scarves, a cardboard cut-out of the cup decorated with tin foil and the wafting scent of onions from the snack bar. Haringey Borough’s home game against AFC Wimbledon had all of the above, save for the onions. Instead, with the TV cameras in place, it had a stack of blue-chip advertising around the perimeter fence in place of the traditional non-league fare of local construction companies and skip hire companies.
Coles Park even featured a fan quietly getting on with her knitting before kick-off; a club-record crowd in excess of 2,700 brought something of a carnival atmosphere to North London on a wet and windy night. Despite the big crowd, the club didn’t get lost in the importance of the occasion: securing a ticket (priced at the usual £10) entailed a friendly email exchange with the club secretary Tom Bacon, whose can-do attitude overcame the difficulties of dealing with an out-of-towner asking on the off-chance. However, with 90% of those fans making their first visit to the club (guilty), it was hard to generate the kind of cauldron of passion that really sets up a proper giant-killing. The regulars, behind a banner proclaiming ‘We are the Bell End’ were loud and proud from start to finish, their team rose to the occasion in some style, but this rarely-contested London derby never quite had the edge that could take it from engaging to unforgettable.
It might have been different if Haringey had enjoyed better fortune. Faced with an opponent that physically dwarfed his players, manager Tom Loizou was left trying to play the big but tricky Joel Nouble, brother of former West Ham prospect Frank, out wide with the pacey Mikey Ademiluyi operating through the middle. It posed some questions for the leviathans in the visiting defence, but rarely created clear-cut chances. One tricky Nouble run ended in farce when he collided with Jorge Djassi-Sambu as a shooting lane opened up; Ademiluyi fed Joe Staunton for a clinical finish but the offside flag cancelled out the effort and stifled the roar of the home fans.
Wimbledon, 89 places higher in the pyramid but suffering from miserable form in League One, were far from inspired. At times laborious, intermittently possessed of the class you’d expect from the upper side of a four-division gap, the Wombles escaped with a win thanks to a last-minute goal, deflected, and credited to Mitchell Pinnock.
Harsh on Haringey, who deserved a replay, but also a marker for how far the club has come. This season’s cup run coincides with a crack at the Bostik Premier Division – a high-water mark for a club that last made a profound impact on the non-league game as an FA Amateur Cup Finalist in 1920 (known as Tufnell Park back then, they lost 1-0 to Dulwich Hamlet at The Den). It’s a transformation masterminded by Aki Achillea. Heralded as ‘The best chairman in the land’ by fans, listed as a ‘Person of Significant Interest’ in the club programme, he persuaded Loizou to come aboard in 2008-09. According to the Evening Standard, the prospective gaffer was sceptical, persuaded by the prospect of creating a team, a club, an ethos from scratch. On the night, Loizou said that the club had two fans when he arrived – ‘then one of them died’ – and 40 a couple of seasons ago. Community initiatives like free season tickets (the reason why, in another frequent chant, Haringey is wonderful) and the establishment of youth, reserve and women’s teams have all helped to cement the team’s place in the local community. Crowds are up around the 200 mark – perhaps boosted by being the only team currently playing on White Hart Lane while Spurs await the green light for their new home – and a hefty slice of TV money should secure the club’s status for some time to come.
Coles Park, Haringey, London, England
FA Cup First Round, Nov. 9, 2018
Haringey Borough 0 AFC Wimbledon 1 (Pinnock)