“And the Crazy Gang have beaten The Culture Club!”
A lot of water has passed through the River Brent since Wimbledon pulled off the biggest shock Wembley Stadium had ever seen by beating the all-conquering Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final. Sixteen years after Vinnie Jones’ reducer, Lawrie Sanchez’s header and Dave Beasant’s famous penalty save, the South London club were dissolved, having been moved to Milton Keynes by property developer Pete Winkleman and rebranded as MK Dons. From their ashes rose AFC Wimbledon, a community-funded, fan-owned club that aimed to rekindle the legacy of the Dons, and make history of their own while they were at it. Sixteen years later, AFC Wimbledon find themselves in League One, alongside MK Dons, and on Friday will begin their 2018/19 FA Cup campaign in unfamiliar territory, as they head to Haringey Borough as favourites to reach the next round.
Currently plying their trade towards the wrong end of The Bostik League Premier Division, and yet to win a league game at home this season, The Borough find themselves in the first round of the FA Cup for the first time in their history thanks to a 2-1 win over Poole Town in the Fourth Qualifying Round. Needless to say, the home draw against League One opposition was met with jubilant celebrations from The Borough’s coaching staff, and given the Dons’ current malaise, manager Tom Loizou might just fancy his chances of causing the first big upset of this season’s competition.
Haringey Borough were formed under the name Edmonton & Haringey upon the dissolution of Wood Green Town in 1973, merging with Edmonton FC and taking a place in the Athenian League Divison One. Following a bottom placed finish in 1976, the club rebranded as Haringey Borough and suffered an undistinguished thirty-odd years in the lower reaches of non-league. The transfer to the Essex Senior League in 2011/12 sparked a new era of progress, and promotion to Divison One of the Isthmian League was followed by a play-off victory last season to secure their place in the Bostik Premier.
The club’s upturn in fortunes over the past decade has much to do with the recruitment of manager Loizou. Formerly managing Cheshunt in the Isthmian Southern League Division One, Loizou dropped down a division in 2010 to help the Borough stave of relegation. Initially signed on a short-term deal, chairman Aky Achillea convinced his saviour to stay on at Coles Park by offering a stake in the club. From then on Loizou got stuck in, raising money for a clubhouse by hosting car boot sales at the ground, taking over the groundsman’s responsibilities, and generating money by leasing car parking spaces to local businesses. Thanks to his fundraising schemes, Haringey Borough have now been able to install a 4G astroturf pitch, which they currently rent out to Tottenham Hotspurs academy side.
Loizou has also worked hard to install Haringey Borough at the centre of the local community, working with nearby schools and colleges to set up training sessions for young aspiring footballers, and introducing free season tickets to increase attendances above double-digits. The manager’s obvious passion and dedication to the club is infectious, and has helped in attracting talented players to N17. Loizou rates striker Anthony McDonald as one of the most technically gifted players he’s seen in non-league football, and Borough’s fans clearly agree, voting him Supporters Player of the Season in May.
Whilst Haringey are undoubtedly a club on the up, the media circus surrounding their FA Cup First Round meeting with AFC Wimbledon has caught some supporters by surprise. We caught up with newly-established Haringey Borough webzine #UpTheBoro to find out how the fans were feeling about Friday’s showdown.
“A lot of the Borough faithful would possibly have preferred a fun away day to a football league club, but this was exactly the sort of draw the chairman wanted. The cup run is obviously huge for the club. Aside from the money we’ve earned – which by my calculation is between two and five years’ gate receipts for a club at this level – it’s a massive opportunity for a club that is frequently overlooked by the local community to really create a buzz around it.”
“The run itself has, in all honesty, been extremely kind. We played four out of five qualifying round ties at home, and four out of five against sides further down the pyramid. So although I’d love an upset, it’s more hope than expectation at our end. As far as the match goes, we’re on our own pretty dire run of form. The big question for us is if Georgios Aresti – a former Cypriot international – will be fit. He’s the sort of player with the capacity to engineer a shock.”
It’s fair to say that Loizou’s team have ridden their luck so far in this year’s competition, having been a goal down at Brentwood Town in the First Qualifying Round, before goals from Chinedu McKenzie and Femi Akinwande in the 89th and 97th minutes turned the tie on its head. In the victory over Poole Town that sealed their place in the First Round Proper, The Dolphins’ Richard Gillespie was played clean through on goal with a chance to double the visitors’ lead, only to see his effort hit the post. Thirteen minutes later, Haringey had scored twice to seal a famous victory.
The Borough will certainly need a slice of luck if they’re to pull of a major shock in the First Round, though in AFC Wimbledon they face a side desperately low on confidence. The Dons suffered a horrendous October, losing six out of six in League One, and have only won twice in the league since the opening day of the season. Manager Neal Ardley, who’s been entrenched in the Kingsmeadow dugout for since 2012, looks like he may be running out of goodwill with supporters, and defeat at Coles Park could well spell the end of his time in charge.
Regardless of the result, it looks like being a special night in North London, with Haringey’s current attendance record of 1,133 – against Leyton Orient in last season’s FA Trophy – set to be smashed. Combined with the £75,000 transmission fee the club will earn from the BBC, this season’s FA Cup run has already proven a money-spinner that could prove vital for the Borough’s progression. The £38,000 prize money for reaching round two will pale into insignificance should Loizou and his team do the unthinkable.