I Was There

Published on November 13th, 2018 | by Shane Willoughby

But can the Dons do it on a rainy Friday night in Haringey?

An FA Cup clash on White Hart Lane? Not at Spurs, surely, because their new stadium remains unfinished, and it’s too soon in the competition.

Instead, the first-round action in N17’s best-known street took place at Haringey Borough FC as they hosted AFC Wimbledon on a filthy Friday night in November.

Being squashed in alongside 3,000 other spectators at The Borough’s compact Coles Park epitomises the gritty appeal of the Cup’s early rounds.

Of course, the famous trophy isn’t alien to north London, with fierce rivals Arsenal and Tottenham having won it 21 times between them.

However, in its first capital derby of the season, the competition was visiting the home of the team sitting in 18th place, in English football’s seventh tier.

Haringey were in the first round proper for the first time in their relatively short history.  Founded in 1973, the club is a year younger than Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley.

Fireworks

As that most English of footballing double acts, wind and rain, went through their paces, the question was: could the League One strugglers do it on a wet night in Haringey?

‘A hoofed clearance into someone’s back garden raised the possibility of a delighted youngster waking up to find a brand new FA Cup ball sitting on their trampoline’

Most of those in a new club record attendance of 2,710 were standing up and getting drenched, while the lucky 250 in the stand stayed nice and dry.

Many fans didn’t even hear the referee’s whistle to start the game over the rumble of buses behind the stadium and racket from a nearby firework display.

As the contest unfolded, it was difficult to tell who was the non-league team and who was the professional outfit unless you were familiar with the home and away colours.

It wasn’t exactly Man City v Liverpool, but the two teams compensated for a lack of quality with plenty of competitive spirit.

However, the shortage of skills on show made for a pretty lifeless first half, and the atmosphere suffered accordingly.

With very little to sing, chant, cheer or even swear about, at one point you could hear construction noise from Tottenham’s new ground half a mile down the road.

Excited

Haringey continued to threaten on the counter attack and could have had a penalty when winger Charley Barker was seemingly tripped in the box at the end of the first half.

Unfortunately, for the majority of the crowd, the ref though otherwise, triggering a Neil Warnock-like protest from Borough boss Tom Loizou.

It was goalless at half-time with neither team really doing anything to excite the fans, although a hoofed clearance into someone’s back garden raised the possibility of a delighted youngster waking up to find a brand new FA Cup ball sitting on their trampoline.

The second half was more of the same, although the fireworks eventually fizzled out. Whoever was putting on the display clearly realised that there wasn’t a lot to celebrate.

Despite a difference between the two teams of around 90 places in the football pyramid, there wasn’t a massive gap in quality, and a fairytale ending was looked to be on the cards as Haringey scored an amazingly well-worked goal in the 70th minute.

Maybe the Wimbledon players had seen the flag anyway, with Joe Staunton in an offside position when he received the ball, but not even a miracle ‘goal’ out of nowhere roused the crowd.

Magical

Haringey will eventually make over £100,000 from this cup tie, which can be used to improve several things to at the club.

‘Mitchell Pinnock’s winner sent Wimbledon to through to the next round and Haringey back to reality’

One thing that doesn’t need improving is their goalkeeper, Douglas Pajetat, who saved several quality shots that would have beaten many goalkeepers at the highest level.

Maybe Hugo Lloris’ understudy Michel Vorm isn’t the second best ‘keeper in White Hart Lane after all…

It looked as if it was going to take something magical to beat Haringey’s No.1 and, for Wimbledon’s travelling fans, nothing was more magical than an off-target shot deflecting past Pajetat in last minute.

If the stadium had felt quiet before, it was as if the home fans fell into a meditative silence as Mitchell Pinnock’s lucky winner sent Wimbledon through to the next round and Haringey back to reality.

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