School’s Out!

Middlesex County Football League – FC Romania v Willesden Constantine FC
Saturday, 26th May 2012, 3pm
Coles Park (Haringey Borough FC)
Distance 26 miles, Attendance 39 (headcount)
For those of a certain age, and hair length, the prospect of Alice Cooper screaming “SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER” into the mic, is reason enough to tear about in their double-denim finery. In 1972, in my first ever school summer holiday, I didn’t get it. Influenced by parents and an older sister, Alice probably wasn’t on my radar; our house listened to something far more wholesome (probably best to point out that we still don’t see eye-to-eye on music, not completely).
Every year since then I’ve heard Alice’s refrain, generally emitting from the mouths of strange youths swaggering en masse down footpaths. Of course school hasn’t been blown to pieces, and those same students who’ve just spent a day scribbling over perfectly good shirts, will be back to sit Alevels a few months later, but hey, let’s not spoil their fun.
Back in my 1970s summers I felt no rebellion. The days were long, and hot, and the local neighbourhood rode their bikes until mums called us in for dinner. Yesterday, at Coles Park, it was these summers, not Alice’s, that were to be relived.

Nearing the summit of the escalators at Wood Green tube station I could hear gentle music piping from speakers. Outside in the glaring sun the streets were alive, and the pavements rammed. Families were out shopping, groups of children talking excitedly at strange volumes, loud cars with tinted windows gliding the streets bumper to bumper, and rappers demonstrating their skills (which I also don’t get) outside The Vue.
Resisting the temptation to pop into the cinema and point out the error of their spelling I strolled east towards the last league game of London’s football season. Down Lavender Hill, then Perth Road, turn right, past the allotments and there it was. No I wasn’t heading for Spurs (that’s not on White Hart Lane) this was Step 7 joy, ten levels below the premier league. Wandering the through those streets it was wonderful not to see a single premier league shirt. In fact the only kits I saw ere those of Argentina and Barnet. One was being dragged along by a parent, and the other was going my way, literally. I passed a Ladbrokes window displaying no odds for the big final match, then the imposing Crown Court with their overgrown gardens, and row upon row of identical houses all trying to look different. (The weetabix look, I sort of get it, but painting bricks and then the mortar to refresh walls???)
Standing, camera in hand, at the allotment fence I could see the main stand and floodlights towering skyward. At the entrance the last remnants of a market were being cleared and the two teams gathered themselves; one in the shade of the stand, the other in the disproportionately large car park. It was fairly empty, though when asked, Willesden’s coach confirmed I was in the right place.

    

Three sides of the ground make for a perfect drive-in experience whilst the other is dominated by a stand in need of maintenance, the cafe and changing rooms. Not a cloud in sight, and little more than a gentle breeze. It was hot. The pitch in the middle was bone dry. I didn’t envy those about to play out there.
Paying my £2 programme entrance from the club shop-come-car bonnet (I’ d later see one exchange hands for a fiver, such was the demand), I grabbed a cold drink from the cafe where groundhoppers were putting the national game to right, and took a seat outside. It felt like so many sporting experiences I’d had abroad, in Africa and Asia and the Caribbean, but nothing like the English game. It wasn’t just the weather it was the laidback mood emitting from everyone. Clearly we’d all come, without allegiances, to enjoy the final game whilst soaking up the first rays of summer. FC Romania v Willesden Constantine. NE London v NW London, 2nd v 4th, and nothing to play for ‘cept pride.
Eventually kicking off what should have been an even contest, the Romanians started the better, looking quicker to comes to terms with the conditions. Their passing and movement off the ball was just both nimble and quick though none were named Jack. Within four minutes they had the ball in the net, twice. The second was rightly ruled out for offside. I’d like to tell you who scored but no team sheet existed and bizarrely the programme told us nothing at all of the opposition, save their name on the cover (which was spelt wrong). From then on, the half proceeded in end-to-end fashion, but as it meandered on to the break the pace lessened in the heat, whilst the referee induced stoppages increased. I suspect the latter was so he could catch his breath. In forty minutes, the only interruption to this pattern was a second goal. Just before the break a goalmouth scramble ensued with a least one possible handball on the line, but the ball was eventually forced home by the Romanian number 9 (nope, no idea).
At halftime the Romanians headed for the shelter of the changing rooms whilst Willesden camped out in the shade of a tree on the far side of the pitch. I had seen this before, but only in some far flung corner of the planet.

Rest over we all headed back to our perch; me, James, Mike, Barnet Tom, Posty and few others. The players were all out. Everything was set… apart from the officials. Eventually they emerged and off we went again, but before anything could happen, the Willesden bench stopped play for a double substation. Why they couldn’t do this a minute earlier, IN HALFTIME, I have no idea. In the interval, the Romanians had made a change themselves replacing the immense Teodor Ursachi with a keeper, who would merely be describe as tall. Again the match was end-to-end, and again the Romanians were a little sharper. Ten minutes in, they bagged a third courtesy of number 8 (no I can’t be clearer than that). “REF!!! What about the shirt pulling there?” came a scream from the away bench, to little effect.

It seemed to be all over, but with just over twenty minutes left the Willesden side (who didn’t deserve to be three down) turned the game on its head. First up number 11 got what we all thought was a consolation. Five minutes later came one of the best taken goals I’ve seen all season. As a cross came over, a Romanian defender chested the ball down, but before he could hoof it away, up stepped the Willesden number 11 to smash a half volley into the top corner. It was a goal we’ve all scored, in our dreams. Then came captain marvel, the number 5. He’d had a fair game in defence but now, in attack, he again lead by example with a perfectly placed shot.

So, with ninety minutes gone, we’d sat beneath hot sun and clear blue skies, drinking fizzy pop, watching a great all action second half, in a three–all draw. This is what football should be like. We’d all leave games content if it was (even if we didn’t know who was who). Then, with seconds remaining, as we were congratulating ourselves on having seen one of the games of the season, Romania tapped in the winner (I don’t even know the number this time). Moments later the ref blew up (not literally but it’s an amusing thought) and we made our way back to Wood Green.
Finishing with a seven goal thriller, in the warm summers sun, the season was now really over. School was out (until August); it was, as Rick said, time for us to “Let all your hairs out! Do whatever you want!” I felt good, good like I had in the 70s after an afternoon out on my bike. This time it was my wife was calling… with Edison Lighthouse running through my mind, I made my way home for dinner.

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