FA Cup first round: Haringey Borough eye AFC Wimbledon giant-killing


Haringey Borough’s average attendance has risen from 58 in 2015-16 to 262 this season
FA Cup first round: Haringey Borough v AFC Wimbledon
Venue: Coles Park, Tottenham Date: Friday 9 November Kick-off: 19:55 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Two, the BBC Sport website and app, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

They are one of only a few clubs in the top seven tiers of English football to hand out free season tickets, they have a midfielder who has played against Luka Modric, and five years ago they attracted a crowd of just 17 (seventeen) to a league match.

On Friday, Haringey Borough will host a club record crowd of around 2,500 as the non-league team look to spring an FA Cup first-round shock by knocking out AFC Wimbledon, who play four leagues above them, in a match to be shown live on BBC Two.

Located on White Hart Lane, just over a mile from where Tottenham’s booming 62,000-seater stadium is taking shape, Borough’s Coles Park ground has a main stand with 270 seats.

The only team surviving from August’s preliminary round, Haringey have already created club history by reaching this stage for the first time.

Their run includes a 97th-minute winner at Brentwood Town in the first qualifying round and coming from behind in three of their five games. In doing so, the Isthmian League Premier Division club have earned £57,890 in prize money – a huge amount for a part-time club who cannot afford to pay a wage to all their players.

“We’ve got a few contracted players – the rest are on expenses which covers things like petrol money and buying a pair of boots,” said Tom Loizou, in his 11th season as Haringey manager.

“Even the contracted players are on a bare minimum when it comes to wages.”

The main stand at Haringey Borough which seats 270 fans

‘One of the fastest growing fanbases in the country’

On 26 February 2013, Haringey entertained Biggleswade United in the ninth-tier Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division. There were more players on the pitch than people who paid to watch.

Having spent around £1m on ground improvements, including a new 3G pitch, Borough took the bold decision to give away free season tickets in the summer of 2016 – despite requiring £140,000 a year to keep going.

“We’d spent all this money on a new stadium and had nobody to watch us,” Aki Achillea, a criminal defence solicitor and chairman of Haringey for the past 14 years, said. “I banked on the fact anyone with a free season ticket might buy food and drink.”

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The giveaway has been such a success that it remains in place today. Borough’s average league attendance has jumped from 58 in 2015-16 to 262 this season, and manager Tom Loizou said: “We have one of the fastest growing fanbases in the country.”

With little in the way of gate receipts, however, Haringey have had to be resourceful in terms of raising income.

The club receive a rent for hosting a car boot sale three times a week, while finances are also boosted by hiring out their £500,000 synthetic pitch during the week.

“A few years ago we couldn’t even get a sponsor, people just laughed at us,” 58-year-old Loizou, a former Leyton Orient caretaker manager, added.

“Now we’ve got a van hire company who are in White Hart Lane. Instead of cash, they have given us a mini bus to get the team to away games. We can’t afford a coach to every away match.”

The man who faced Modric

Four years ago Georgios Aresti was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Dejan Lovren.

The central midfielder, born in Limassol, made his one and only start for Cyprus in a 2-0 friendly defeat in Croatia in September 2014.

Four months earlier he had come up against then-Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa when he appeared as a substitute against Japan in front of 58,000 in Saitama.

Aged 24, Aresti is a veteran of almost 100 top-flight Cypriot games – including 43 at Ethnikos Achnas where he was on a £40,000-a-year contract – and joined Haringey towards the end of last season before re-signing in July after a trial at Barnet ended without an offer.

Haringey Borough midfielder Georgios Aresti played against Luka Modric in 2014

Desperate to earn a living playing professionally in England, the former AEK Athens player hopes his performances for Haringey, where he picks up around £100 a game, will lead to greater things.

In September, 18-year-old Haringey defender Themis Kefalas signed a one-year deal with Championship club Queens Park Rangers,