Come on Boro! An interview with Tom Loizou

As long-standing readers will remember, Creases Like Knives is based in north London’s Haringey borough – Spurs territory, but also where Coles Park Stadium, home to Haringey Borough FC, is located. Haringey Borough FC has been knocking about under that name since 1973, although its pre-history goes all the way back to 1907.

After last Saturday’s match against Brentwood FC, which Borough won 3–2, we had a chat with their hard-working manager, Tommy Loizou. He told us how hard it is to run a non league club, who his key players are, and about his transfer policy.

Haringey Borough is a fantastic club that is gaining a lot of support in the community through its excellent free season ticket scheme, family ideals and brilliant clubhouse. Get down Coles Park ya bassas!

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How do you feel about today’s game?

I feel relieved. Brentwood FC may be close to the bottom of the table, but I’ve seen their results over the past few weeks, and they’ve been picking up narrow losses against some of the top sides. I also noticed today that they’ve managed to sign on three new players just before this game. That told me they came here trying to get something out of the match – and they nearly did.

When I was watching you guys at the start of the season, the way your team was playing was completely different to today. How come?

After the first game of the season, we had fourteen players out of action for the second game. We’ve been working around the clock to get players fit. Just before Christmas, we managed to get a few back, but not quickly enough. Other players were picking up too many injuries because we’ve been overstretching them with too many games.

However, I managed to make a few good signings. Tosin, the left-back, has been a blessing for us. He had around seventeen games as a right player for Colchester, and we converted him into a left-back. Then there’s Ali, who’s half the size of everyone else out there, but puts in a big man’s performance in every single game.

We had to change our side tactically twice today, and thank god we did because that got us two quick goals. It gave us the breathing space we needed – we were playing defensively today.

In terms of signings, how does it work at this level?

When I was working for Leyton Orient, I was introduced to Vic Nichols. I stayed in touch with him whatever clubs I went to, and he found me some good players, including for the team you’ve seen today.

We just keep our ear to the ground. For example, we heard that Tosin had his contract with Colchester terminated this week. I’ve been looking for a left-back all season, so hopefully we’ll sign him on today. It will make our squad stronger because Tosin can play in all positions, and that’ll put pressure on the other players.

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Do you get affected by the transfer window?

No. We can sign any player we want from the start of the season until the end of March.

When did you come to Haringey Borough FC?

Seven years ago. I was managing Cheshunt, and the chairman said to me, “We’ve got eight games to go, do you want to come down and help us? We only need five left to stay up”. I agreed to help and have been here ever since.

What made you want to stay?

When the chairman asked what it would take to keep me here, I replied that I’m not being bigheaded, but I’ve managed higher sides than this, referring to what I’d done previously at Cheshunt and so on. He offered me a certain percentage of the club. First I thought, well, it’s not worth anything, is it? We’d never had a clubhouse, never had a proper pitch, the place was the pits. But he pointed out that it was worth what I’d make of it. That rang bells in my head, and I took the job on.

So how did you go about getting the club up to scratch?

We had a plan: first of all, I took over the business side. I quadrupled the rent for the car boot sale that takes place on our ground every Saturday. They had a moan about it at first, but it was the only way we could survive. And guess what, from the boot sale profits, we were able to build a clubhouse.

I started mowing the grass myself, freeing up another 300-400 pound a month. Then I came up with the plan of selling car parking space to the local businesses, and I pretty much started running everything myself as the only full-time person. I brush that pitch twice a week. It takes four hours each time, but if it needs to be done for this club to be successful, it might as well be me doing it myself.

My budget has gone up steadily because we hire out our storage containments. This has put in a position where we were confident enough to build the Astroturf. Tottenham Academy now also hire the pitch from 9am until 4pm, so we’ve finally got some steady income from the ground.

We’re not a big enough club at the moment, and we need some volunteers to help out. However, I trust the people I put in place a hundred percent: Johnny Fitzou, Dave Camberbatch, who I worked with at Leyton Orient, and Tucker, who I met this year through Johnny.

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What about the players?

I had a very successful side here two years ago, and we broke all sorts of records. What broke my heart is that some players weren’t dedicated enough, and despite the fact they were good friends of mine, I had to change things around. I’m still in the process of doing this because I’m not one hundred percent happy.

The players have ability, but they’re not consistent enough at the moment. I know that will come when they’re under more pressure after new faces come along – that’s how football clubs work.

Deano is obviously the star, right? He really is everywhere on the pitch.

I’ve had him play for me since the age of 17 – he’s 33 now. He’s the team captain. He’s also a fireman who knows how to talk to people, and they respect him.

What about number 4? He seems to be a bit of a bruiser as well.

Yeah, Ollu is another player who was released from Tottenham. He let me down a couple of times last year by going behind my back and playing for other clubs. We had a big argument, and he ended up leaving. He then promised to sign for me at the start of the season, but let me down again. He got back in touch with the other players, but I told them he’d let me down too many times and that I’d had enough of him.

But in the end, he picked the phone up and apologised, so we got him back playing again. He came back in a terrible state three weeks ago, but played a much better game today. He’s the type of player I have to keep giving games to in order to reap the dividends at the end. I told him I don’t hold grudges as long as he’s honest with me. If players are straight with me, I’ll be as loyal to them as much as football allows you to be.

How loyal does it allow you to be?

You can’t always be loyal: I didn’t want to take the three substitutions I made today off the pitch. They were playing well, but I had to tactically change the side. I apologised for that and explained why. That’s it – you move on.

Anthony McDonald, who scored the second goal, is the best player we’ve ever signed. He’s another one you have to stay on top of. The lads call him a ‘street boy’. While you have to let them have their own head to a certain degree, he doesn’t do the work the physio gives him and is always pulling little injuries. Today was the first game he’s played in three weeks. He’s only had six games all season, and all because of injury. This is a shame because we rely heavily on him.

We’ve had five or six players sent off this year. It’s been their own fault, really. Lack of concentration. The last boy who gave two or three free kicks away during this game got sent off last week with two yellow cards. They often switch off a bit.

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You got promoted last season, so it seems that the club is going in the upward direction. How do you feel it’s going yourself?

Actually, I’ve been lucky because I was at the bottom of the table three months ago. Now, if I was at any other football club, I would have got the sack. But because I work closely with the chairman, he sees how much hard work I put in and knows the problems I had at first-team level with injuries.  We lost four centre-halves due to injuries this season.

Also, you’ve got four or five players out there that are top of the books, but lost their way a little, so I brought them here. I’m trying to give everyone a second chance, and so far it’s paying off.

We’re very close, this football club – you’ve seen my team, we’re like a family. They talk to each other like shit, but you know deep down there’s a lot of care for each other. I haven’t just brought players in from the cold and thrown money at them because it’s not going to work. A lot of them know that Haringey Borough is their last chance.

What do you do to push Haringey Borough FC in the local community?

We work with Tottenham and Southgate College and in partnership with Tottenham Foundation. We have 400 to 500 kids training here during the week. We’ve given them and their parents all a free season ticket each. As we work our way down the age groups, we’re going to do exactly the same thing. That creates awareness in itself.

We’ve given free season tickets away to everybody this year. We usually get twenty people watching us, but there must have been close to a couple of hundred here today. If you come to our under 21s  on Monday, that stand will be packed with kids. We don’t want to make someone aware who lives 50 miles away – we need to engage with the local community.

The under 21s have to come first. Four of them had first-game experience this year, and they’ve been paid for their awards as well. Even today’s opposition team have three ex-Leyton Orient youngsters who have been released. They’re the type of players I’m trying to recruit. We can’t have everybody, but I feel we’ve got the best of the bunch.

Where do you see the club in a year’s time?

We had a very bad start this year. But if we manage to get in the playoffs, that’s our target for this year. I feel we’re good enough to beat anyone in the playoffs. If we get into the Ryman Premier, it’s a different kettle of fish: other expenses will come. Whether we’re quite ready for that I don’t know, but we’re ahead of schedule. If we get promoted, we’ll take it with both hands. If we can’t hack it and have to step down and go back again, at least we’ll have had that experience – so it’s a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned.

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Interview: Girth
Photos: Cockneygirl, except Tom Loizou portrait by Ham & High

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