With the football season over prematurely due to the Coronavirus Pandemic I’m in the unusual position of actually having this blog up to date! So to keep the content coming, and for something to do, I’ll do some old grounds and games where there’s a story to tell.
Saturday 1st July 2006 ko 14.00
HARLOW TOWN 0
LINFIELD 2 (McAreavey 42 Thompson 56 )
I’ve never minded pre-season friendlies, and sometimes the fixture Gods do smile on me. I was due to collect my parents from Gatwick Airport in the evening and wanted somewhere suitable to watch the England vs Portugal World Cup Quarter Final on TV. The initial plan was to get to the airport early and watch the game but then Harlow Town rather came to the rescue.
I knew Harlow were due to leave the Sportcentre imminently, so the chance to get in a game there was a priority. But the best bit was that Harlow had pulled forward the kick off an hour so people could watch the England game in the clubhouse straight after their game. I didn’t take much convincing that Harlow could be on the way from Oxford to Gatwick, all you have to do is go the wrong way round the M25!
Now I’m sure many people will take one look at the Sportcentre and see why Harlow moved that September. The fact is that it was Britain’s first purpose-built Sports Centre in one of England’s expanded towns gave the whole thing some historical context, but to be honest any juxtaposition went out of the window the second I headed for the stand.
You do tend to see a few Northern Irish teams in the early part of pre-season as those clubs that will take part in UEFA competitions tend to enter at the earliest point in mid-July and so look for a couple of pre-season friendlies on the mainland. Often they’re in Wales, as the UEFA performance co-efficients are similar and a ferry into Holyhead is easy enough to organise.
I’m not sure why the Irish League champions picked Harlow and perhaps I shouldn’t ponder why. It was just one of those days when everything smiled, the situation, the weather and to throw in the cliche, Irish eyes. Because the Linfield fans absolutely made the day, as Northern Irish fans tend to whenever I encounter them. Here its was during the game, but also afterwards in the bar as we watched Ronaldo wink, Rooney see red, and England depart on penalities (again!)
This game could have, and possibly should have been the final game at the Sportcentre but delays can be close to inevitable it seems so the last game was on 2nd September versus Saffron Walden Town, who in a twist of fate were the opponents when Harlow played their first ever game in 1879. They played their first game at their new home at Barrow’s Farm, now the Harlow Arena on 18th October 2006.
It’s the lot of every groundhopper that on a regular basis we get asked what our favorite ground is, and I promise the Sportcentre has never been mentioned. What this game was a complete bonus and yes I did make it to Gatwick on time, and saved quite a bit on the long stay parking!!