Nestled between rows of houses on streets named after British castles is Earlsmead Stadium, rumoured to lie atop an ancient battlefield where once the hundred of Gore fought a bloody battle in the ninth century.
Although the drums of war have not been beaten in the field for centuries, when Saturday comes, drums can still be heard, drums that shake the bones and rally the blood. On Saturdays, the drums beat for another conflict, for different soldiers, the hundred may be gone but their legacy lives on; Earlsmead is home to The Reds.
Formed in 1933, Harrow Borough F.C., then called Roxeth F.C., was the second oldest of the borough’s football teams. The oldest, Wealdstone F.C. was formed in 1899, but since they moved to Ruislip’s Grosvenor Vale in 2008, Earlsmead is now Harrow’s last bastion of quality league-tier football.
But despite their monopoly on football in the borough, numbers at the turnstiles have dwindled in recent years and faced with an aging board of members and fans, the club is in need of “fresh ideas” to make to its centenary.
Peter Rogers has been on the club’s board of directors since he turned 18 in 1967. Three weeks ago, his achievement as one of most senior board members of an English team was celebrated in a naming ceremony for his 50th anniversary at the club. Becoming club chairman in the 80s, Rogers tells me one of his proudest moments in the clubs history was when they won the 1984 Isthmian league by 17 points.
Rogers is spry and speaks with a gentle tone, he says his tenure as chairman has been “too long,” and that “The level of support is diminishing” like many local clubs around the country, Harrow has had to deal with demographic change; immigration, emigration and families between towns and cities. Coupled with the advertising onslaught of national teams, people are less interested in local football nowadays, after all, why support a local seventh-tier team when you could support an internationally celebrated team like Arsenal or Chelsea?
But Rogers does not dwell on the past, living in an ever-changing community and in the shadows of London’s behemoths is a fact of life for local teams, they must either adapt or disappear.
And to their credit, Harrow F.C. have adapted; aside from a pitch suitable for over 3000, Earlsmead also boasts a hall for functions and weddings, and two bars. On top of that, the pitch can also be hired with all proceeds going towards the upkeep of the club and players’ salaries.
This is more than just a means to an end, however, this is local symbiosis, the community supports the club and club supports the locals: “We’re always open to assisting the locals, anyway we can” says Rogers.
Last Saturday, Earlsmead once again reverberated with fanatic drums and the bardic poetry of football chants. Beneath the halo of the floodlights, Harrow Borough played Dorking Wanderers. Wearing their traditional colours, The Reds got off to a poor start, conceding three goals and scoring two in the first half. But as they say, football is a game of two halves and whatever speech they were given during half-time worked because Harrow came back strong in the second half, playing offensively and equalising. Alas, mere minutes before the whistle went, the home stand was turned into a library as Dorking scored their winning goal.
Yet the drums didn’t stop.
At the far end of the stands was a group of young lads, “Kids” by the standards of the rest of the fans, 18, 19, a few maybe in their 20s loud and boisterous, nearly all the noise at the stadium that day was theirs. “The youngsters are the future of the club,” Rogers tells me: “and it’s great that we have got a group of youngsters that come through now, slightly different ideas to ourselves but they’re very joyous and do support the club well.” There’s hope yet for Harrow Borough F.C. hope that a new generation of locals and football-lovers will carry the club to its centenary, after all, it’s only sixteen years.
By Bamdad Fard