When I was a kid, there were very few girls my age in my neighbourhood, and most of my playmates were football-obsessed boys. Up to the age of around 11, I used to spend most afternoons playing with them in the streets nearby. Our homes were huddled at the end of a dead-end road, where we’d mark goalposts with two rocks we could barely tell from the tarmac; every time the ball slipped to the other end of the street, one of us had to run after it down a steep slope, and pray they would catch it before it hit a passing car. At home, winning at FIFA ’98 on my desktop computer was to me as easy as styling outfits for my scant bunch of Barbie dolls. Easier, perhaps; if those dolls could talk, they probably wouldn’t be too appreciative of the radical haircuts I once gave them.
I never really developed a sense of style, but thanks to the boys next door, I knew things that saved me from the downfalls of being a massively awkward, slightly geeky pre-teen. Along with a repertoire of swear words, I learnt a huge amount of stuff about football, some of which I still remember to date. Players’ names, national team squads from all over the world, game stats, the latest news from the transfer market. Our local team, Udinese, was in its golden years back then: third in the ’97-’98 Serie A (the Italian Premier League), a contender in the UEFA cup for the first time ever, and the springboard for many little known, talented players that would later become international stars. Foootball quickly became the talk of the town; even my mum (who used to root for Inter Milan in the ’60s and ’70s) regained the interest she’d long lost, and began taking me to home games when the weather was nice enough to sit in the uncovered stands.
Fast-forward a couple of years. Gaming got replaced by volleyball practice, and I’d only ever be allowed to play defense in schoolyard matches, because no one trusted girls to score goals. I hadn’t gone to the stadium since Udinese lost 5-1 to Milan in 1999, and my mother decided she couldn’t cope with defeat: a constant for the team until 2005, when they qualified for their first-ever Champions League. I still watched football on TV, though. Every two years, I’d devote the beginning of the summer to watching as much of the Euro or World Cup as I could fit in one day. I even had a school (girl) friend whom I live commented matches with, using up our 100-free-SMS-a-day package on a daily basis; the beep of my old Nokia 3310 felt much more thrilling than any social media notification ever did.
2002, the year of the Korea World Cup, was also the year I read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, and warmed up to his writing. It wasn’t long before I bought Fever Pitch: Hornby’s heartfelt, hilarious memoir of a lifetime as an Arsenal fan, which gifted me with most of what I know about British football to date. Yes, I might need a few updates – but what does it matter, when football still gets me out of conversations? I’ve recently found myself mentioning Fever Pitch to a client, who was about to take his kids to their first Arsenal game. I’m telling you, guys, that book is a gem. If you’re not interested in football, read it for Nick Hornby’s writing, witty and brilliant like it hasn’t been since the late ’90s and About a Boy. Jesus, already. Just read it.
That was a long preamble for a restaurant review, but I thought you needed to know. You see, the first thing I thought when I stepped into Piebury Corner was “This could have come straight out of Fever Pitch“. Walking distance from the Arsenal stadium? Check. Arsenal memorabilia hanging on the walls? Check. The peculiar feeling that, if you don’t get the pun in the name, you’re not really entitled to step inside? Check. And coming back to the book, there’s a chapter called The Greatest Moment Ever, where Hornby recalls the frenzied celebrations of fans after Arsenal won the Double in 1989. I can imagine that army of supporters heading down the road to a place like Piebury Corner, to get a bite after the match that won the Gunners the Championship.
I stumbled across Piebury Corner by sheer chance, and my first reaction was “Wait, what?”. I used to go to uni up the road, have walked from Holloway to Highbury loads of times, and can’t recall ever noticing it. Looking back, I feel pangs of regret for all the time I spent hidden in the library, feeding myself off one cookie and one cup of tea a day, because I had no time to pack lunch at home and no guts to brave a supermarket Meal Deal. Where the hell was Piebury Corner when I needed it? Right where it is now, it seems. Shame on me.
My greatest source of fun during my visit was looking at the pies on display, and spotting the connections with the Arsenal stars they’re named after. If you fancy fish pie, you might want to order a “Sole Campbell”. You’ll see the “Vieira’getarian” among the meatless options, and one of the pies with cheese is called “Wenger Knows Best”. I’m not too sure about that; I know better than to order anything with stilton – but that’s just me being fussy. My favourite pun, however, is the one on the window. Please write it on my business card, or my grave, or something. I wish I’d thought of it myself.
As for the food, it won’t let you down if you’re looking for a quick, filling and reasonably priced bite. I’m sure the place is packed on match days, and I’d pick it over most of the pubs in the area any time (Piebury Corner offer a nice range of bottled beers and ales, too). The menu features pies, sausage rolls, pasties and salads; I went for a chicken, ham and leek pie (the “Dennis Bergkamp”), generously stuffed and packed with plenty of flavour (I ordered it without gravy, and didn’t miss it for a second). The roast potatoes, on the other hand, were a bit dry. My guess is they were soft and plump the moment they came out of the oven, and didn’t take well to being reheated. Value for money is still good, though, as a pie and a side cost around six pounds if you’re eating in. The next time you’re on Holloway Road, and need something to eat that won’t break the bank, think twice before you step into the nearest supermarket or sandwich shop. You’d be making a gravy mistake if you settled for that (see, I can do puns, too).
209 – 211 Holloway Road
London, N7 8DL
(nearest tube stations: Holloway Road, Highbury & Islington)
Open Thursday to Saturday, 12noon – 9pm; also open on all Arsenal home game days, and later for evening games
020 7700 5441