One damp night, whilst stepping softly towards Finsbury Park station, a distant primal roar pierced through the depressing solitude of Blackstock Road. Aggressive shouting followed.
Although difficult to locate, the roar inspired Baconesque images of sadistic violence contrasting with the darkness and calmitude of my immediate surrounds.
I surmised Arsenal fans, hooligans, beer and muscle, located at some distance.
It was, instead, clans packed into terraced shells, into Blackstock Road’s insalubrious coffee houses.
Through shop windows could be seen black leather, broad shoulders supporting craned necks and heads of black curly hair facing TV screens suspended from ceilings.
As I progressed past one such café, five or six men quickly exited, three in front and two behind. I shared a smile with a passer-by, who like me, was suspecting ambush, stunned by the suddenness with which he had become the filling in an Algerian sandwich.
I maintained my walk, affecting to be unaffected, expecting to be jumped at any second. But that second never came.
I looked behind me to see more men coming out on to the street, milling around the bottleneck, formed by a traffic island at the point Blackstock Road merged with Rock Road.
My inner anthropological policeman was demanding an ethnographic stop and search; I leant against a wall watching proceedings develop from afar.
A car drove past from the station end, and stopped amongst the growing crowds. The crowds poured good spirits over the driver and passengers. Seconds later another car came past, horns beeping, outstretched arms protruding from the window.
Within minutes and as I slowly sauntered back towards the traffic island the street was teeming with Algerian men, athletic, young, dressed in greys, blacks and murky colours mirroring the dirty darkened mess of Blackstock Road.
They spilled on to the road, halting each car at this celebratory checkpoint, whether Algerian or otherwise. Traffic jams, disgruntlement amongst bus drivers setting out from Finsbury Park station and a small army of Metropolitan ushers were the natural consequence.
1-2-3, viva Algerie! The congregation shouted, half English, half French.
As one Algerian clambered up on to a lamp post from where he waved the green, white and red flag, another turned to me, laughed and said “Please forgive us. Algerians, we are crazy!”
Another guy, seeing I had a camera, struck a pose. Yet another guy hugged me, and still another clenched fists with me and we clashed chests in salute. I felt great.