Tons of fun at the Old Spotted Dog  – Clapton 0 Tower Hamlets 1

Famous West Ham fan Russell Brand has called for a Revolution – half a mile away from Upton Park, a club’s fans claim to be doing just that.

Forest Gate, East London: the local club, Clapton FC have been playing here since 1888.

Premiership dandies the Hammers, just a stroll down Upton Lane is £43 a ticket. Here it’s £6 and people are starting to come in their droves.

The Old Spotted Dog

Clapton FC, The Spotted Dog InnWith a name that sounds like it is an old music hall song, the venue is said to be the oldest sporting venue in London in continuous use: the ground has been Clapton’s home since the nineteenth century, ten years after the club’s formation in Hackney.

Teams who come here looking to keep a clean sheet have competition. There’s already a bus parked here 25 yards from the Scaffold shed/stand next to the dugouts.

Tons of history

Clapton are steeped in it. No point providing chapter and verse. Some high points: first British team to play abroad in 1890, in Belgium. Played Spurs in the 1899 FA Cup in front of 12,000. Reached the  third round of the cup in 1925.

They’ve won five FA Amateur cups, the last in 1925, beaten Ajax (1927) and hosted the Amsterdammers in the 1920s.

Several England internationals and, glory be surely the club’s greatest achievement, one Welsh one too. In 1894, as the history site says: 

“Clapton have also supplied Wales with an International player. Samuel Gillam won the last of his 5 Welsh caps whilst playing his club football for the Doggies.”

“Doggies” – now that’s a better nickname for the side than the current “Tons”, I reckon.

Woof woof, like it.

The ground’s proximity to Upton Park means Hammers like Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst have played here.

Last senior success was in 1989 when the Essex Senior Trophy was claimed. But history only counts for so much. The club dropped to the Essex Senior League after 100 years in the Isthmian League. In their ninth season of this league, they’ve usually finished in the bottom three.

Until last year, when tenth out of 20 was achieved, as fan basis started to rocket. Or as one of them says:

Clapton Ultras

In 2012, a group of fans chose to follow the club and word has spread. To a newcomer it appears that most are 20-something hipster lefties, largely middle class. Dulwich Hamlet appear to have a similar fan base and indeed sing the same songs.

Fans are a mixed bag – Polish, Italian, Jamaican, quite a few Welsh exiles and, my favourite story: “I started coming after I got a letter from Carshalton Athletic, banning me.”

Football has often attracted right-wing, violent headbangers, some of whom have targeted Clapton’s crew. Fans here are left-wing and engagingly loopy. Due to a cool relationship with the club head honcho Vince McBean, the ultras bring their own alcohol into the ground and clear up after themselves.

It’s all very friendly.

Bring on Tower Hamlets

Least entertaining of the four Clapton games I’ve seen this season but a great turnout from fans made up for that.

The pitch wasn’t waterlogged – a problem throughout February – the ground was hard, occasionally making the ball spring up hard, making it difficult to control. A bobbly surface also led to a rash of shinners and hopeful punts instead of controlled passes.

A defensive mix-up after about 30 minutes (on the video at 1:20, squint hard and you’ll see it) allowed an edge-of-the-box shot from Tower Hamlets’ Sunday Wasiu – great name, great goal – angled accurately across the home keeper for the only goal of the game.

About right that Hamlets went in one up.

It was International Women’s Day, so that meant, at half-time, an appropriate singsong in the Scaffold:

After the break, Clapton never had enough time on the ball in the midfield to play killer passes, as Hamlets’ workaholic ethic was impressive, with the visitors never losing composure or shape.

Clapton defender Luke Kanjor was sent off when the ref felt he had denied a goalscoring opportunity and that led to Clapton posting their centre-half Eamon Payne, the most impressive player on fiew, up front.  But the visitors held on and were good value for victory making the most of their luck and defending pluckily.

Eamon Payne heads jsut wide for Clapton in the first half
Eamon Payne heads jsut wide for Clapton in the first half

The traditional post-match player-fan singsong when fans and team all holler joyously was scrapped for this match as the defeat led to a couple of home players heading straight to the dressing room.

But there was time for some home thank-yous from the players. Roughly 300 fans turned up – a crowd that dwarfs many sides further up the non-league pecking order.

So if Russell Brand fancies a taste of Revolutionary football, he’ll need to take a packet of pasta or a can of beans along if he goes along this month – collections are being made for migrants and asylum-seekers. The club’s remaining HOME games this month are:

  • Tue March 10 – Greenhouse London
  • Sat March 14 – Basildon U
  • Tue March 24 – London Bari
  • Sat March 28 – Enfield 1893



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