Two years ago, virtually no one watched historic Clapton who had rumbled and bumbled shambolically along in the Essex Senior League for years as one of the worst teams.
From nowhere, fans priced out of ponce-class football with its stratospheric prices and rapacious commercial fervour suddenly came out of the woodwork to cheer on amateur players on rickety terraces, in the process sparking a renaissance.
Get this: only Brentwood in the 70s have enjoyed such popular attention in the league – and that was only because Jimmy Greaves – JIMMY bloody GREAVES – a football legend, was playing for them.
Suddenly Clapton has found itself in two cup finals in nine days in the merry month of May. Unheard-of ‘success’ that has revitalised a moribund outfit and made east London football next to a boarded-up heap of a pub hip.
It feels like a karmic payback. Fans turn up to support down-in-the-dumps no-hopers. Two years later, word has spread and their, from the outside, idiotic passion for the club has paid off. And the ugly duckling is now strutting into finals as though it was predestined.
The football’s not bad either – the picture at the top of this piece shows Clapton’s Gareth Bale – James Briggs – smashing home a free-kick in this game from 30 yards.
Bucolic Burnham gears up for abig game every season and hundreds of ultras, after a hard morning’s pillaging, arrived, parked up the good ship Skulduggery and made their way to the ground which is next to a not-very-bucolic industrial estate.
The town couldn’t be a bigger contrast with the urban sprawl spawning the two sides in the final. Barking and Clapton – well they aren’t going to be tourist destinations any time soon.
But Burnham, for this competition, acts as the Wembley of the Essex Senior League, hosting teams from across the county for one of the league’s two cup competitions.
The town of roughly 7,500 people, it’s fair to say, was largely oblivious to Clapton’s return to the, ahem, big time.
Clapton reached the final with a win against Essex Senior League champions Haringey Borough, after beating Enfield 1893 in the quarter-finals
The Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy
No alpacas were mauled in the making of the above video. Some 360 fans turned up for the 14th instalment of the final, with the two teams vying for a trophy named after the player and behind-the-scenes figure who helped put Burnham Ramblers where they are. Brasted was on Arsenal’s books before playing for Gillingham and becoming a local legend at this tranquil spot. He died in 2000.
The two sides were the 20th and 21st to play in the final and the trophy – contested by Essex Senior League sides – has been won by teams that have gone on to greater glory in non-league football – AFC Hornchurch, Concord Rangers and Brentwood.
So far, so good but we reckoned without the first half.
You could blame nerves, you could blame a big crowd. But the swelling sea cyclone scuppered any first-half drama.
Barking, playing with wind off the Thames behind them, had most of the game but it was easy to overhit passes and crosses and the resulting spectacle was tame.
It was largely forgettable until Joe Staunton puts Barking one-up in stoppage time.
The ball was difficult to control making it hard for either side to play fluently.
The sides came back out and after 47 minutes, it was 2-0 to Barking when Ben O’Brien hit the ball first time from eight yards after 47 minutes from cross in from right.
A fabulous 25-yard free kick from James Briggs brought Clapton back into the game – see the vid for the strike in all its glory.
But two goals in what seemed like a bat of an eyelid made it 4-1 to Barking after 80 minutes. Former Clapton player Tom Jeffes was played in to score third from six yards and some jiggery-pokery by Glen Golby, who shoved a defender with both hands away from him to create space from which to net from six yards. Should have been disallowed but by then the contest was over.
Later, it was 4-2 after Clapton midfielder Jake Stevens pulled one back with three minutes to go.
No complaints from anyone – the better team won and after an excellent league season Barking certainly deserve to have silverware to show for it.
Yet another amazing performance – by the fans that is. A video will be added tomorrow (Monday).
Clapton’s return to the soul of football’s roots – sorry if this sounds like hippie crud – continues to enrapture most people who stick their nose into the heady cocktail of silly songs, flag-waving and Polish beer breath.
He said: “I’ve been to other Essex league games and there’s only 30 people there. This is great. I’ll be going to next week’s final too.”
That’s when the Tons fans will sail their boat to Brightlingsea for the game against Bowers and Pitsea in the league challenge cup final on Sunday, May 10.