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Clapton 1-1 Great Wakering Rovers (Rovers win 3-1 on Penalties) - Family affair settled from the spot.

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Brian Jeeves scribes his own thoughts and those of one who could be with us.

It’s been 10-years since the old man passed on to “football boot hill” In that time I’ve watched more than a thousand matches, and wished he could have been with me at every one of them. However, tonight, somewhat more than usual, I wish dad was by my side.

The scene is set almost perfectly. We are at his old stomping ground, the Old Spotted Dog, watching his former charges Clapton take on the club I, albeit briefly turned out for Great Wakering Rovers in the Essex Senior League Cup. Trusty sidekick Ed and his son James are with me, as is Scott, a fellow Southend United supporter who is new to all this non-league malarkey. Nonetheless, as I said, it is almost perfect. The empty space wherever, that would once have been filled by the old boy, is tonight tugging at my emotions. Clapton and the Rovers were, and indeed still are very dear to us. He would have loved this, even if (as tonight) it meant missing the England game on the telly!

Although it is a damp and dreek night, the Old Spotted Dog looks rustically splendid (that mean’s “wonderful” to non-league fans and “shit hole” to Premier$hip followers). I‘ve always felt dad’s presence here; it was his original footballing home. He would have been 77 now, and as Ed will verify, he was losing his memory just before his passing. He could barely remember my name, let alone those of the players! We would have heard all his tales by now, along with, “Not like this in my day” and “Would have been a full house back then” for good measure.  While I imagine a spiritual dad waxing lyrical about Clapton and the Old Spotted Dog, I’m mindful that my team in this family affair are the Rovers. I’ll be supporting them tonight, however, in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, I’m standing under the scaffold with home crowd. There used to be a stand here, it was where the old man and me used to watch the matches from, fond memories indeed. Then it strikes me, I will scribe this report as if he was still with us!

Before the game, Rovers player-manager Dan Trenkel admitted to me he’s looking forward to his first experience of the Scaffold Brigada, aka the Clapton Ultras. “I’ve heard loads about them and can’t wait to see what it’s all about” he tells me. The Ultra’s do not disappoint either. Rovers players Billy Johnson and Lewis Sparrow are singled out for good natured “abuse” about their “footballers” hair styles, while the gaffer himself enjoys a chuckle as they belt out a chorus of “How shit must you be, you don’t pick yourself” as he stands in the dugout.

Anyway, I’m rambling, Football, and we’ve got a delay. A saggy goal net at the far end of the ground has troubled the inspecting flagsman. Fortunately, the Ultras come to the rescue, loaning a reel of masking tape that is otherwise used for hanging their flags. With the distressed onion bag repaired we can proceed.  

Opening exchanges are honest and yet scruffy, as one would expect from a clutch of footballers whose combined yearly income is less than Gareth Bale’s pinkie earns in a minute. Clapton probe directly and forcefully for an early opening while the Rovers protect the ball and search for a more cultured build-up, it must be said neither are an easy option on a pitch better suited to growing spuds than playing any form of expansive football.

Gary Paterson sends an effort dangerously across the home side’s goal while Craig Greenwood and Nick Read go close for Clapton. The home side continue to press. Rovers’ goalie Adam Seal is almost caught out by Abs Jarriette. Lewis Sparrow saved the day, heading clear after the loose ball had fallen kindly to Cory Alleyne. Clapton’s positive start appreciated by the Ultras. They burst into a verse of “The Claptonites” shamelessly lifted from a Desmond Dekker track. I envisage the old boy inquisitively asking “What they saying?”  

Great Wakering had found their feet and assail with vigour. Paterson pulled a shot just past an upright, while Billy Johnson’s low drive drew a smart save from Clapton keeper Pepe Diagne. Then Johnson saw another strike fly narrowly wide after being played in by Joe Skeels. Nonetheless, despite the typically sincere non-league approach, the teams disappeared for a half time brew knowing the killer instinct was missing from their respective repertoires.

Clapton emerged from the break looking slightly the sharper. Jarriette scuffed a chance wide while Reiss De Souza headed over after a fine run and cross from Alleyne. The home side went even closer when Seal brilliantly saved Ben Lowes header. Rovers almost opened the scoring when Diagne saved first from Paterson and then bravely as Johnson followed up. It was becoming difficult to see which way the game would swing, however, when Rovers defender Fletcher was adjudged to have fouled Greenwood, whistler Mr Wells had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Duyile kept his cool to beat Seal with the resulting kick.

Great Wakering hit back immediately. Nathan Fletcher headed over following a flag kick from the right, then the big defender moved in to head the visitor’s level after Diagne punch had failed to clear the danger. 

Sensing their team needs some more encouragement; a cry goes up from the home support. “Clapton’s red ‘n’ white”. With all due respect to the other Ultras, this is a far sweeter baritone than heard previous. I’m informed our lead vocalist is Eva. She is surely every football mad blokes dream, a woman passionate about the beautiful game. Ed and I converse on how the old man, somewhat set in his ways, would have perceived this scenario. “That’s a girl singing,” He’d say “And she’s drinking beer from a can,” he would add in aged bewilderment.

Rovers look to finish the tie in regulation time. Skeels sent a shot fizzing over the bar then another attempt past a post after a great build up on the right flank. Clapton’s chance to prevail fell to Cameroon but he fired wide with Seal stranded.

The extra 30-minutes drew us no near a conclusion. Diagne saved bravely from Paterson while Seal used his feet to deny Alleyne.

After one particular jaunt in the Rovers goalmouth, Defender Lewis Sparrow is vocally encouraged for clearing his lines by appreciative teammates. This time the joke is surely on the Ultras, how has it taken them so long to realise the Rovers have a player known as “Spazza” in their ranks?   

A shriek of the whistler concludes 120-minutes football. Our family encounter will have to be settled from the penalty spot. As the players make their way forward one by one, I recalled how dad would predict the outcome of the resultant kick. “He doesn’t look confident,” he’d state, usually just before the player in question smashed the ball convincingly into the top corner. I realise this is something I’ve inherited, unconvincingly predicting, “This bloke will miss” every time one of the gladiators takes the lonely walk forward. AS it turns out, Rovers custodian Adam Seal hold’s his nerve, keeping out two Clapton penalties while another crashes off an upright, sending the visitors though 3-1.

It has been a long, but enjoyable night, but once again, I find leaving the Old Spotted Dog difficult. I take one last look around the old place before disappearing out the gate and past the sadly disused pub. The four of us amble back to the car, but I sense there is one more with us. No one can see him and he cannot be heard, but I know he’s there and I bloody know what he’s saying, “They ain’t as good as in my day!” – Night Dad - Sleep tight xxx

Clapton: Diagne, Naylor, Moore, Lowes, Greenwood, De Souza, Duyile, Cameroon, Jarriette, Read, Alleyne

Clapton substitutes: Bouho, Rungay, Pooley, Coulson, Delovieria.

Great Wakering Rovers: Seal, Pugsley, Read, Artemi, Sparrow, Fletcher, Skeels, Baldwin, Paterson, Hawkins, Johnson

Rovers substitutes: Trenkel, Kent, Smith, Radley, Hepburn

Attendance: 34