Stanway Rovers 0-1 Clapton - Little wonders.
Brian Jeeves reporting on the oldest cup competition in the world with an Olympic hero.
Best laid plans and all that. This week, I was supposed to be scribing my thoughts on Clapton’s Essex Senior League Cup tie with Great Wakering Rovers. However, what with the Tons and Stanway Rovers drawing a blank with their FA Cup extra preliminary Round conundrum, East London has been swapped for the suburbs of Colchester as the latter pair look to settle their tie once and for all. Nonetheless, when one door closes, another opens. Not only has Saturday’s goalless draw at the Old Spotted Dog offered me and trusty footballing companion Ed our first real cup match of the season, it has also given me the chance to catch up with Paralympian, Zoe Newson.
On arrival at Stanway’s neat Hawthorns ground, I glance behind me at the queue at the turnstile; there is a look of apprehension on people’s faces, although this may be more down to the rapidly diminishing pile of programmes. Ed is standing behind me and I know the workings of his warped mind, he’s likely to say, “17 please mate” when offered a matchday magazine, before turning to the gasping line and grinning like a Cheshire cat. However, on this occasion he settles for a single copy much to the relief of the masses.
We pass through the turnstile and meet up with our Olympic hero. 21-year old Zoe Newson qualified for the games after being ranked in the top 8 in Britain, taking the only position in the women's under 40 kg category.
A Paralympian due to a growth hormone deficiency, Zoe, along with countless other athletes, captured our hearts and imagination during London 2012, where she won the Bronze Medal after equalling a personal best lift of 88kg. She is an inspirational figure as both a sports person and role model. Her statue never seems to have been a hindrance. “The other kids were careful with me at school,” she tells me. Indeed, it was during her time at East Bergholt High School, Newson discovered her talent for the weights and joined the Suffolk Spartans. As we talk about her path to Olympic glory, Zoe offers me and Ed an amazing opportunity to hold her precious medal. I take the gong in my hands but refrain from placing it around my neck “You earned that honour, I’m not worthy of wearing it” I tell her, although I add that if I had won it, I would never take it off!
Nevertheless, why do we find an Olympic hero at a somewhat underwhelming FA Cup match between two minnows the vast majority present at May’s final have never heard of? Away from competing, Zoe has a passion for non-league football. She can often be found watching her brothers, Ben and Sam, playing for Heybridge Swifts and Needham Market respectively. Previously, they had turned out for Stanway; as a result, Zoe continues to lend them her support as well. I ask her thoughts on the evenings encounter “Hope for a Stanway win and don’t want the game spoiled by a poor referee” she tells me.
Early exchanges were much as one would have expected. Plenty of honest endeavours, but little in the way of quality as the players struggled with the hard surface. Passes went astray and clear chances were at a premium. The importance of the games, even at this stage, is huge. Prize money of £1,500 can make a big difference as does the gate money from a bigger than usual crowd.
Stanway Rovers were looking slightly the stronger. Stuart Fergus blasted over, then Hassan Ayrten fired agonisingly across the face of goal after a surging run.
The home side continued to press. Ben Parkin drew a spectacular save out of Clapton’s Pepe Diagne, while Chris Thomas’ headed effort was deflected wide. At the other end, Abs Jarriette’s quick feet carved out a chance, which warmed the fingers of Luke Banner.
The Rovers rearguard did well to contain the talents of Jarriette and Raphael Duyile while continuing to create the lion’s share of the opportunities themselves; this didn’t stop the travelling Clapton “Ultras” (numbering three) from chanting “You’re not very good” at the home side. The Ultras have certainly helped put Clapton back on the map, indeed the club are starting to gather something of a cult following. On Saturday, a group of German St Pauli supporters set out to watch Queens Park Rangers, but ended up at the Old Spotted Dog after seeing a flyer for the original tie. A bit of a snub for Championship outfit, dare I say like, oh I don’t know, Scott Parker rebuffing you for Fulham!
Stanway continued to knock at the door. Diagne saved from Fergus, then the big keeper did well to deny Adam Brotherton twice and Lauris Coggin as the homsters turned the screw. The home side’s dominance brought the crowd to life, but they took a collective deep breath as Jarriette’s shot flashed narrowly wide after the clever wide man had dashed into the box.
As teams left the field for a well-earned half time brew, we caught up with Zoe by the tea bar. She was happy with the opening period and singled out Clapton’s Diagne and Nick Reap for special praise. Having scribbled Zoe’s analysis into my note pad, Ed and I headed back to the stand armed with tea and a bacon roll.
Stanway had enjoyed the better of the first half, but it was the East Londoners turn to shine. Reap was snubbed out after being teed up by Jarriette, then Banner raced from his goal to save the day and clatter Jarriette in the process. Nevertheless, the balance of power had shifted, and as we approached the hour mark, a golden moment crystallised the tie. Neil Matthews won possession before sending a dipping 25-yard strike beyond the extended Banner and high into the net. The visitor’s celebrations easily matched that of any cup final as players mobbed each other and the “Clapton 3” staged a mini pitch invasion. Minutes later, Reap had an opportunity to put the tie to bed, but pulled his shot wide, drawing an “Oooo” from the Ultras.
Realising the match was slipping away, Stanway piled forward. Diagne made a brilliant double save to deny Brotherton and then Coggin. Then after substitute Jake Plane had seen Sam Naylor block his shot, Brotherton and Diagne resumed their personal duel, with the keeper once again coming out on top.
It was “kitchen sink” time for Rovers, with Clapton happy to soak up the pressure and play on the break. Twice the visitors could have put the tie out of reach, firstly Billy Rungay fired over, and then Jarriette was denied by Banner after outfoxing the Rovers backline.
Clapton keeper Diagne had long since claimed any man of the match award, his final save of the evening his most impressive, foiling Jack Harrington with his fingertips. The home crowd were incensed after Clapton’s Dean Bouho clashed with Brotherton. Both were treated for cuts, however, Brotherton had to leave the field with a serious facial injury, we wish him a speedy recovery.
The final whistle brought about wild celebrations and another pitch invasion. We caught up with Zoe “A good game, although perhaps Clapton should have had a man sent off” her post match verdict. We also managed to grab a few words with the Clapton Ultras. These guys epitomise the enjoyment of football, they are passionate with a sense of fun thrown in, an ingredient sadly lacking in higher realms of our national game.
Overall, it had been a decent night. A candid FA Cup encounter, settled by a honey of a goal with tea, a bacon roll with an Olympic medallist thrown in, and I still saw change out of a tenner! Now tell me, what Premiership match offers you that value?
Stanway Rovers: Banner, Ince, Blanchette, Fitzgibbon, Ribchester, Parkin, Fergus, Coggin, Thomas, Brotherton, Ayten.
Stanway Rovers substitutes: Plane, Springett, Beecham, Harrington, North, Shaikly.
Clapton: Diagne, Naylor, Hughes, Matthews, Greenwood, Tacey, Jarriette, Pooley, Kanjor, Reap, Duyile.
Clapton substitutes: Rungay, Alleyne, Moore, Bouho, Arundell, Boetang.
Zoe Newson Olympic interview - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Z_10XaeWns
Stanway Rovers 0-1 Clapton –The winning goal - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQj3SuVv6tI&sns=fb