London Calling – Part 2 A date with destiny
By Brian Jeeves
Forget your West Ham’s, Tottenham’s and Arsenal’s, if it’s a real piece of the Capitals football history you want then look no further than the Old Spotted Dog, Upton Lane, Forest Gate.
Yep, Clapton Football Club is special. Not only do they play at the oldest senior ground in London, dating back to 1888, but they also boast a rich history including International players, historic European tours and a clutch of honours. However, why do I have a soft spot for them? Simple, they were my dad’s local team, not only did he watch them as a child, but also turned out for the club’s youth and reserve team’s under an assumed name so that his step-father didn’t find out that he was playing football! During my own childhood, dad and I could often be found at the Dog, watching Clapton in the Isthmian League, pitting their wits against the likes of Leytonstone and Walthamstow Avenue.
Thirty-odd years later and things are very different. The old ground is looking a bit worse for wear and the team are perennial strugglers towards the foot of the Essex Senior League. Not only that, but since those glorious day’s at the Dog with dad, I have acquired a grim supporters’ statistic, I have not seen them win for 29-years!
Pretty bad huh! Well it gets worse! I’ve not seen them win at the Old Spotted Dog for 30-years, yes, I guess I’m the unluckiest follower in Clapton’s history. Of course, the last time I witnessed a victory I was supporting the other side! Clapton’s last couple of triumphs with yours truly in attendance were both against my proper team Southend United, and to make matters worse, on both occasions (Essex Senior and Thames side Trophy finals) the Shrimpers fielded their strongest team!
In a huge twist of fate, this week of all weeks, is the anniversary of both victories (or for me, defeats). Clapton are, as ever, at the foot of the table with just one game to play. In short, a victory over local rivals London APSA will lift Clapton off the bottom of the league, just one problem; I am going to be there!
London APSA have been in a bit of form of late. Recently they saw off champions Burnham Ramblers and you don’t need to be a genius to work out that with “lucky Jeevesie” in the stands, success is gonna be a tall order. Nonetheless, in a week where my footballing planets appear to be in line with each other, I sense a change in the air.
At a first glance, London APSA’s home, the Terrence McMillan Stadium isn’t the most inspiring of venues for re-writing history, however, it has a piece of green, a goal at each end, and most importantly, a few hardy souls to share this date with destiny, as far as I’m concerned, that is all that matters. Even madcap commentator Neil Collins is here along with Leyton Orient’s “terrace drummer” Liam Giles, the scene is set.
The team’s line-up for the kick-off and already there is drama. A hawkeyed linesman (that is an assistant referee to all you modern fans) has spotted that a corner flag is missing. Quickly a home official races to address the situation as the phantom flagger waves frantically to inform the whistler.
The Weather is worsening, a strong wind has brought in a sporadic rain shower, I question whether the condition might assist the visitor’s dogged style, and they certainly have got off to the better start, really good in fact! After just 5 minutes, Clapton stun APSA and take the lead. A series of crisp passes has created an opening for Ben Lowes, who in turn beats keeper Mark Richardson with a rasping drive, sending the visiting supporters, known as the Clapton Ultras, into raptures. I look at my watch, only 85 minutes to hold on!
London APSA immediately go in search of an equaliser, Geoffrey Ocran has a shot blocked while Saiid Jaffa strikes the outside of an upright. At the other end, Richardson does well to prevent Dave Armstrong from doubling the visitors lead by saving low to his right.
The Clapton Ultras make up the vast majority of the crowd; they burst into song, “Your ground’s too big for you,” they croon, a bit harsh, it’s probably too big for all the ESL clubs put together!
As the tea break approached, I think to myself that the Clapton goal has been under little threat, at that, Jaffa misses the easiest of opportunities to level the match, the Ultras burst into a Dexys Midnight Runner medley!
As the player’s trot off for a cup of half time wisdom, an air of uneasy came over me. On the one hand, I’m only 45 minutes from ending the worst run in the history of supporting a football team, on the other what will be left for me if the record goes?
Anyway, the second period gave me no opportunity to dwell. Amidst the sweeping rain, Clapton set about climbing off the bottom and ending my own person hell for good measure. Firstly, Lowes made it 2-0, reacting the quickest after Richardson’s parry, then Brandon Martin beat the custodian with a composed finish after racing clear of the APSA rearguard. For the first time, I witnessed pitch invasion’s to celebrate goals at an Essex Senior League match, the Ultra’s follow this up with a chorus of “Can we play you every week”
My air of uneasy had become a bout of butterflies, a part of the Jeeves footballing heritage was drawing to a close, how the old man would have enjoyed tonight! But, just when you think it’s safe to assume, Clapton reminded me what has gone for almost three decades before. Firstly, Jagbir Birring thumps an effort high into the net. 3-1, surely just a consolation, if it’s not going to happen tonight then it never will, I reflect.
Nevertheless, Clapton are determined to make me sweat. Daniel Matthew adds a second for APSA after a great work down the right flank; suddenly the butterflies seem to be kicking my insides with size ten hobnail boots!
As the home side pile on the pressure, the Ultras roar encouragement to their charges. The songs have been somewhat jovial up until this point, but now it is serious. Anyway, remember those footballing planets, well they have just formed a line straighter than a Tony Adams offside trap. Clapton break down the left, the ball is swept across to the far post where unlikely hero Chris Rothon has raced from his defensive post to put the outcome beyond doubt. Arise my new footballing hero, if I could buy a Clapton shirt right now it would have “Rothon 2” on the back! Ultra’s race onto the pitch again, the rain is falling by the bucket load, but nobody cares, my run from hell is over. Chris Rothon’s name is now firmly etched into this particular footballing epilogue as a line is drawn under our painful past.
At the final whistle, Clapton players and fans embrace each other and generally celebrate as if they had lifted the World Cup, in some ways, perhaps they had! There is a belief that this wonderful football club has turned a corner and is heading for better times. As for tonight the football has been entertaining and the crowd have been humorous but above all it has been bloody good fun! I’ll leave the last words to the Clapton Ultras, who undoubtedly played a huge part in making this a very special occasion (to the tune of The lion sleeps tonight) “We’re the Clapton the mighty Clapton we’re gonna win away”
London APSA: Richardson, Hussain, Birring, Appiah, Beaupierre, Adeyemi, Ocran, Jaffa, Kilron, Mauthoor, Ogunwole.
Substitutes: Villota, Matthew, Oppong, Nyanja.
Clapton: Mason, Rothon, Jaffa, Matthews, Lindsay, Greenwood, Bouho, Lowes, Pooley, Armstrong, Martin.
Substitutes: Jones, Woods, Day, Alberto, Moore.
London APSA: http://www.londonapsa.co.uk/home
The amazing commentator Neil Collins:
The Clapton Ultras: http://thecoldend.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/theres-life-in-old-dog-yet.html
Footnote: Many thanks to Zakir Hussain and the London APSA Football Club for their help and assistance with this piece.