Clapton FC 1-2 Haringey Borough
Saturday 10 January 2015
Essex Senior League
There’s something in the air. You can feel it tight up against your skin as pockets of beer-scented breath form in front of your face and disappear into the crisp clean chill of a sunny January afternoon. These are footballing days. The east London eco system is all over the place, but a flush of post Christmas blues gives way to a last minute pitch inspection that says the game is on despite the recent downpour.
Still there’s something in the air, you can feel it…
This was a big game for Clapton, in all kind of ways. Not played competitively since before Christmas their comeback game is against an in form Haringey dominant on top of the league with just one defeat against them so far. The same Haringey who gave the Tons a 5-1 drubbing in the first game of the season – which was a early confidence blow for a team going through some pretty turbulent times. But fair play to Clapton though their heads didn’t drop, they kept their nerve and fought their way back up the table. This is going to be a test of their character if nothing else.
It’s also the first time the Clapton Ultras foodbank collection gets an airing. All through January Clapton fans have been asked to bring food goods down on matchdays which will then be donated to a local foodbank. Magnificent gesture and hints at something i said a long while ago about how the football ground is becoming a site for social change. By all accounts Clapton fans are as generous with their donations as they are with their terrace singing skills.
But wherever you get attempts at social change you also get social conflict. A facebook group made up of various ex-EDL strands has latched onto the fact the Clapton ultras are vocal anti-fascists and display their affiliations proudly. This has caused teasing online threats to be made against both the fans and the club and has brought out the best in East End mettle. More of this later.
A game of two halves
All clichés matter in football. They’re the recognisable common currency of easy communication. Basically it’s all we’ve got. There’s something in the air. Mostly it’s a barrage of lofty cross field passes as both teams try to come to terms with the sorry state of the pitch. Clapton’s strategy of flooding the midfield and attempting quick breaks never really looked like paying off in terms of scoring against a Haringey defence that remained largely impenetrable. In contrast Clapton’s started slack at the back allowing Haringey an easy goal via a neatly slotted through pass cutting the back four in half and finished with a tap in from a lucky off-the-post rebound.
Something happened during the half time break that saw Clapton come out like a team on a mission and proceed to bombard Haringey with sheer force of will. There were occasions when Haringey looked overwhelmed, but never quite out of control, and towards the end they were lucky to hang on to their slim victory. If Clapton had played with the same gutsy determination in the first half they would have taken the 3 points easy.
“You’ve got no fans”
The official attendance for the game was 232, the highest for a league game this season and more than the total of every other Essex league game played that Saturday. It felt like a lot more as the fans spilled out from the scaffold stand in a sea of Clapton scarves and non-stop singing. I noticed two young lads chatting by me started joining in the chanting learning the words as they went – a couple of aspiring Clapton under-fives right there. There was also a cabbie who happened to come down and mentioned it was a better atmosphere than at West Ham with better football! It’s not often you go to a non league game and expect to queue to get in.
Pie and Mash – the phantom menace?
As previously stated a facebook group going by the name Pie n Mash Squad (made up of disgruntled offshoots of the EDL political firmament), have been posting messages threatening both the Clapton ultras, and the club itself for daring to host such supporters. They have been boasting online about going down to Clapton games to ‘protest’ the use of political banners and smoke flares (which they wrongly claim are forbidden at grounds by the FA).
Of course they were a no show today, and to be frank only the most foolhardy or fearless would come down to the Spotted Dog and try it on during days like these. Their strategy seems to be to pester the FA about the fans behaviour and cause enough fuss to get the police involved in policing home games (As it was there were three bored coppers standing out of the way over by the changing rooms who left before the end). It worked against the Inter Village Firm at Mangotsfield where the club caved in to outside pressure to prevent the IVF from displaying certain banners and flags.
That said the PMS may try their luck at away games as they did when Clapton played at Southend Manor in December. There was definitely something in the air though – a sense of expectation that galvanised the Clapton support and kept everyone on their toes – i got stopped and questioned as to my reasons for being here by a couple of over eager crowd monitors who obviously had me down as a wrong ‘un!
Interesting times ahead for Clapton. If there was a list of things the Clapton Ultras wanted from their football club then ‘an english St Pauli’ took a step closer to becoming a reality today. Come on, come on!