Thursday, 18 December 2014

Clapton - The Old Spotted Dog

Clapton FC
The Old Spotted Dog Ground
212 Upton Road
Forest Gate
E7 9NP

0208 652 2951

Ground Number: 444
Tuesday 17th December 2014
Clapton 2-1 Hullbridge Sports
Essex Senior League

As it was getting nearer to Christmas, the midweek games were drying up, but I still had a fairly healthy selection to choose from. I would have to travel a fair way though, and after listing the fixtures that were do-able, I had a chat with Anwar and we decided that Clapton v Hullbridge Sports would be our first choice. It would mean a potentially miserable trip around the M25, but it would mean the chance to see the Clapton Ultras - a set of fans well known for their chanting and colourful presence at their teams games. I'd be keeping an eye on Twitter however, the pitch was a regular for postponed games, just like Brentwood, another Essex club who I had tried to visit before, but had been thwarted due to the weather.

CLAPTON FC are a team who I first heard about due to their excellent ground name - The Old Spotted Dog. I once visited there when on a day in London. I didn't manage to get into the ground, but looking over the fence, the old place looked a bit sorry for itself, with piles of rubble and old mattresses scattered around the place. The ground had once held a 12,000 attandance against Spurs in the FA Cup back in the late 1800's and was used as an anti aircraft station during World War 2.

The club were founded in 1878 as Downs FC, changing a year later to their present name. They were the first British club to play in Europe in 1890, when they defeated a Belgian XI 8-1 before beating Antwerp 7-0 the following year. They were founder members of the Southern League and in the first half of the 1900's were hugely successful in the Isthmian League. Since that time however, the club have struggled, apart from the odd season where they finished in the top half of the table, even winning the Isthmian Division 2 in 1983. Following the introduction of the Conference North & South, they joined the Essex Senior League in 2006. They had their best ever finish of 10th in this league last season and were improving even more this season, sitting 5th at the start of play.

They had not made much progress in the FA Cup in recent years, but did reach the 3rd Round in 1926 before losing to Swindon Town. Likewise, they won the FA Amateur Cup on 5 occasions, but have had little success in it's replacements the FA Trophy and FA Vase. They have won a number of local cups though, most recently the Essex Thameside Trophy in 1984.

I couldn't find a huge amount of information on Hullbridge Sports on the internet. They are a reasonably new club, having been formed just after the Second World War in 1945. Initially playing in local Southend Leagues, they joined the Essex Olympian League Division 2 at step 8 of non league in 1984, winning promotion to their Division 1 at the first attempt. They were however relegated straight back. Despite this, the Essex Senior League at step 5 accepted their application to join in 1990. Despite them never looking like getting out of the league, they had a best finish of 6th in 1997/98. They have only ever reached the FA Cup Preliminary Round, the latest occasion being this season when they lost 3-0 to FC Clacton. As for the FA Vase, they reached the 2nd Round in 2010/11 before losing 5-1 to Leverstock Green. Their biggest attendance was 800 for an FA Youth Cup game against Blackburn Rovers in the 1999-2000 season, a great feat for such a minnow to get that far. I had seen them lose to Basildon United back in March and it had been a bit of a mixed bag of a game but had been a nice club to visit. At the start of the game they were sitting in 9th place, which is where they finished last season.

The day of the game was my day off as per usual for a Tuesday, but I was still quite busy. I had my research to do for my blog, finding out a lot about Clapton in the process. Later on that morning, I went to our local shop to post Christmas cards and get some Diet Irn Bru. After having my lunch  I also had to go down town to pick up my prize of a packet of penguins that I won in last night's drive time competition on our local radio station. It might not match up to my previous prize of a home entertainment system that I won on Virgin (now called Absolute) Radio around 10 years ago, but they would do for tonight's match and I also had to get some bubble wrap to send a temperamental TV that I had sold on eBay in the morning, this was one that I picked up on the way to a groundhop at Burgess Hill Town last month.

I had already arranged it's replacement, which conveniently I had to pick up a few miles away from Anwar on my way to picking him up for tonight's game. I left home at 3.20, dropping the old TV at my local Parcelshop on the way before going on to Halton to pick up its replacement.

I picked up the TV as arranged from a very nice woman at 4, before meeting Anwar 25 minutes later. We were soon on our way and we made good time for once, with just a couple of bits of heavy traffic. We got to Clapton at 6 and parked in a local side street. We went to a place called Spice Hut where I fancied a curry but they weren't ready. Nor were the Shish kebabs so I settled on a chicken wrap which was delicious and  good value with chips and a drink at 3.50. I then went to search out the local Wetherspoons, The Hudson Bay. I found it and ordered a mulled cider, but after 10 minutes of waiting for it to arrive I gave up and walked out.

On the way back to the ground we stopped for a pizza seen as it was only a quid for a 7 incher and that was great for the price. Then on the way back to the car to get my stuff I fell arse over tit when I tripped over a kerb and went flying. I grazed my hand and arm but just thought 'sod it' and got up and carried on. After picking up my stuff I went to the ground.

When we arrived the gate was unattended with money and a pile of programmes on display. When the bloke did come, we were charged £6 for entry which is fair enough but it was £1.50 for the programme which when it was 2 sheets of photocopied A4 was a bit of a mickey take. I still got one but Anwar didn't bother and I was glad that I'd bought a can of Scrumpy Jack in the local shop rather than give the club money in the bar after that. I took some pictures and washed the cut on my hand before the game and stood on the half way line for the game.

The Clapton Ultras were in great voice supporting their team but it was a cagey opening with few chances. What few chances there were fell to Hullbridge though and they ended up taking the lead on the half hour mark after some scrappy defending. Clapton improved and got their equaliser right on half time when they took advantage of a slip in the Hullbridge defence.

At half time there was a peaceful protest by the Clapton Ultras to show solidarity with Jimmy Mubenga who died on a plane during an attempted deportation. He was held down by G4S security staff and suffered a fatal heart attack. This fits in with the Ultras' strong anti fascist beliefs and although I don't know enough about the case to comment fully, it's certainly a sad situation that a man has lost his life in such a manner.

The second half saw the game tip in Clapton's favour and they began to take the tie to the visitors. They hit the woodwork and came close on more than one occasion, but Hullbridge did have some chances of their own. It looked as if it was going to end all square but Clapton popped up with a late winner, which happily I caught on video from behind the goal as I was walking round. There was quite a lot of added on time and as Hullbridge tried for an equaliser, tempers flared and there was a bit of handbags between the players, but nothing serious enough to warrant the referee taking action.

It had been a good night at the football, thanks mainly to the Scaffold Brigada, the nickname for the Clapton Ultras. They were noisy throughout and had some great songs and it reminded me of AFC Wimbledon back in their Combined Counties League days. As for the standard of football, the Essex Senior League looked below par for step 5, a trend which I have noticed from watching games in various leagues. Perhaps it suffers from the lack of a step 6 league directly below it, because with no relegation, the competition level gets a bit stale. I had a decent journey home, that was at least until the junction of the M25 that we needed to get off at was closed, meaning we had to take an 8 mile detour which meant I dropped Anwar off in Aylesbury 10 minutes later than I planned. I got home myself at 11.30 and after looking at Facebook and watching some Youtube videos on my iPad, I went to sleep around an hour later, only getting a couple of hours sleep as I was up at 3am for work.

THE OLD SPOTTED DOG is a traditional non league ground, which is a bit smaller than I expected. It's also in a state of disrepair with overgrown grass, though it does have a ramshackle charm with Ultras stickers everywhere and club graffiti on a wall. The smartest stand is on the near side, a fairly modern covered seating area holding 100 whilst on the opposite is the 'scaffolding' stand where the ultras reside. Apart from a few steps of open terracing the rest of the ground is undeveloped.

The clubhouse looked pretty empty and forlorn, this was due to the fans protesting against they person who owns the club, believing that he falsely claims to own Clapton FC. Perhaps that was the reason they didn't bother opening the tea bar. In both cases there are plenty of great value takeaways near the ground, plus a Wetherspoons. There is also a Costcutter store opposite, which sells chilled cans an there were several fans drinking on the terraces during the game.   


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Eynesbury Rovers - Albert Hall Memorial Field

Eynesbury Rovers FC

Albert Hall Memorial Field
Hall Road
St Neots
PE19 3SF

07938 511581

Ground Number: 443
Wednesday 9th December 2014
Eynesbury Rovers 1-4 Wisbech Town
United Counties League Premier Division

This week I was looking to do a groundhop that was fairly local and cheap, the main reason being that I had to be in work the following morning even earlier than usual. With me starting at 4am it meant that I was up at the crazy time of 3am, and so would get even less sleep than I usually did after a night at the football. Several options were considered, but myself and Anwar eventually settled on Broxbourne Borough v Amersham Town, which was just about the nearest one that we still both had to do. The weather looked fine, with only light rain pre kick off. We would be sure to keep an eye on the situation with it being freezing, but with no home club Twitter, that was easier said than done.

In between this and my last groundhop at Long Eaton United on Saturday, Wycombe had played an FA Cup game. That was at home to AFC Wimbledon on Sunday and we were clear favourites with the bookies to win it. But on the day the team didn't turn up and we were very poor indeed, with us losing 1-0 in an awful game. I was gutted as the FA Cup is one of my favourite things in football, my 12 games attended this season in that competition proving this. With my last team to visit, Warrington Town, also exiting, I will now cool my interest until next August. The consequences this to the club were felt on the Monday as the Dons drew Liverpool at home, which would have bought the club much needed cash and raised local interest in the club. It's important to look at the bigger picture though, our form in the league has been brilliant, and much unexpected after last seasons struggled, resulting in the club being a much happier place, though the support has not gone up which is frustrating.

EYNESBURY ROVERS were founded in 1897 and started out in local leagues. They have been almost ever present members of the United Counties League since 1946, apart from an 11 year spell in the Eastern Counties League in the 1950's and early 60's. They have generally struggled in the UCL Premier but did have a best ever finish of 3rd in 1991. At the start of the game they were in lower mid table, not bad considering that they had only just been promoted after a long spell in Division 1 last season.

In the FA Cup they have not played in it for a long spell before last season, where they lost in the Extra Preliminary Round to Spalding United. Previously they reached the 4th Qualifying Round in 1954 where they lost 3-1 to Cambridge United. Their best progress in the FA Vase came in 1994 when they reached the 3rd Round before. They had a record attendance on 5000 in 1955 when they played Fulham in a friendly and Stanley Matthews starred for the home side.

WISBECH TOWN were established in 1920 through the merger of 3 local clubs. They have played in various leagues, starting out in the Peterborough and District League and during their heyday, playing in the Southern League. They had a best ever finish of 10th in the Southern Premier in 1960. In the FA Cup they had a great run to the 2nd Round in 1998 before losing to Bristol Rovers, while they got all the way to the FA Vase Semi Final 2 seasons in a row in the mid 80's. Currently the side are doing well being around the top places in the league, but quite a way behind the sold promotion spot.

On the day of the game I had quite a lot to do down town. I was hoping to get my car washed, but the people that usually did it were not working, probably due to the freezing weather. I did get my hair cut though, and got a few other bits, but due to waiting nearly an hour for a haircut, I didn't have time to carry on with my Christmas shopping. I came home and had lunch, during which my Dad told me about a bad accident on the M25. It happened at 2am, with a lorry having a crash and killing some poor soul. As a result the road was closed for the foreseeable future, meaning getting there would be tricky. As a consequence, alternative plans were made, and we were off to Eynesbury Rovers v Wisbech Town instead. The knock on effect was that time was very tight with me having a dentist appointment in the afternoon, and having to leave at 4.15 to be sure of beating the traffic, meaning that it was too early to eat at home to save money. I'd also have to fill up with petrol as well as I was getting low on fuel, and with it being around 2p cheaper in Aylesbury than in Eynesbury, I decided to do it before we went.

In the end I stopped for diesel on the way to Anwar's and after filling up, still got there at the meeting time of 4.45. Anwar was there waiting for me and with no traffic we got to Eynesbury at 6.15. I killed time by getting some dinner and doing a bit of Christmas shopping in Tesco but we still got to the ground with an hour to go before kick off. I eat my chicken in my car and checked Facebook before going in at 7pm.

I was very pleased to see that entry was only £5 and included a programme. As I had some good pictures of the ground from stopping on the way to Kings Lynn last season I went in the bar before kick off. I wouldn't normally drink on a short midweek trip but they had been really friendly and entry was well priced, so I got a pint of Strongbow for £3.10. I drank this in the warm, going outside with 10 minutes to go before kick off. I got myself a £1 portion of chips to keep me warm for the first half.

Wisbech took the lead a few minutes in with a tidy finish and a well worked goal. They were 2-0 up soon after with an effort that looked well offside but caught the keeper out of position. And it was 3-0 to the visitors on 40 minutes when a parried shot was followed up.

It had been quite a one sided half and the Eynesbury players were none too pleased with each other's performances. During the break I went and sat in my car whilst listening to the radio and put my bag back in the boot. 

Eynesbury Rovers improved a bit in the second half, having lots of possession but never really threatening the visitors goal. Finally with around 5 minutes to go, the home side got on the scoresheet as substitute James Freshwater coolly converted a penalty, slotting it in the bottom right hand corner. Wisbech added a 4th in the dying minutes as Eynesbury attacked more and that is how it stayed.

After the game we made a quick getaway, listening to TalkSPORT on the way home and hearing that Liverpool had gone out at the group stage of the Champions League. I dropped Anwar off at 10.35 and after following a frustratingly slow driver most of the way home and unable to overtake, I got in at 11, going to bed an hour later.

ALBERT HALL MEMORIAL FIELD is one of the better grounds at step 5 level. The biggest stand  stretches most of one side of the pitch and holds around 500 in a mixture of seating and standing. There is a smaller covered standing area on the other side holding around 100, while the rest of the ground is open.

The tea bar and bar are fairly good and with not a lot else near the ground might be your only options. With it being an inexpensive night out and a friendly club, it is well worth a visit.  


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Long Eaton United - Grange Park

Long Eaton United FC
Grange Park
Station Road
Long Eaton
NG10 2EF

0115 9735700

Ground Number: 442
Saturday 6th December 2014
Long Eaton United 2-1 Kirby Muxloe
Midland League Premier

Like last Saturday I was dropping Anwar and some others off at a football league ground. Ideally I wanted to do an FA Vase game as I had been to every round so far this season. However there was no viable way of getting both boxes ticked, so instead I started looking to see what was near Nottingham Forest, the nearest Football League one that he needed to do. I was pleased to see that there was a decent amount of options. Rainworth Miners Welfare v Coalville Town was one of the final 2 options but I plumped for Long Eaton United v Kirby Muxloe in the Midland Football League Premier Division, the same league that I had watched Coventry Sphinx in last week. Long Eaton had been on my target list for a while now, partly thanks to their spell in the Northern Counties East League (my favourite step 5 league) but mainly due to the town which had a number of decent pubs, shops and other places to spend time before the game.

LONG EATON UNITED were formed in 1956 and started off in the Midland League. They stayed there until they became founder members of the Northern Counties League East in 1982 where they stayed until 1989, joining the Central Midlands League. They rejoined the NCEL in 2002 initially at Division 1 level, but they won promotion to the Premier within a couple of seasons. They had their best ever league finish when they grabbed the runners up spot. At the start of this season they transferred over to the Midland League due to geographical reorganisation and were making a good fist of it, battling out for top spot with local rivals Basford United. Should they win this battle it would be only the second league championship in their history, and from what I saw of the ground when I stopped for pictures on the way to another game, they have everything in place to make the step up to the next level.

The club have reached the FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round on a few occasions, though not for a long while. The FA Vase has provided moderate success with the 3rd Round last being reached in 2012. They have also won the NCEL League Cup and Derbyshire Senior Cup, to add to their NCEL Division 1 South title from 1985.

Kirby Muxloe were formed in 1910 and played in local leagues up until 2008 when they made the step up to the Eastern Counties League after winning the Leicester Senior Premier. They were an instant hit at the new level, winning the league at the first attempt and joining the Midland Alliance. A best ever finish of 9th was achieved in 2011 and they remained there until the midlands leagues were reformed last summer. In cups the club have reached the FA Cup Preliminary Round and the FA Vase 1sr Round. David Speedie, who played in the top division in England has also played for Kirby Muxloe.

I woke up quite early on the day and so watched TV, went online and had a bath until I left at 10am. I met Anwar and his daughter Aisha at 10.30 and soon we were on our way. It was actually a decent journey for once apart from the roadworks on the M1 and we were at Nottingham Forest by 12.30. The 8 miles to Long Eaton was a bit slower and took 40 minutes, what with having to keep stopping for traffic lights all the time.

By 1.10 I was parked up at Long Eaton United and as I was hungry I headed to the local Wetherspoons where I had a double BBQ Hog burger and all the trimmings, along with a pint of Thatchers Gold for little over £8. The burger was huge and I needed another pint to soak it up, so I went to the Hole In The Wall pub for a pint of Scrummage cider before going back to the ground. I was disappointed that the Wetherspoons only did Thatchers Gold, which although nice, is what I have every single week at Wycombe. The scrummage was a lot nicer, and to make things even better, there was a nice friendly dog in the pub.

I started my walk back to the ground at 2.25, getting my bag out of the car on the way. I was in by 2.40, paying £5 for entry and £1.50 for a programme. I went round taking pictures of the ground, and chose to sit on the far side first half, as the sun was in my eyes in the big stand. At half time I went into the bar to keep warm and check the halftime scores, I was shocked to see that Arsenal were 3-0 down at Stoke. But with no Wycombe game until tomorrow, and very few interesting cup ties, there wasn't much I cared about.


Long Eaton completely dominated the first half of the game, but it was the Kirby Muxloe that went into the half time break ahead after a mix up on the halfway line allowed them to score a break away goal. The home side soon equalised in the second half with a shot from just inside the area that flew in. It looked like it wasn't going to be their day as they lost their keeper to injury on 55 minutes, meaning a striker had to go in goal. Then Kirby Muxloe were awarded a penalty, but they missed, putting it wide. Long Eaton got the late winner a few minutes from time. This sent them to the summit of the table, as the leaders before the game on goal difference, Basford United, had no game today.


I drove straight over to Nottingham Forest to pick up Anwar and his daughter Aisha. They had had an enjoyable day at the City Ground as the home side drew 1-1 with Charlton. It only took 25 minutes to get there this time as the traffic was not as bad, meaning I got there at 5.30. The City of Nottingham appeared to have monopolised the traffic come judging by my experience, there was millions of the bleeders, and it wasn't exactly easy on the eye. The journey was not bad, once we had got out of Nottingham we made swift progress with me dropping Anwar off in Aylesbury at 7.50 and getting home myself 20 minutes later.

GRANGE PARK is one of the best grounds at step 5 and is probably good enough for step 3. On the side where you come in there is a decent sized seated stand, holding around 250. Next to that there was an area of cover for around 100. Opposite was another seated stand with space for around 120 people, while the rest of the ground was open hard standing.

I didn't use the tea bar or clubhouse, but they looked to be doing a brisk trade and the clubhouse was smart and modern inside. The town is close by anyway, and I can recommend 'The Hole In The Wall' for drinks. Wetherspoons was decent enough for food, but not as good as some of their other branches for drinks, at least on the cider front. Overall though, a great day out with it being so close to the town and being a great ground for this level.