Tuesday 20 June 2023

Clapton - The Old Spotted Dog

Clapton CFC
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


The original Clapton FC was founded in 1878 as Downs FC, changing to its present name a year later. 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 , spending a couple of seasons there before resigning. They were also founder members of the Isthmian League which was established in 1905. They were runners-up in 1906 and 1908 before winning the league for the first time in 1911 and then again in 1923. They remained here until 1973 when the league expanded. Despite some poor finishes, Claption were placed in the top flight which at the time was called Division 1. They were relegated for the first time in 1976 to Division 2 which was soon renamed Division 1. They were relegated again in 1982 to the third tier which was now called Division 2 and is was the 4th level of non-league football. They were promoted back straight away as champions.Another relegation followed in 1985 as Clapton went down to Division 2 North and then again in 1991, this time to Divison 3. Results were not great and it was only reorganisation that saw them moved to Division 2 for their final few seasons in the Isthmian League. In 2006, they were moved to the Essex Senior League where they remain to this day. In 2017 they were runners-up to Barking, their best finish in recent years.

The original club reached the FA Cup 3rd Round in the 1925/26 season. They beat Norwich City 3-1 in a famous 1st Round victory before a 1-0 win against Ilford. Their 3rd Round game against Swindon Town was switched to West Ham United's Boleyn ground where they narrowly lost 3-1. Recent progress in the FA Cup was less impressive, as was their record in the FA Vase and before that the FA Trophy. They did however win the FA Amateur Cup on five occasions. They've also won a number of local cups, most recently the Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy in 2016, beating Stansted 4–0 in the final.

A report from the last time Clapton played Wycombe, a dull 0-0 draw at the Old Spotted Dog in April 1976. Clapton had been relegated, having lost the first 18 games of the season but got a draw against 2nd-place Wycombe Wanderers.

During Clapton's peak in the late 19th century, the club averaged a regular home crowd of 4,000 spectators. During this period, the club were nicknamed the Doggies after their relocation to Forest Gate. In 2012 a supporters group named the Clapton Ultras was started. The group followed the European ultras tradition and developed around local fans disengaged with modern professional football, migrants to East London and those with opposition to discrimination and far-right politics. Following the creation of the Ultras, the club's home attendance rose from an average of 20 in 2011–12 to 335 by the 2015–16 season. However, club chief executive Vincent McBean did not know a good thing when he saw one. A number of disputes, not least of which was when he attempted to liquidate the charity that owned the ground. Now, after many ground shares, Clapton moved to the Terrence McMillan Stadium in Plaistow. They finished second-bottom of the Essex Senior League last season, relegated playing in front of average crowds of 40 - the lowest in the league.

As a result, the ultras set up a new club, Clapton Community FC in 2018. The new club set up home at an outside pitch at Walthamstow FC's Wadham Lodge stadium. Closer to the centre of Clapton (by 0.3 miles) by foot than their old home in Forest Gate, it was christened 'The Stray Dog' and is only intended as a temporary home. On the pitch, the team joined the Middlesex County League Division 1 which sits at step 8 of the Non-League pyramid. They won the title in their debut season, earning promotion to the Premier Division. The pandemic saw the season cut short with Clapton Community in 5th place. Similarly, 2020/21 ended after four games with the team 7th. Their first full season in the Premier Divison saw a 3rd place finish. Last season, the team were champions, earning promotion to the Eastern Counties Division 1 South. They will meet the original Clapton in league clashes next season.

During the club's debut season, Clapton Community sold 11,500 away shirts, with 5,500 to Spain, after the kit was based on the International Brigades and the Flag of the Second Spanish Republic. In June 2019, the club announced the formation of a women's team with the former AFC Stoke Newington's first team coming under the Clapton Community banner. The women's team competed in Division One of the Greater London Women's Football League in the 2019–20 season but were promoted to the London and South East Women's Regional Football League Division One North in 2022. In March 2021, the club won the Football Supporter Association's 'Lockdown Heroes' award for their Community Fund initiative, 'Clapton against Corona', fundraising and providing financial assistance to local people whose livelihood was affected by the coronavirus.

The Old Spotted Dog is the oldest football ground in London. Clapton FC moved in a decade into their history in 1888. The grounds were originally part of the Old Spotted Dog Hunting Lodge, famously used by Henry VIII. The lodge later became a pub, the Spotted Dog, still featuring parts of its original facade, is now a Grade II listed building but it closed down in 2004 - the structure has since fallen into disrepair. The lands behind the pub became a sports ground, used primarily for county cricket matches before switching its usage to football. The highest attendance at the ground for a Clapton match was recorded as 12,000 for an FA Cup game against Tottenham Hotspur during the 1898–99 season. At the start of the 2019–20 season, Clapton FC lost the lease for the ground, due to non-payment of rent. This marked the end of their 131-year playing history at the site. In 2019, Clapton CFC were awarded the lease for the Old Spotted Dog, a year later, they purchased the freehold to the ground. However, due to neglect, there was plenty of work to do at the ground, this was held up by the Covid-19 pandemic. The women's team played there last season, using changing rooms at the nearby Stratford School. After completion of the purchase of the adjacent warehouse and renovation of the old changing rooms, the men's first team were able to join the women's first team in using the Old Spotted Dog as their home ground.


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 team's games. I'd be keeping an eye on Twitter, however, the pitch was a regular for postponed games, just like Brentwood, another Essex club that I had tried to visit before, but had been thwarted due to the weather. 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 into 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 its replacement, which conveniently I had to pick up a few miles away from Anwar on my way to pick him up for tonight's game. I left home at 3.20, dropping the old TV at my local Parcelshop, 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 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 seeing as it was only a quid for a 7-inch 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 (who turned out to be the later to be infamous Vincent McBean, 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. I took some pictures and washed the cut on my hand before the game and stood on the halfway 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 halftime, 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 around. 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.

I'd been meaning to visit the Old Spotted Dog for some time, having last been nine years ago. I wanted to get some better pictures and expand on my blog as well. The club announced that they would be playing a Friendly game against St Pauli on 20th June. This was perfect for me as I have never been to a game on that date before. I was trying to see a game on every day of the year and prior to this game, I still had 14 to complete. This one would kick off my 2023/24 season, I was able to get a ticket before they went on general sale thanks to help from the 'Pie The Non-League Dog' account who was a Clapton CFC Member. I would have someone coming with me too. Dan had originally got a ticket, but due to a lack of cash, he sold his ticket to Colin for £3.
As Colin would be with me from the start of the journey, I knocked my plan to visit Williams Ale & Cider House on the head and decided to head for the local Wetherspoons. I was taking the far more pleasant and sensible option of public transport this time - I have no idea why I chose to drive last time, especially going via Aylesbury. But as with all aspects of hopping, you always learn to do things 'better' over the course of time. The day of the game came and as usual, it was my day off. I woke to torrential rain which I thought would put pay to my walk down Wycombe. However, I ignored the forecast and which said it would rain all morning. It turned out to be the correct decision as it stayed dry.
Some nice salmon burgers were enjoyed for lunch and I spent the afternoon catching up on things. I was just counting down the clock until it came to time to leave. I was out the door at 3.15 and parked up and at the station 20 minutes later. Colin was just arriving and we were on the train with ten minutes to spare. We got the Metropolitan Line to Liverpool Street before getting the Elizabeth Line to Forest Gate. Aside from the lack of signal, it was a good journey. From there it was under ten minutes walk with us getting there at 5.30. I really fancied a Shawarma Wrap but it was sold out. Instead, I had a Tennesee Burger, chips and a pint of Black Dragon for £10.59. We got chatting with a friendly hopper who wasn't going to the game but who had popped in for a pint. I had another pint of Black Dragon but that was it for the evening, booze-wise. We made our way to the ground, seeing the old Spotted Dog pub in disrepair. A lady outside obviously did not plan on attending the game as she said it would 'probably be turned into a fucking mosque' - not the antifascist stance that the club is built on.
The whole vibe in the ground was superb, friendly and welcoming. It was much improved with lots of stalls. I picked up a 'Love Football, Hate Racism' T-shirt for a bargain £5 and it fitted my opinion perfectly. The game kicked off a few minutes late. St Pauli took the lead after 7 minutes, a good run and close-range finish by Tabea Schutt. It was a dominant performance by the German side. Vanessa Sawada made it 2-0 on 23 minutes with a great lob. Schutt made it 3-0 on 26 minutes, though walking around the ground meant I didn't get the best view. Rinast made it 4-0 on the half hour, a new signing not even in the programme. There was a lull in scoring goals but Rinast got her second, wriggling through the area before getting a goal at the second attempt after the initial shot was parried. It was 6-0 on 68 minutes, Julia Hechtenburg with the goal of the game, a great shot that found the top left corner. Clapton didn't deserve such a hammering and they got a goal back on 71 minutes, Marta Boiro following up from a penalty that hit the bar. Two quick goals, a close-range shot from Griefenberg and a header from Hauschildt made it 8-1.
It had been a great night and a good start to the new season. We meandered back to the station, getting there at 9.45. The Elizabeth Line was still quite busy, but at least we got a seat. It was lovely and air-conditioned too. The bad signal meant I opted to wait till I got home, with a lot of pictures to edit and sort. Usually, the Metropolitan Line is quiet at this time of night but it was jam-packed. At least we had good company in Carl, a hopper who I've seen on a few occasions. It took a while, but eventually, we were back in Amersham at 11.30. Carl headed on to Aylesbury, Colin was on his bike and I drove home, getting in at 11.50. I opted against a can of cider but had some squash. Due to the number of photos, it was nearly an hour before I got my blog up.


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 the 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 and there were several fans drinking on the terraces during the game.


The ground had been smartened up since my last visit and looked a lot more loved. There were also far more facilities in terms of merchandise, food and drink. It was quite busy though and they really could have done with a walkway around the back of the ground as the fans liked to be close to the pitch. Other than that, the area outside the ground was still very densely populated with a very multicultural area. That meant a whole load of food outlets with a big choice of things to eat. The Hudson Bay Wetherspoons was also very good. It's definitely one to do by public transport as the roads are densely populated and I didn't see a car park at the ground.

1 comment:

  1. Hullbridge reached the FA Vase 4th Round last season and this season have beaten both AFC Rushden & Diamonds and Great Yarmouth Town this season and are due to meet Flackwell Heath in this season's 4th Round next month.