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Crazy, wonderful Clapton

PUBLISHED: 10:15 16 October 2015 | UPDATED: 13:24 16 October 2015

A huge queue is seen outside the Old Spotted Dog ground during Clapton's clash with Ilford (pic: George Phillipou/TGSPHOTO)

A huge queue is seen outside the Old Spotted Dog ground during Clapton's clash with Ilford (pic: George Phillipou/TGSPHOTO)

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Archant’s Executive Editor (Digital) spent Non-League Day at the Old Spotted Dog

Clapton players celebrate their first goal against Ilford (pic: George Phillipou/TGSPHOTO)Clapton players celebrate their first goal against Ilford (pic: George Phillipou/TGSPHOTO)

Turning the corner out of the alleyway which leads to the entry to Clapton FC’s Old Spotted Dog ground, we were greeted with a sight which many a seasoned non-league goer can go a lifetime without witnessing: a queue for entry.

At 2.45pm – a time which, elsewhere, would give a spectator time for a pint, a scour of the programme and a shake of the hand of each and every fellow fan prior to kick-off – and the line snaking out of the entry turnstiles was dozens deep. Last Saturday, of course, was Non-League Day – the now annual celebration of the amateur game which marks the international break and accompanying lack of Premier League/Championship action to encourage higher turnouts. But a glance beyond the mere numbers confirmed Claption FC are not your usual non-league club.

Fans at the Old Spotted Dog are not the usual sexagenarians marking off changes in the programme with a bookies’ pencil. Entering the ground is more akin to what you might expect at a music festival, or a tattoo convention. They are young. They are, for non-league, and football in general, disproportionately female (one fan tells me it tends to be 60-40 male). They are clad in fashions more commonly seen on Hackney’s Broadway Market – leathers, sunglasses, wild hairstyles and piercings. Lots of piercings. And, in great swathes, they are foreign. Polish, Czech and Italian ring out around the ground; the minimarket over the road has obviously done a roaring trade in Tyskie beer (bring your own seems de rigeur).

And they are loud. The Clapton Ultras were formed a few years ago, a combination of football fans disillusioned by the Premier League and its expense, new migrants to East London importing exotic fan cultures and local hipsters. Clad almost uniformly in red Clapton scarves and keeping up a constant noise of Depeche Mode and Sex Pistols, this must be what Jurgen Klopp means when he refers to ‘heavy metal football’. When Freddie Morris scores on the stroke of half-time to make it 3-2, a flare is hurled onto the pitch.

Clapton fans cheer their team at the final whistle of their clash with Ilford (pic: George Phillipou/TGSPHOTO)Clapton fans cheer their team at the final whistle of their clash with Ilford (pic: George Phillipou/TGSPHOTO)

I’ve watched a lot of live football from Portugal’s Primeira League to the Welsh Premier League. I’ve witnessed St Pauli fans demanding their players do a lap of honour after losing 5-1 and been among 67,000 crazed Americans at the Seattle Sounders-Portland Timbers MLS derby. But I have never, ever witnessed anything in football quite like the controlled anarchy generated by the 761 at this Essex Senior League game.

It’s a strange slice of European ultra culture in a rickety ground five bus stops from Stratford station. It’s crazy, incongruous and just a bit wonderful.

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