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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Thursday 14 August 2014

Gone to the dogs

The close season theft of Gosport's pitch left Maidenhead with an unusual free opening midweek enabling me to make a long awaited visit to Clapton. Founders of the Isthmian League, Clapton were one of the early giants of non league football winning the Amateur Cup five times, but rather like the local area has become rather unloved in modern times, cast aside by the Isthmian League in the 2004 restructuring and left to fester in the Essex Senior League. Likewise the evocative named Old Spotted Dog ground looked like it should have long since been put to sleep. On arrival I was faced with the mock tudor buildings by the road entrance all boarded up and an unwelcoming makeshift passage to the turnstile.

Given entry and an 8 sheet black and white photocopied programme in return for £7.50, the social club was equally inhospitable so I settled for a seat in the functional stand for what was initially billed as a League Cup tie against Sporting Bengal United but after the event seems to have been a league match. This lack of information extended to an absence of a PA or any visible team sheet with the teams simply listed as squads in the programme without numbers.
As the game kicked off it was clear this lack of care would be reflected in a match of a poor standard for this level, as with the set up off the pitch, well short of what I am used to seeing in the Combined Counties/Hellenic League. The saving grace and indeed motive behind my visit was the presence of the Scaffold Brigada, the self styled Clapton Ultras who gathered in the covered terrace (or Scaffold) on the opposite side of the halfway line. Numbering 40-50, they somewhat incongrously given the lack of spectators elsewhere in the ground, went on to produce a tifo that would have embarrassed pretty much every club in the Conference South. Flags waving, a little bit of pyro and a songbook whose originality and creativity would put to shame any other club in the country, produced a support of a quality that was in stark contrast to what was happening on the pitch.

Sporting, playing their first game of the season, had the better opening with perhaps Clapton feeling the aftershock of their 5-1 opening day defeat at Haringey Borough. The Ton's cause was not helped by a badly organised defence with a miniature centre back who often saw the ball bounce over his head. The bloke behind me reflected on whether this was actually a 5-3-2 or 4-4-2 set up, with the main doubt cast by the irrational performance of the Kenwyne Jones lookalike on the left who would often charge forwards to leave a big hole behind him and was lucky to remain on the pitch after some rash challenges. Likewise their goalkeeper, dubbed Senegal's number 1, by the ultras hardly inspired confidence with his lack of composure in the face of Sporting's attack.
However as the game went on the industry of the Clapton number 7 in central midfield saw the home team gain the upper hand and they scored what was to be the only goal of the game midway through the first half. This did have an element of luck about it as the well placed cross found Ike Nzuba, who when faced with an gaping net, lent back and blasted the ball, only to prove that it was easier to score than miss when the effort went in off the crossbar.
In the second half Sporting quickly ran out of ideas and the die was cast allowing the Clapton manager to use a range of substitutes, a couple of whom I assume were trialists as they were an embarrassment to the term pub footballer.This left me plenty of time to reflect on why this club with such an enviable support was so shambolic and a cursory glance online makes it clear that there is a split between the club's self styled Chief Executive Officer Vince McBean, who spent the evening glaring out of the club shed window leaving it to the very last minute to switch the floodlights on, and the club's thriving support. The biggest signifier of this disconnect was the volume of cans of lager, purchased from the off licence over the road, being consumed in the ground. Particularly considering it was an evening game, the revenue from this source alone could be put to really good use and assuming it was backed by volunteering could see the club begin to restore some of its former glory. It would be great to see the Claptonites pitch up at a ground further up the non league pyramid in the FA Cup, but on the evidence of this evening that looks like a long way off at present.

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