Well it was forty years ago today….

September 13, 2018

Remember where you were during all those landmark events in history? Churchill’s funeral, JFK’s assassination, the Twin Towers…… well I know exactly where I was forty years ago tonight. When the old order crumbled and the young guns set out on their irresistible road to glory…..

I was stood in the Trent End at the City Ground, Nottingham, sweating – like most of the 40,000+ souls around me – on whether that single Gary Birtles goal would be good enough to get us past the dogged Scousers over two legs of this first round European Cup tie. Would our European adventure be over without us even leaving these shores?

Then up popped Colin Barrett and the rest, as they say, is history.

Colin Barrett hammers the ball past Liverpool captain Emlyn Hughes (right) to score Nottingham Forest’s 2nd goal during their European Cup 1st round 1st leg match at the City Ground in Nottingham on 13th September 1978. Nottingham Forest won 2-0. (Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images.)

Advertisements

North-East Double – Fri/Sat 17th/18th August – 883/4

August 19, 2018

‘Although nobody actually knows where Midsomer is, it seemed prudent to rope off the crime scene just in case Inspector Barnaby showed up…’

I’m not the world’s most prodigious reader but when I do pick up a tome it’s usually something either warfare-related, or possibly about heritage railways, or else it’s a good biography. The world of fiction is lost on me (OK maybe I do like a bit of the Sci-Fi stuff now and again but usually only on-screen).

My most recent brain fodder has been ‘My Magic Carpet Ride’, an autobiography by Forest legend Gary Birtles, and whilst not exactly the most riveting of reads, it did remind me of a few things from the Reds’ ‘Glory Days’, not least of which was the team’s attitude towards referees. Mr Clough Senior would not countenance any dissent from his players towards match officials, not even on the notorious occasion when the Man in Black had clearly been ‘nobbled’ (allegedly!) in a UEFA Cup tie against a team from Brussels.

Brian’s attitude was, despite a perceived injustice, that ‘a decision has been made, we will just accept it and get on with it!’ Surely sound advice for anyone else taking on a team from Brussels!

Sadly, in football at all levels nowadays, few people follow the Clough creed. You can have the words ‘Respect’ printed as large as you like across your playing strip, but nobody appears to show any. I see hard working referees and assistants putting in a real shift and getting most of the stuff right. But what happens when they don’t? Simply just get on with it, I say. But until the FA livens up and introduces Rugby-style punishment for dissenters – free-kicks moved forward ten yards, Sin Bins for persistent offenders – then that’s never likely to happen.

My two games this weekend are little different to any others I have watched in recent seasons. Most have been refereed to a competent level, at least from my neutral standpoint, but the officials have still copped for plenty of grief from players and supporters – plus club officials – with parochial axes to grind.

My appearance at Tow Law Town on the Friday night is unplanned. At 6.45pm I am sitting in the covered section of the stand at Durham CCC’s Riverside Stadium waiting for T20 Blast action, which has been delayed by the persistant heavy drizzle which continues to fall. A Clash song flashes into my head. ‘Should I Stay or Should I go?’  I decide on the latter, beating the mass exodus from the slippery car parks, with the Sat Nav set quickly for the distant Northern Division 2 ground. Reassuringly, it tells me I will be there before the 7.30pm kick-off. Just!

I had visited Tow Law once before, in the 1980s with my girlfriend at that time. I’d been fascinated by the place since reading football books as a youngster, with the village’s team having enjoyed some cup success in the Sixties, and as we were camping locally, decided to check out the village pub, The Surtees. This turned out to be one of those joints where strangers might just as well have been aliens, as everything stopped as we walked in and we were obviously the main topic of conversation until we quickly supped up and left.

Thirty-odd years on I’m back, there’s no sign of The Surtees, but I do find the football club’s Ironworks Road ground tucked away down a side street of the same name, and I am immediately engaged by the character of the place. The pitch has a decided side-to-side slope, with the small main stand of a certain vintage straddling the halfway line on the lower side, and rudimentary covered terracing behind the far goal. On the upper side is a strip of uncovered stepped terracing, while the clubhouse occupies much of the area behind the other goal. The 5,500 who crammed in to see the FA Cup win over Mansfield Town in the 1960s must have found it a tad cosy!

The game itself is against Brandon United who have the temerity to score first, but that’s about as good as it gets for them, with the home side sweeping forward in a generally one-sided first half and notching four in reply before half time. It’s a little tamer after the break but another three goals are added to the final score, with just one of them to the visitors. An entertaining start to my weekend.

Day 2 dawns with a trip to the Spoons at the Gateshead Metro Centre before heading out to the east coast, and the Meadow Park ground of Northern Division 1 side, Sunderland RCA. The prefix is a bit of a misnomer in that the club is actually based in Ryhope, not Sunderland, and was acquired when two sides amalgamated back in the day. The RCA suffix stands for Ryhope Community Association – not to be confused with nearby rivals Ryhope Colliery Welfare – which is where the club is based.

The ground wouldn’t be encountered by chance, being situated at the end of a maze of winding streets in a modern housing complex. Like Tow Law last night, the pitch has a decided slope, but this time from end to end, and all of the spectator accommodation, save for hard standing, is on one side the ground. The centrepiece is a basic but adequate cantilever main stand, and an area of covered flat standing, part of which is currently out-of-bounds. There’s a comfortable clubhouse where the barman makes my day by producing a chilled bottle of Black Sheep Ale just when I thought my options would be Carling or John Smith’s Smooth.

The home team is up against Dunston UTS, who have started the season well, and it’s an entertaining see-saw five-goal encounter which is only settled at the death when a goalkeeping indiscretion gifts the visitor a soft penalty. But the level of aggravation throughout the match targeted at the officials from players, supporters, and the odd club official alike, is what led me to open this blog with the Clough anecdote. Respect is in seriously short supply today.

Perhaps the local chap standing near me towards the end of the game has the answer to everything. He launches into a tirade at a Dunston club official who himself has just given the referee a real mouthful.

That he does so without provoking any aggressive response from the club official might have something to do with the brute of a dog he’s got with him. So there you go, equip the referee with a snarling rottweiler, or a belligerent Staffy, for an assistant and dissent would be reduced to a bare minimum. Respect would be the new norm, unless you wanted a ragged hole in your shin pads…..

Programmes: Tow Law Town – £1 (I think) at the turnstile. 36 pages of which 15 are adverts. Nice glossy cover and plenty of info & stats. Sunderland RCA – £1 (delivered to me in the bar, many thanks!) 32 pages on very thick card, of which 11 are adverts. Once again full of stats and info. Both very commendable publications.

Floodlights: Both clubs have eight pylons.

Club Shops: No

Toilets: Behind the goal at TLT and next to the stand at RCA

Birdlife: Just the odd seagull.

What’s In A Name: RCA’s utility player Dom Moan is not happy to be sat on the bench, whilst midfielder Dimitri Limbo is not sure whether he’s playing or not. Defender John Jury has a judgemental view about both….

 


2017/8 and all that…..

May 29, 2018

Well another season draws to a close and despite a dearth of blog entries (a mixture of lack of time and lack of inspiration!) you can see from the Twitter feed that I’ve still been doing plenty, despite a short spell in the Royal Derby (and that’s not a hotel….) which scuppered my annual trip to Berwick. Suffice to say, as I write this, that beer is currently off the menu, on doctor’s orders, which does cramp my style a bit!

But looking back on the season, I did manage to achieve my stated goal of bringing all my Step 5 leagues down to single figures, and although that’s been at the expense of a few Step 3 & 4 stragglers, many of those are 3g so best saved for when all else has failed.

So what’s ahead for the coming season? To bring all my Step 5 leagues down to no higher than 5 ‘needs’, whittle away at Step 6’s, and also those Step 3 & 4’s (11 of ’em) which have sneaked through my defences. Oh yes, and that new Spurs stadium too. I’m also looking to tick at least two more Highland League grounds, and also have a dabble in North Wales (holiday booked!)

Plus there’s always Ireland and Holland. Mind you, that depends on me getting my drinking license back. I can’t imagine going to either country and staying on the fruit juice. A man has to have standards!


Deal Town – Saturday 23rd December 2017 (850)

December 24, 2017

“There was speculation that a handful of tightwad supporters had discovered a secret back entrance into the stadium,,,’

Isn’t it funny how little bits of information from your childhood tend to stick in your mind? With all this new stuff going on you’d have thought there’d be no room ‘up top’ for such trivia a half-century on, but no, they’re still in there. For instance I remember there being a UN General secretary called U Thant; I can name the 5 power stations that used to line the Trent Valley (I won’t bore you); and that the former names of Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Iceland were Rhodesia, Ceylon and Bejam respectively (yes I know it’s an old chestnut….). And that I had a friend who every year used to go on holiday “down Deal”.

Of course back then I had no idea where ‘down Deal’ was, and even when I became more geographically-accomplished I still had little or no reason to go ‘down Deal’. Until, that is, this football thing sprang up!

Having set myself the target of bringing all my Step 5 League ‘needs’ down to single figures by the end of this season, I’m acutely aware that I have to be in London most saturdays as it’s the ideal jumping-off point for the Premier divisions of the Wessex, Southern Combination and Southern Counties East, in which resides Deal Town FC, hence my belated need to visit the town. Today’s blast off from my Long Eaton base camp has been brought forward to 5.00am, courtesy of a revised Christmas schedule on East Midland Trains. And with St Pancras being the departure point for all things South East, it looks like that part of the capital will be seeing quite a bit of me this morning.

As I expected to have time on my hands, it was logical to select the furthest flung of the remaining SCEL Premier grounds that I need, and so that means Deal Town, an hour and a half on the faster of the South East trains services to the Channel towns. Having done prior research, I know that two of the pubs I want to visit will not be open until midday, so after arriving in Deal I kill a bit of time by taking a stroll along the minimalistic pier and chatting with the fishermen who are having a tough time chasing some elusive Whiting.

Having encountered a few down-at-heel seaside towns in recent years, I have to say that Deal is bucking the trend by appearing fresh and vibrant. There’s a busy little shopping area, the seafront houses are bright and colourful, and with regards to pubs and bars you really are spoilt for choice. Ordinarily I’d have stepped into one of the Shepherd Neame houses, or even the town’s Wetherspoon, but I’ve only time for three or four, so I must choose sparingly.

I start at the Queen Street Taphouse, right opposite the station. It’s a refurbishment job but definitely works on several fronts, not least of which being the four cask beer engines dispensing ales brewed in the county of Kent, plus 14 keg taps offering a wide choice of styles and strengths. These include some menu standards, but also some local delicacies such as the 9.0% Double Stout produced by Deal-based brewers, Time & Tide. As it’s my first beer of the day I stick to the relatively modest delights of Wantsum Imperium, a 4.0% dark ruby cask ale which is in impeccable condition, and at £2.65 a pint is doubtless priced to compete with the Spoons just down the road.

From here I move on to the Just Reproach micro pub where my timed arrival (12.02pm) sees me grab the only remaining table in a pub that officially opened only two minutes previously! This is a single-room bar with no music or other modern distractions (mobile phone usage warrants a fine) and as is customary in this kind of establishment I’m quickly into a conversation, this time with a gentleman who used to play top level rugby for London Irish, and who is happy to give me the heads-up on other local watering holes. My pint of Goachers Imperial Stout disappears a little faster than I anticipate, as in my eagerness to jot down his valuable advice, I manage to knock over my half-empty glass. Doh!

I’m intrigued by the building across the road which appears to combine a record shop with a craft beer coffee bar. Smugglers is in fact exactly that. Picnic-style tables are laid out amidst racks of new and second-hand vinyl, with other shelves groaning under the weight of some of the finest craft beers money can buy. These are for take-away, or drinking in, and once again I am quickly in conversation with a much-travelled former psychology student and an ex-navy man, about the merits of certain bands, great beers and just about anything in between. A bottle of Wipers & True Milk Shake serves to lubricate the discussion.

With the beer buzz starting to take effect – and the prospect of a twenty-minute walk out to the football ground still to come – I decide to eschew the Taphouse Beer Cafe for the similarly-named Tap Room, on the sea front. This is a keg-only bar but with a good choice of local brews, including those of Time & Tide. I’m attracted, however, by the Cow Juice milk stout on offer from Dover-based brewery, Breakwater, which I enjoy immensely, despite the £5 price tag for what is essentially a modest strength (4.2%) beer. It’s like being back in Dublin!

My culture-sampling session over, I head off past the railway station onto Park Avenue and then St Leonards Road towards the Charles Ground home of Deal Town FC. The stadium is a tidy little affair with a sizeable seated kit stand straddling the half way line on one side, and a covered kit-stand terrace behind one goal. On the other side of the pitch is a plush clubhouse, the roof of which provides some cover for anybody utilising the flat standing on that side. A cursory study of the catering facilities identifies the presence of the ubiquitous chip, while there are bottles of Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Pale in the chiller cabinet.

It being Christmas, the Southern Counties East League fixture secretary has conjured up a local derby today against Canterbury City, and it will be a home game for both, as City are currently homeless and ground-sharing at the Charles Ground. Previous results and table position would seem to point to a Deal victory, but City obviously haven’t read the script and are deservedly three up within 30 minutes. Even when we look to have a game on our hands after Town pull one back on the hour, the ‘visitors’ earn a quick penalty and the three-goal margin is restored. There’s just time for a couple of sendings-off – one being the City manager who caps off an afternoon of offering a stream of uncalled-for advice to the young referee by booting a stray ball into the stand – and the day is done.

An entertaining game and the ideal finale to my enjoyable day spent ‘down Deal’. My target now is the six-hour journey back ‘up north’.

Programme: Nicely printed and presented. £1.50 cover price but given away free today in a bid to show regular non-purchasers what they are missing.

Floodlights: Curiously seven pylons, with a gap on the clubhouse side where an eighth (presumably) should be.

Birdlife: No parakeets (yet) in this part of the world.

Club Shop: None evident

Toilets: Near the corner flag betwixt clubhouse and covered terrace.

Music the players emerge to: tbh I didn’t really notice, the effect strong beer has on me!


Cowes Sports – Saturday 11th November 2017 (840)

November 13, 2017

“Despite the club putting elaborate plans into place, it just didn’t look likely now that the Match Of The Day team would be turning up…”

From what I’m given to understand, we need less sleep as we get older. Try telling that to our cat! But it’s hopefully the case as I contemplate the prospect of enjoying barely 4 hours kip in a 40-hour period, courtesy of the fact that I booked gig tickets for a Friday night, when I knew I’d gotta be up at 4.00 in the morning to catch the East Midlands Trains ‘red-eye’ into London. Doh!

Mind you, when Nothing But Thieves come to town, sensible thinking goes out of the window. Possibly Indie rock’s ‘best kept secret’ I’ve been a fan for nearly three years, the first gig back in 2015 when half the meagre audience hadn’t even heard of them. And for this concert I’m accompanied by my teenage daughter, who’s also got the NBT bug!

I’m never entirely sure why Nottingham’s Rock City remains so popular with fans and bands alike, given that the acoustics are rarely anything other than shitty. But groups such as the Stranglers – who I first saw there back in the early 1980s – come back time after time, as do the likes of Billy Bragg and the Happy Mondays, all scheduled for the next few weeks. Also an act called ‘Arse Full Of Chips’ whose career must have passed me by, but are well worthy of a mention merely for that name alone!

So as I board the Saturday morning 5.30 into London, faced with the prospect of a trek to a soggy South Coast, I’m just a little bit bleary-eyed…..

My original target for today was Hamworthy United of the Wessex Premier. I had rail tickets to Poole already booked and paid for, but had failed to appreciate the possibility of the FA Vase draw muddying the waters. True to form, that team’s home game is postponed, but by good fortune is replaced with an away fixture at Cowes Sports. So if I abort my rail journey at Southampton, then the Isle of Wight comes into play. What can possibly go wrong?

What can possibly go wrong is the weather, and with the tail-end of a tropical storm smothering the south of England, that old bogey of a waterlogged pitch scenario becomes a real possibility. Frantic Whatsapp and Twitter activity gives me enough confidence to buy a Red Funnel ferry ticket at Southampton ferry terminal (£11 for an oldies day trip) and I kill some time by nipping into the Spitfire, a ‘faux-Wetherspoons’ boozer in Soton. The pubs sells Marston’s group beers, and my Ringwood Forty-Niner is appreciably colder than I would like, but that appears to be the modern way.

Back at the ferry terminal, I join a queue which includes all the playing and coaching staff from Hamworthy United (I am informed by a friend who knows about these things that it’s too expensive to take a team coach across to the Isle of Wight, so most clubs utilise the foot ferry/taxi approach) for the 25-minute journey by SeaCat, which fairly whizzes across the waves. One of the team is going round selling a football card – y’know the sort, pay a quid and pick a team – and I speculate that it’s probably to raise funds to help with the cost of the ferry cost journey!

My first port-of-call on landing on the island is the Cowes Ale House, as cosy a micro pub as you will find anywhere. Three cask beers are on tap, and I go for the Andwell 5 Little Fishes, primarily because it being the most local of the breweries, but mostly because it’s the right colour for a bitter beer!

I arrive at the ground just as yet another band of rain has passed, and the guy on the gate confirms that the match is still on, but that another downpour could seriously jeopardise the situation. As I do a quick tour of the ground, entirely dominated by a sizeable main stand with a covered area of flat standing adjacent, I’m rather praying that the rain gods look favourably upon us, which thankfully turns out to be the case as I kill time with a bottle of Doom Bar in the bar. Sadly no island beers are available at this island football club, although I’m curious as to how much keg Theakstons Mild (on draught) they are likely to sell this far south.

Today’s contest would seem to favour the visitors, who are having a much more productive season than the home side, and they are the better side in a first half that nonetheless sees them go in a goal down at half time, having also missed a penalty. Indeed they pull level shortly after the break, but then two well-taken goals in the space of six minutes by an invigorated Cowes Sports turns the game on its head. Suddenly there’s an urgency all over the park, tackles are flying in, opponents are being barged, nudged and tripped, the referee is making unpopular – but generally correct – calls, and it seems that Sports will hold out, as in fact they do, but not before they’ve conceded a second, and then almost an equaliser.

In fact the kind of game it’s actually worth getting up at 4.00 in the morning for, even though I’m now facing a 7-hour return trek that will involve a ferry, and two rail journeys. My only regret is I didn’t bring a nice comfy pillow along for the ride!

Programme: £1.00 on the turnstile. A modest effort but perfectly adequate for Step 5 football

Floodlights: 6 pylons

Birdlife: On a small island surrounded by seawater, what d’ya reckon?

Toilets: In the foyer of the clubhouse

Club Shop: No

Music the players emerge to: Lust For Life was playing at that time. In fact an eclectic and generally interesting pre-match music mix played over the speakers, including some Beatles stuff.


Bilston Town Community – Saturday 4th November 2017 (839)

November 5, 2017

“Satisfied that Stuart Little wasn’t in the stadium, Falcon turned his attention to the bald-headed groundhopper strolling past…”

As readers of my blog – and lucky recipients of my occasional Tweets – will know, I’ve always been fond of a bit of music. I can listen to any good (in my opinion) stuff from the 1960s right up until the present day, and pride myself on a mind open to anything that I consider to be creative or original, even if I wouldn’t necessarily ‘buy’ it. Pop, Underground, Prog, Punk, Ska, Eighties, Britpop, Indie, even a bit of country (not much though!), plus a lot of the new bands around today, although you don’t often hear them on radio airwaves which are generally packed to the gunnels with ‘allsoundsthesame’ rap plus anything uttered by the Ginger Busker…..

But there is one thing that has always puzzled me. Exactly what does that bloke waving the baton in front of an orchestra actually achieve?

Surely those musicians are professional enough to know when it’s their turn to play, and exactly how loud to play it? Do they need to be nursemaided into performing at their best, in fear that they may go off in a sulk, thus sabotaging the efforts of all those around them?

I suppose you could say the same thing about football managers. It can be a thankless task, as I discovered back in the day when I – my playing days over and my trophy cabinet buckling under the weight of the single award I got from being part of a Leicester 74 League Division 3 Championship winning squad – took up the challenge of running our club’s reserve side. Devoid of any response to my well-devised tactics, I quickly realised that shouting at the players was the best option. It didn’t improve the standard of performance, but at least I felt a darn sight better having being able to yell at them a bit.

Of course football management can be easy, as evidenced by one B. Clough who would simply tell his sides to go out and enjoy themselves and score more goals than the other team, which for several seasons they duly did. Maybe I should have adopted that approach with Europa Reserves!

Back to the music, and with tickets for a gig at the O2 Institute in Brum tonight to see Oh Wonder (we’ll be the oldest swingers in town, as usual) I meet up with the Aussie, who is out on parole after recovering from a marital ear-bashing following one-too-many footballing weekends away. We satisfy his usual pre-match appetite for Wetherspoons pubs, as well as taking in a pint of the exceptional 6.0%abv Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild at the nearby Beacon Hotel, Sedgeley by way of diversion, before arriving at the splendid Queen Street stadium of Step 6 club Bilston Town Community, of the West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division.

We’re quickly identified as ‘hoppers’ by the orange-bedecked gentlemen gathered around the gate, and after much polite conversation of a footballing nature, we are offered the sanctuary of the Board Room at half time, to enjoy the club’s hospitality (the chip butties on granary bread a positive boon on this Autumn afternoon!). The stadium itself boasts an imposing main stand of some stature, plus a small area of covered terracing behind one goal. Probably the most noticeable thing about this venue, however, is the array of industrial-strength pillars and netting surrounding almost half of the ground, which I discover was erected to prevent the more robust of clearances from bouncing off vehicles using the busy Black Country Way which now runs alongside the ground. This structure can be best appreciated from the road itself.

Having arrived close to kick off, and with no need of the clubhouse at half time (for reasons already outlined) I neglect my remit of investigating good beer and veggie food options, for which I can only claim mitigating circumstances. Besides, after the Sarah Hughes Ruby, who would want any other beer?

The games today is between the home team, decked out in all-orange, and visiting Dudley Sports, playing in all-green – curiously, the same colours as the home keeper, though the referee doesn’t seem to mind. With both teams having shown inconsistent form thus far this season, it’s a tough one to call, yet Bilston show the greater endeavour and by the early part of the second half are three goals to the good, much to the consternation of the Dudley Sports manager whose particularly audible vocal offerings are littered with expletives. These eventually catch the attention of the referee who explains, in no uncertain terms, that one more of same will lead to the manager’s expulsion to the stand. His instant response is yet another expletive, and so he’s asked to take the long walk.

Within minutes he’s back out of the dressing rooms with his kitbag, jumps into his car after opening the car park gate, and is off down the street. Cue much incredulity all round. Now we seen it all!

In the absence of their guiding spirit, the Dudley players take the game to their possibly complacent hosts, and quickly have it pegged back to 3-2, so at last we have a contest on our hands. Sadly for the visitors, there isn’t time to complete the comeback. So is it purely coincidental that the team has performed with more purpose without their manager in the ground then when he was there, bawling and hollering. And could that be proof enough that participants probably don’t really need anybody to stand there, trying to orchestrate the show?

Or maybe he just simply felt that shouting might do the trick!

 

Programme: Available on entry. Impressive for this level. Glossy cover and paper with plenty of reading matter. It covers two games but that doesn’t detract from the offering.

Floodlights: 4 posts on one side, 3 posts and a stand roof cluster on the other.

Birdlife: Not much, the decoy on the post (see picture) doing his job

Toilets: In the clubhouse adjacent to the stand.

Club Shop: There may have been one but I wasn’t nearly observant enough!

Music the players emerge to: Little Mix, but that might have just been the track playing at the time


Clapton – Saturday 28th October 2017 (838)

October 29, 2017

‘Building work is put on hold at Clapton FC as a possible new species of fungi is investigated…’

When I left the pub trade just over 20 years ago, I rekindled my interest in (then) Football League club, Darlington, a connection which had started on a ground hopping trip which took me to Feethams several years previously. One of the first people I spoke to – outside Doncaster’s old Belle Vue stadium as I recall – was a guy called Steve Harland who was part of the team which published ‘Mission Impossible’, the main Darlo fanzine, which was a fierce critic of the regime in charge of the club at that time.

I remember one night game where Steve stood up in the old wooden main stand and publicly harangued the Darlington directors who many felt were not in it for the good of the club. The exact ownership of the business was also less than transparent….

Curiously enough a hopping colleague recently gave me a couple of old copies of M.I. which reminded me of those events more than two decades ago, recording the animosity of that period. Little we realised then how things might subsequently turn out!

Ironically my visit today is to Clapton of the Essex Premier League where a similar situation appears to be unfolding, judging by social media posts prior to the local ‘derby’ with Tower Hamlets, but more of that later….

My Megabus into London is on time and courtesy of my recently-acquired Oyster Card I can now laugh at the queues at the Victoria Station ticket booths and head straight off on the District Line to Plaistow. Even though I don’t think I’ve ever been to this bit of London before, I feel I know it well courtesy of my dog-eared copy of ‘Skinhead Escapes’, a novel set in this ‘manor’ and pretty much essential reading in my formulative years as a ‘Smoothie’ back in the day! It’s probably a bit non-PC today, though….

A 20-minute walk up the Stopford Road takes me to the Old Spotted Dog ground of Clapton FC, adjacent to the – sadly now boarded-up – historic pub of that name. A steward outside the turnstiles says he thinks the former hostelry is to be turned into flats but you’d have thought some enterprising new pubco would have taken a punt on it. The OSD ground itself might also benefit from a bit of TLC, which the current ownership of the club could possibly give it. However, the suspicion of much of the Clapton fan base – the Ultras – is that the regime’s intentions might not be as honourable as would be hoped. Hence a boycott which has been in place for much of the season.

Inside the ground there is a seated main stand astride the halfway line on one side, with two adjacent areas of covered standing – the Scaffold as it’s known to the Ultras – on the other. An area of vintage uncovered step terracing is the feature behind the goal to the opposite end of the pitch to the clubhouse, which itself is spacious and comfortable, though probably showing its age. I’m delighted to see bottles of Dragon Stout in the fridge, and pay my £3 for the privilege of consuming one. For those that haven’t come across this little ‘beaut’, it originates from Jamaica, weighs in at 7.5%abv, and can often be found in the Caribbean foods section at Asda for around £1.50 or so. Treat your tastes buds!

There doesn’t appear to be any catering facilities here (unless I’m less than observant) but luckily I stocked up with a sandwich from the Costcutter across the road prior to entering.

Kick-off time for the game arrives with barely 25 people in attendance, although the anticipated racket from stay-away Ultras in the alley outside the ground fails to materialise, so an eerie silence prevails over proceedings. There’s plenty of grass – probably too much – on the pitch but a billiard table it’s not, and the game is littered with bobbles, miss-kicks and profligate finishing which turns out to be moderately entertaining, despite an inability for any real quality to shine through.

There’s many more people in the ground for the start of the second half, doubtless due to the opening of the turnstiles, and the atmosphere warms up as the comedy-of-errors continues out on the pitch. I recently saw Tower Hamlets put ten past hapless opponents in the FA Vase but they never really look like scoring even one today, and the home side are little better, wasting their few chances. In fact it gets to the point where I’m feeling that a goal might even spoil the game, but then a home winner duly arrives, deep into injury time, and a it’s reward for persistence more than anything else.

There’s just time for the traditional bout of argy-bargy which you’d expect of a closely-fought local derby, resulting in both teams seeing the game out with ten men, but it’s a home win, much to the delight of the (presumably) Ultras that have snook into the ground during the course of the second half proceedings.

No doubt their fight will go on, and good luck to whoever is in the right, although sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for, Darlo being a classic case, ending up being demoted 4 levels after appearing to find a ‘saviour’. For now the Clapton boycott is effective in giving media exposure to the cause, but is it ‘Mission Impossible’?  Only time will tell….

Programme: From the turnstile, black & white photocopy, 8 pages. At £1.50 probably about £1 too much.

Floodlights: 8

Birdlife: Parakeet territory!

Toilets: In the clubhouse and an outside block (which I didn’t investigate!)

Club shop: Not in evidence

Music the players emerge to: Deathly silence