April 2017. East London, England.
Back in May, we published an article on Soccerbible to tell how much we love going to watch Clapton FC games. It’s this kind of atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else on the planet and that forces you to admit that there’s no city like London to appreciate football culture at its best. We hope you’ll feel something reading our story below, and looking at the pictures that reminds us that you don’t need to buy £70 tickets in stadiums with 70,000 seats to get the best taste of football.
A place like no other
There’s no such a place than the Old Spotted Dog ground. I went there for the first time last season and I literally fell in love with this place. The stadium looks quite decrepit, it seems like everything has been build by hand, no seats in the stands, the pitch is pretty bad. But trust me, it’s one of the very best atmospheres you can experience in London. And all the credit goes to Clapton F.C Ultras. Songs, flags, flares and beers, you can be sure the atmosphere will be intense and friendly, any game of the season. The team was playing in the Essex Senior League, and they’ve just secured the second place after the game I shot against Burnham Ramblers. A much better experience than a lot of Premier League stadiums. With less than two hundred people in the stands…
Nothing you can expect
I guess Clapton FC has got more and more exposure since medias are more interested by football culture nowadays. I wanted to have a different experience of football in London than what you can see on TV. But the thing is, if you don’t go there, you can have an idea of what to expect of course, but you won’t seize what it’s really all about. This is a different vision of football. Clapton fans give a lot of their time for their passion, to support the team, but also to defend their values: friendship, access and diversity. It’s much more than just football. To be very honest, first I heard about the flares, but actually the more you go there, the more you’ll want to be part of the movement.
Make your own voice heard
Just want to be part of it! That’s actually the hard part when you want to capture pictures at the same time. First because it’s not really part of the culture of the Ultras to have photographers around, and mostly because you feel stupid with your camera in hand when you enjoy good atmospheres. You’re tempted to drop it in your backpack, and go singing in the middle of the kop. But, to be fair, there are also so many emotions to capture, it’s crazy. The flares are always impressive of course, but what makes the difference is the strong connection between the players and the fans. It’s pretty unique, it feels like everyone belong to the same family. And as you can see on the pictures, when it comes to celebrating the promotion, there are no differences anymore. Players, fans, everyone comes together to enjoy the moment.
The best place to watch football
It’s quite funny every time I go there, because you can see at the beginning of the game, there are the Ultras in the kop, and the other people hanging around without really taking part. They’re just curious to find out how it’s going to go. But as long as the game goes on, everyone is getting closer to the kop and start cheering as well. At the end of the game, you can be sure that the whole attendance ends up singing on the scaffolds. The fact that you can bring your own beers at the ground might help a little bit, but I believe it’s mainly because people stand for similar values: authenticity, respect and acceptance of diversity.”
Not something you can forget
You don’t need to have a 80,000 seats stadiums for a great atmosphere. It’s more about the people that you’ll bring to the ground. Yes, you can technically fill a stadium selling $80 tickets, but is that really what football is about? It’s refreshing to see there are still some places like that in a city like London, to see that some people still believe in the raw beauty of football versus football business. I’m also aware even at this level it’s quite complicated for the Ultras to defend their values. They’ve had hard times this season protesting against entry fees increase, and I would just like to show them my support because fighting to keep football accessible to everyone is something that is worth being recognised.
Keep it local
Crowds attracting crowds and sitting way down the footballing pyramid, this sense of emotion is breeding a re-imagined football culture that tears up convention and does away with the norm. In the case of Clapton FC, their fans recently boycotted the club because of a ticket price increase. In coming to an agreement, the club worked with fans to right the wrongs and remedy any discord. A club for the people that charge a mere £6.50 to get in. You can pitch up on the sideline, pint in hand and megaphone charged. Prepare for the punk football revolution people.