I admit to never looking forward to visiting grounds that are primarily athletics stadiums with a football pitch in the middle and the Mile End Stadium certainly ranks among those. In recent years Clapton's fortunes have enjoyed mixed fortunes at Burdett Road. When playing against Sporting Bengal we have enjoyed zero success and our failures were summed up by the stunning second half comeback by our hosts last February.
Against Tower Hamlets (previously Bethnal Green United) our record has improved in the past few years. Obviously our team had improved under Chris Wood and I fondly remember Neil Matthew's free kick winner a couple of years ago, the excellent 3-0 in the Gordon Brasted and the astonishing turnout of Clapton supporters for the league match last March. So with hope of a decent turn out of 'oiks' and fans as well as a good result, I made the short trip along the Central Line to Mile End.
I managed to pop into a local pub, the Wentworth, which was festooned with Clapton fans. I never thought in the 40 or so years I have been following my club that I would have witnessed such pre-match scenes before an away match. The fans, who were in great spirits and good voice, even threw in a Beatles song for old timers like me.
The Mile End Stadium is soulless. The dug outs are on the far side and the two teams conspired to serve up a match that was as unexceptional as it's venue. It was very reminiscent of the goalless draw between the teams last March. Scrappy, no real invention, very dour fare. The Clapton fans, again in great numbers, tried their best to raise the atmosphere. By the way, loving the 'This is East 7' banner.
But then two incidents change the atmosphere totally.
Our old friend, and team coach Neil Day appeared in the stand. I am still very disappointed by his departure but he appeared in good health and spirits and got a hero's welcome from the Clapton fans. I miss him on match days.
Then Ninja (Fahad Njanja) who, has always been a decent player for Clapton and it was a shame when he left the club a year or so ago, scored His goal, a few minutes from the end was like an 'Open Sesame' moment. Suddenly the stand erupted and it felt that, at last, we were at a football match and not an intermission from beer drinking.
However, after the game I was delighted to see the team responding to the supporters. If our club is going to move forward, the player/supporter relationship is very important. I know that recently some players have been upset by being rested/dropped etc but I would ask them to hold tight and think about this carefully before letting their frustrations prompt a bad decision to leave. Would they rather play in front of the fantastic support that our club now enjoys or turn out at a quiet, empty stadium where the players and benches make the most noise?
All in all, three very welcome points and the afternoon was topped off by watching Neil Day leading off some of the celebratory singing with the oiks.
Now there is a long gap to the next game against Barking and we also miss out on Non-League Day. Such a shame now that the impetus is with us.
25th August 2014
email Lew Listz