Tyskie business

The game: London Bari v. Clapton.
The ground: The Old Spotted Dog.
The conditions: comfortably lukewarm; just the way I like my mulled quince cider.

Stepping out of Plaistow tube station and into the balmy evening air, I frolicked past the dappled West Ham Park and toward The Old Spotted Dog for only my second ever trip to the home of Clapton FC. For the sake of the game I was about to watch, The Dog was to serve as the ‘home’ of groundshare partners London Bari; this was the reverse Dog derby, a double header for me and – to put it mildly – a ruddy exciting fixture at the very end of the Essex Senior League season. The Scaffold awaited.

With neither side having to worry about promotion or relegation, the game was all about the bragging rights – and the support. The Clapton Ultras arrived early, got chants going, passed the Tyskie around and generally readied themselves for an hour-and-a-half of good-natured Bari baiting. The teams soon emerged, Bari in home red and Clapton in their yellow-and-blue visitors’ strip. ‘We’re following Clapton away!’ reverberated merrily from the sidelines.

For the first ten minutes or so, Clapton played the better stuff. With the whistle just gone, Shomari Barnwell held up a long ball twenty yards out before laying a pass off to Jake Stevens; the Tons’ wide man arrowed a shot narrowly past the upright. With five minutes on the clock, Barnwell won a corner which was quickly taken; Daniel Aggio teed up midfielder James Briggs on the edge of the box before a deflection took his zipping effort just wide – cue Joy Division-inspired choruses of ‘Briggs, Briggs will tear you apart – again’. Moments afterward, Abraham Jairette sent Aggio away through the middle of the dusty, arid pitch. Clapton’s number six saw his on-target attempt cleared a couple of yards out. The Tons seemed ascendant.

Bari came back at them quickly enough, however. A decent attack in the twelfth saw striker Tobi Adesina fire just over from twenty yards. A couple of minutes later, Bari’s Neal Athanaze burst past Daniel Kiely on the right before squaring for winger Junior Decker; his effort from just inside the area went wide. The home side put real pressure on the Tons’ back four, and this soon paid off. In the eighteenth, a long ball was chipped forward to Decker out on the left. He squeezed in behind the muddled defence, scooted to the edge of the area and from there – Clapton keeper Pape Diagne was hesitating well off his line – lobbed the ball into the back of the net. One-nil.

Bari could have made it two only a few minutes after the restart; with Clapton now in disarray Louis Ohase played in the overlapping Athanaze on the right – his low shot at goal was saved by Diagne. The home team established a passing tempo across the pitch and – bar a thirtieth minute toe poke for Barnwell – it looked to be all them. Decker, Adesina and Andy Greenslade went close one after another. Then, in the fortieth minute, an injury temporarily stopped play.

This disturbed Bari’s rhythm. A couple of minutes after the resumption, Briggs received the ball in the centre of midfield. From there, he stroked a beautiful pass to the onrushing Stevens out on the right; Clapton’s wide man sprinted to the by-line, chipped in a cute cross unchallenged and found Barnwell leaping above his marker – the Tons’ number nine nodded a looping header over home goalie George Hearson and in. One-all.

The last few minutes of the half went by without incident and the referee signalled for the break. Clapton’s equaliser had come somewhat against the run of play, yet nobody in the Scaffold minded; Briggs was serenaded, a Smiths-styled ‘Panic on the Streets of Bari’ pealed out and then everyone grabbed their spare tinnies and headed to the grassy bank behind the away goal. I trotted along too, munching thoughtfully on my homemade pickle and brie sandwich.

The second period was far more even from the off. Two minutes in, Barnwell picked out Briggs ten yards from goal; he snapped a shot past the post. Five minutes later, Bari substitute Darryl Morson went close with an ambitious, twenty-yard curler. The two sides took turns to trouble their respective keepers, various speculative efforts keeping Hearson and Diagne leaping this way and that. Still, for a good twenty-five minutes, neither team could actually force a save. The game had seemingly become an unpredictable shooting session.

As time ticked on, it was Clapton who managed to recover some proper incisiveness. In the seventy-ninth minute, Briggs pinged a clever pass to Barnwell on the right; the Tons’ striker weaved his way past a couple of defenders before firing a low ball back at Briggs – his attempt almost shaved the crossbar on its way over. Not long afterward, Barnwell drew a foul from Bari’s Peter Wilcox twenty yards out on the left. Briggs stood over the ball. Briggs looked up to see Hearson busy mustering his defence. Briggs heard the official’s signal. Briggs smashed a free kick in at the near post, past Hearson’s despairing dive.

The Ultras bellowed. Everyone jumped. I fell in some nettles. Clapton reorganised. A stunned Bari could only muster one more chance before the end of the match, a corner in the eighty-seventh falling for Tony Cookey – he headed over. The Tons saw the rest of the match out.

Clapton’s players came over to celebrate with the fans at the end, leading both the chanting and mad pogoing on the pitch. Bari could feel a little aggrieved having lost despite playing so well early on, yet Clapton had successfully snatched their opportunities. So, with the Ultras’ songs filling the cooling night air, the Essex Senior League campaign came even closer to its close.

Result: London Bari 1 Clapton 2.
My MoM: Shomari Barnwell deserves special mention for a dynamic display, but it was James Briggs who truly tore them apart – again.
Best fans: the Clapton Ultras. ‘A win away, a win away, a win away, a win away’.

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Tyskie business

The prodigal Tons

The game: Clapton v. London Bari.
The ground: The Old Spotted Dog.
The conditions: dark and dry; just the way I like my oven-baked beetroot wedges.

Historical landmark. Political space. Home to some of the nation’s liveliest Ultras. Venue for one of the country’s rawest groundshare rivalries. As a Stadio Calcistico, it’s as famous as they come. You know it, I know it – we all revere it. It is, undeniably, the San Siro. The San Siro of the Essex Senior League.

The Old Spotted Dog bears several noticeable differences to Milan’s iconic Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, of course. The clubhouse has seen better days. One end of the ground is pretty much derelict. A blue double-decker bus, an industrial shipping container, some old tyres and a pile of rubble occupy a corner of the pitch. The main stand is called ‘the Scaffold’. It is quite literally a scaffold. All of this makes the Dog one of the most joyously ramshackle non-league grounds I have so far witnessed.

With the Scaffold Brigada – Clapton’s hardcore support – out in force for Tuesday evening’s Dog derby with resident rivals London Bari, the rickety setting came to life long before a football had been kicked in earnest. Chants inspired by The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Desmond Dekker and the somewhat-less-seminal Shanks & Bigfoot rocked the Scaffold, anti-fascist refrains vied with some pretty candid censure of their opponents (one ditty to the disarmingly upbeat tune of the Super Mario theme was particularly blunt), Tyskie lager was consumed and serenaded in equal measure, while pennants and protest banners – one quickly confiscated – were draped and taped over the railing between fans and turf. As the players came out onto the pitch, the Ultras’ roars were thunderous. Kick off was still a couple of minutes away, but the whole ‘best fans’ thing was a foregone conclusion.

On the field, the ‘Tons’ made a fast start. In the second minute, a weak throw from Bari keeper George Hearson was snaffled up Fahad Nyanja; the Clapton attacker went one on one with the retreating Hearson, only for Simpson Mpalampa to get back and hastily cut him out. Five minutes later, Andy Mott won a free kick on the edge of the Bari box. Taking this himself, he fired well over the crossbar – an early sighter.

Straightaway, Bari carved out a great chance in response. Fleet-footed wide man Junior Decker received a pass on the half way line before racing down the left flank, beating his man and reaching the by-line; from there, he clipped a precise cross back for striker Tobi Adesina to head home, only for the number nine to nod inches over. Then, in the sixteenth minute, Decker slipped a ball through the Clapton back four and found Adesina once more; with Tons’ keeper Bobby Constantine stranded and the defence in disarray, he could only slide his shot past the post.

This miss provoked much mockery from the sidelines, including a brief burst of ‘Chuckle Chuckle Bari!’ that would probably have brought tears of happiness to Paul and Barry Chuckle’s ageing eyes; however, there was a hint of nervousness in the laughter – Bari were looking dangerous. The Tons’ players revived the Scaffold’s confidence in the twentieth minute when, after playing a clever one two with Shomari Barnwell, Mott volleyed narrowly wide of the upright. In what was becoming an open and even half, an incisive passing move by Bari then set Andy Greenslade up for a fifteen-yard effort from the left; the shot was heading toward the far corner, but Constantine saw it early and got down well to make the save.

In the twenty-ninth minute, the scoring was suddenly opened. A long ball from the back bounced kindly for Barnwell who – despite vociferous Bari calls for offside – calmly rounded the advancing Hearson and netted with apparent ease. The Scaffold went absolutely mad, the Ultras leaping about in Tyskie-fuelled abandon. The initial deadlock was broken. Advantage Clapton.

This advantage lasted all of three minutes. In the thirty-second, a quick Bari counter saw Adegoke Adetunji zoom off down the right wing. Whipping in a low cross, his ball through bodies found Decker sliding in at the far post; he prodded home to bring Bari level before nonchalantly jogging past the Scaffold and flashing the crestfallen Ultras a cheeky grin.

This certainly didn’t stop the singing for long, but it did give Bari the edge. Moments after the restart, Adesina latched on to a long pass of his own; skipping past Jake Stevens and going head to head with Constantine, his weighted chip over the keeper fell a yard away from the goal line – the ball then looped up and cleared the crossbar by a whisker. If this was something of a let off for Clapton, it was nothing compared to the number nine’s chance on the stroke of half time. After a spell of possession for Bari, Decker sent Adesina through the Tons’ back line once more. He dragged the ball past Constantine but, faced with a gaping goal, his low shot was weak; defender Jamie Lyndon dived in and thrashed this away. Adesina didn’t give up, galloping to his right to gobble up the rebound. Still he was denied; in an act of defensive heroism, Lyndon scrabbled over to block this too – Constantine then hoofed the ball clear, and the referee blew.

Another Tyskie (and possibly a whisky) later, and the second half was underway. Both sides seemed to be keeping it much tighter at the back but, consequently, the game was a bit less expansive; it took until the sixty-first minute for another opportunity to come along, this time for the Tons’ Troy Ricketts – his ten-yard snapshot across the face of goal was palmed out by Hearson. Then, in the sixty-ninth, the ever-threatening Decker won a corner for Bari. The delivery bobbled in the Clapton area and fell to Adesina, but his side-footed effort was blocked on the line and battered away; try as he might, it just wasn’t his night in front of goal.

Bari edged the last twenty minutes, but nothing much came off for either side late on; Cornelio Fonseca came closest to finding a winner, blasting over from twenty yards after Adesina had turned provider. Apart from that effort, it was the action amongst the fans that really captured my attention; chanting in disdain of new, lager-prohibiting ground rules, heading loose balls and generally making an admirable racket, they maintained the mood right until the last.

The match ended one-all and – even if Bari had the better chances – the draw was probably about right. The Clapton Ultras applauded their adversaries off to generous cheers of ‘Well played Bari!’ before both sets of players showed their reciprocal appreciation of the Scaffold; bragging rights were shared in the Dog derby, while a great night was had by all.

Result: Clapton 1 London Bari 1.
My MoM: Junior Decker. Inspired by the lyrics of Desmond Dekker. Double Decker. Decker2. Goal.
Best fans: the Clapton Ultras. Forza Clapton. Forza Chuckle.

The prodigal Tons

Draw and order

The game: Dulwich Hamlet v. Metropolitan Police.
The ground: Champion Hill.
The conditions: sunny and temperate; even more like Tuscany than usual.

I awoke, and the day had finally arrived. This was the day of my pilgrimage, my philosophical journey, my spiritual awakening. This was the day that I voyaged to The Vale, to the home of Wealdstone Football Club, to the temple of the man who brought the joy of non-league football to so many. Indeed, this was the day I walked the same hallowed terraces as that very man. This was the day I encountered the Wealdstone Raider.

Or that’s what I thought, at least. As I rattled down the Metropolitan Line, I just so happened to check my ageing smartphone for match updates; there, on my clunking Twitter app, was some information that panicked me to the core – the match at The Vale was postponed! The referee had declared a lack of bounce in the pitch, apparently. Digging the end of his pogo stick out of the damp earth, he had then called the game off.

Leaping out of the train doors at Finchley Road station, I did the only thing I could do; I jogged over to the Jubilee Line platform and, one tube ride and an overground jaunt later, I arrived at East Dulwich. It was the first time I had seen Champion Hill by daylight, and it looked quite resplendent in the sun. With free entry for LGBT fans and an itinerant group of Clapton Ultras also in attendance, I certainly wasn’t the only one enjoying the unseasonal weather in south-east London; an eventual crowd of 1,459 inspired a (strictly independent, anti-corporate) festival vibe.

After a few adverse results for both, this was a league fixture that neither Hamlet nor the visiting Met Police could afford to lose; despite the thirteen-point gap in third-placed Hamlet’s favour, the Met had four games in hand on the Pink & Blues. It was no surprise that the start of the match was a little cagey, then; though the away side were quite obliging in terms of possession, the opening twenty minutes were unusually disjointed from the home side; no tangible chances were created by either team.

In the twenty-third minute, the visitors carved out the first opportunity. From a free kick on the left, the Met’s Charlie Collins sent a gorgeous, curving delivery into the box; forward Joe Turner got his head to this, but nodded just wide of the post. Three minutes later, another Met free kick was allowed to bobble around in the area, only to be cleared wildly at the last moment; the away side clearly fancied themselves from the set piece, while Hamlet needed to improve at defending the aerial ball.

In the thirtieth minute, great running from Luke Wanadio gave Pink & Blues’ striker Tom Derry a chance; receiving the ball in the Met box with his back to goal, he pivoted and smashed a shot over the crossbar. Then, in the thirty-third, Hamlet won a free kick of their own. Twenty-five yards from goal, this was sized up by Ashley Carew; he struck his shot well, but it was saved and held by stand-in away keeper Craig King.

The Met soon had a couple more set-piece opportunities, defender Steve Sutherland and attacker Elliot Taylor heading narrowly over in quick succession. In the meantime, Hamlet gradually began to take control of open play; Wanadio and overlapping full back Michael Abnett terrorised the right wing on several occasions, not least in the forty-first minute when the former set up Jack Dixon to lash a strike toward the left side of the net – this was kept out by King at full stretch.

After a couple of half chances for Wanadio and Hamlet midfielder Jordan Hibbert, the first half came to a close at nil-nil. Hamlet had found their rhythm somewhat but, with the Met a perpetual threat from dead ball situations, the game was still very much in the balance; fifteen minutes and one trip to the Champion Hill burger stand sped by, then it was time to see whether either team could tip the scales in their favour.

Wanadio started the second half by straightaway tormenting the opposition; in the fifty-first minute, an agile run on the right and a couple of mesmeric step overs saw him come close to assisting Harry Ottaway, only for the final ball to be cut out. In addition to his attacking flair, the Pink & Blues’ number seven pinched the ball back from the Met’s midfield at every given opportunity. He was certainly giving it everything.

All the same, a patchy period of play ensued. Clearly looking to up his side’s tempo, Hamlet manager Gavin Rose completely changed his front line; Xavier Vidal, Dean McDonald and Albert Jarrett came on, while Ottaway, Derry and Wanadio went off. If I was disappointed to see the last of those leave the field, I certainly wasn’t let down by his replacement. Jarrett’s first act was to scamper away on the left before teeing up Vidal just outside the box; though the latter’s shot was saved by Craig King, Rose’s substitutions were already paying attacking dividends.

In the seventy-third minute, a cross from Charlie Collins was nearly turned into the home goal; Hamlet keeper Phil Wilson did well to save this low to his left. After this, the Pink & Blues went all out. Ten minutes of possession and half chances saw the pressure build on the Met. Then, in the eighty-fifth minute, Jarrett won a central free kick in an ideal position twenty yards out. Once more, Ashley Carew sized the ball up. Once more, he failed to score; this time his fizzing strike went just wide.

Three minutes later, Carew found himself in space on the left. Slashing the ball across the area, he found Vidal at the back post; the striker’s point-blank header was stopped by a reflex save from King, who then frenziedly scrabbled the ball out to safety. A flurry of corners ensued, several of which went equally close to winning it for the home side. In the end, however, none of them found the back of the Met net.

Hamlet had probably played the better football, but the visitors were good for the draw; nobody seemed too displeased with the result. Personally, I was just happy to watch a game. On a suitably bouncy pitch, of course.

Result: Dulwich Hamlet 0 Metropolitan Police 0.
My MoM: Luke Wanadio. Stick a step over in your pipe and smoke it, Ryman League!
Best fans: Hamlet (and Clapton) fans. Turned up in numbers. Brought rainbow flags. Chanted at the police. A few Welsh miners and it could have been the final scene of Pride.

Draw and order