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It’s 50 years since my first real game. Real as in with a ref, not a park kick about. I was lucky, and am guessing I played about 500 more real matches, scored maybe 300 goals in various school, university and club games. I played in a few countries, occasionally in front of big crowds in full stadiums.
But what I remember now about what mattered most weren’t the trophies or cups (though they were fun), but the banter, the mates, the small political victories – like using local football to argue against racism on a personal level. I remember the shocked look on a teammate’s face scoring a flukey, last-minute winner against a team that had outplayed us, having to play in hockey skirts when we picked up the wrong kitbag, the satisfaction in beating the posh school who hadn’t lost for two years.
The south London Sunday leagues of the early 90s were a rough gig – fights, knives (even a gun once) pulled in the dressing room. I played for Hope Pole, a local Wandsworth pub team, and we were one of Stonewall’s first ever opponents, drawing them a couple of times in cups. They were a strong, scrappy, team, too good for the lower divisions where they were forced to start.
As the seasons went on, and they progressed up the leagues, and it dawned on more of us what they were representing. More than just a team that had made the odd choice to wear pink, here were players with real bottle, prepared to scrap for the right to play football in that menacing, homophobic world of Sunday football.
Now I realise how playing against Stonewall was something that mattered – that it was football history up close. It’s one of my best, most valued, football memories.
Being part of Clapton CFC lets me connect to those bits of football that matter most, in how football can play a huge part in the fight against racism, homophobia, sexism and general hatred.
Football’s about the good times, the camaraderie times; it’s really not the medals that you’ll remember.
Fifty years from now the game will look very different again, and I’m proud to be part of how Clapton will shape that.
Top pic: Brian Dooley, centre forward, in the number 11 shirt, George Washington University, 1984
You can follow Brian Dooley @dooley_dooley
So why Clapton? Firstly, being an enthusiast of the iconic Isthmian League from the 1960’s I was captivated by such names as Dulwich Hamlet, Corinthian Casuals, Wycombe Wanderers and Clapton.
Clapton had an advantage for my affection though because they played in East London, a mile from my first love West Ham. Secondly by the second decade of this century my love affair with West Ham and what they had come to represent in the corporate, commercialised world of modern football, was on the wane. I was subconsciously looking for a new football home.
On a dismal day in early 2012 I paid my first visit to The Dog and made up a twentieth of the crowd. The surroundings and performance by the Tons reflected the weather. I think Clapton lost, something they had done regularly since the 1930’s. But I was hooked and returned a few more times that season, though I am convinced I did not see a home goal.
Thankfully there were like minded souls in East London, rejecting the mammon and greed of the Murdoch League and searching for a football home, found one at The Dog.
The history of the next five seasons is well documented, which brings me to 25th of August 2018. Build it and they will come. I will remember the summer of 2018 for the love and hard work that volunteers put into preparing the yet to be named Stray Dog for THEIR club, Clapton CFC, first home game, a friendly against The Wanderers.
I believed a crowd of 100 would be an achievement. At 2.45pm, hardly a soul was in the ground. At kick off time the queue stretched to the car park as people waited to pay a donation and buy a programme. It was at that moment I knew something special was being built and I had a lump in my throat. Nearly 250 fans watched the Tons that day and the shirt we wore went viral.
The ensuing season was to become my favourite in over half a century
watching football. I have used the word love a couple of times. I love what this club believes in and represents and I have found my football home.
In the photo above, that’s me with my partner at the first match of the Spanish league outside the San Mames stadium.
You can see my love and pride for my two red and white teams, being a member of both the Athletic Club of Bilbao and Clapton CFC.
Athletic Club is a different club, and among its particularities, it is not a sports corporation so the members, taking part in assemblies, decide on the future of this historic club.
My attitude as a football fan is oriented towards “special and unique” clubs,
It’s easy to become a fan of any club of international renown, which, based on dollars, signs elite players with which to win the maximum number of championships and titles possible, but with the handicap of not instilling any kind of value to society and/or members of the club.
In that search for “special and unique” clubs, Clapton CFC appeared in my life last year.
An historic club, which has been able to reinvent itself in the face of all the difficulties experienced, and most importantly, directed by and for, the supporters, altruistically and continuously supporting, through sport, all kinds of action and campaigns against sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and fascism, amongst other positive causes.
Being able to belong to a club, where you can collaborate in making decisions, where transparency is a basic pillar, and despite the distance the treatment received is very close, and which strives to inculcate different social values, makes it a great satisfaction to belong not only to this club, but to this community!
I hope that someday my partner and I will have the opportunity to watch a match of the women’s team and the men’s team, and if possible, in The Old Spotted Dog at Forest Gate.
We are the Clapton. Greetings and a hug to everyone.
I became a member of CCFC in about November, but have been coming to games since near the beginning of the club’s formation … and supported the old Clapton team before that.
I love coming to the games, because I love football, but even more than that, it really does feel like being part of a community.
It’s such a great feeling after even the toughest of weeks, to lose yourself in singing, admiring moments of footballing beauty, and being surrounded by comrades who you know have the same values as you, and are fighting for the same things you are.
I’m not always a great ‘joiner’, but I’m really glad I became a member as well as a supporter – the club is very open and transparent, and I feel more democratically involved with decisions here than in anything else I do.
My name is Jesús Pizarro and I live in the province of Granada (Spain).
I’ve been a Clapton member since last summer, one of the things that has made me happier this year. I had been disappointed with football for a long time, as it has become more and more a business.
The day I found out that there was a team in London with a shirt paying tribute to the Spanish Republic, I was thrilled.
I did a quick search, and became a member straight away. It was great to feel close to a club like this one living so far away.
I wanted to understand the story behind the club, and its link with the people who defended freedom against fascism, however this wasn’t easy to find. I then set out to elaborate the history of the club in some way.
I had an idea kept for years, as I had told my brother, who has an intellectual disability, the story of his favourite club in this way. Seeing the wonderful sports values that the Clapton has, I adapted what I did before for him to the history of the CCFC.
What does it consist of? It is a chronological infographic with all the data, titles, and other Clapton CFC information from all the competitions since its foundation until the last year. The interesting thing is that it’s very visual and easy to understand and use.
My intention is to give it to the club, so that it could be kept in the clubhouse and used by the members to find out about the history of their club.
I didn’t want it to end up in a drawer and that it serves for everyone. It’s a pride to wear the Clapton CFC colours, so I wanted to also feel useful in some way contributing with this. I hope all Clapton fans like it.
We are the Clapton. No pasarán! Greetings and a hug to everyone.
With flags and banners that celebrate resistance and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, Clapton captivated me from the first game that I ever went to see.
I’ve been to football games, at all different levels, in quite a few countries and the experiences have varied hugely. The closest I’ve come to The Stray Dog vibe was at Portland Timbers in Portland, Oregon-happy, noisy, exuberant and inclusive.
Hearing “ ’tons just wanna have fun”, at Clapton, makes me smile every single time- it’s exactly the kind of club I want to be part of.
I’m a teacher and a union rep, so my working life is pretty hectic, with politics at the very heart of almost everything I do.
At the weekend, being able to decide, on the day, that I fancy an afternoon watching football, is just so refreshing. The fact that I don’t need to have a spare £40 plus to buy a ticket, that I can stand, sing, chat and actually enjoy the game is great.
I also know that I’m not going to have to put up with sexist, annoying crap being spouted by angry blokes, in a premier league ground. This means that the day is positive, whatever the result!
For me, the best bit about Clapton, is that the intentions are genuine. Donating to the food bank, at each game, makes a difference to the many people who couldn’t manage without the service.
Seeing the flag of the Spanish Republic, honours the memory of the victims and the fight against Franco, as well as anti-fascist struggles in the present day.
And, when a rainbow flag is flown, it signals a real commitment to equality, it’s not just lip service to the LGBTQ community. Women in football, whether they are playing or supporting, often get a poor deal across the board.
Clapton is different. Clapton girls and boys do make all the noise – together! Long may we continue!!!
I think I was destined to end up following this unique club. The perfect union of football and politics. My family background ensured both would be hardwired into my DNA as I came kicking and screaming into the black and white world of mid sixties Britain.
My Dad, John ‘Jack’ Gregory, a proper geezer raised on the streets of East London, was already a retired professional footballer by the time I was born. He made 24 appearances as an inside forward for West Ham Utd 1951-53 season, as well as 147 games for Scunthorpe, then headed off to Aldershot FC among others. Mum was bringing up seven kids, five of us boys, who would go on to play football at various levels most of our adult lives.
My oldest brother, John, was lucky enough to make it professionally too and made over 600 career appearances for Northampton, Aston Villa, Brighton, QPR, Derby, Plymouth & Bolton, before going on to manage Aston Villa and QPR among many others. You could not escape football in our house!
Some of my earliest memories are of my mum phoning my primary school and pretending I was ill, so we could jump in the car and head off to a midweek cup match in Exeter or Newport and watch my brother play for whichever team he was signed to at the time. There was always a match that seemed more important than school. I laugh about it now! Those were the days of hooligans in butchers aprons, swapping ends at half time in some rickety old wooden stand ringed with barbed wire and yes, Bovril!
Politics too has deep roots in my ancestry. And despite growing up with the memories of the male footballing heroes in my family, it’s my Great Grandmother Alice Jones that I’m most proud of. She was a street fighter and active Communist Party member back in the day. She was arrested in 1936 near Tower Bridge whilst confronting Oswald Mosley’s fascist Black Shirts and was active with the Aid Spain movement too, which coordinated relief to victims of the Spanish Civil War.
I joined the International Brigades Memorial Trust some years ago and felt privileged to visit the battlefields of Jarama, just outside Madrid, where some 20,000 anti-fascists lost their lives defending the ideals of the Spanish Republic.
I’ve travelled throughout Spain and visited the mass graves in Malaga and Oviedo where so many republicans, anarchists, feminists and union members were murdered and dumped unceremoniously into huge pits.
I also took part in the memorial service at the graves of fallen International Brigaders at Taracon, which happens annually and is organised by comrades from Asociacion de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales, based in Madrid. It leaves a lasting impression on you. It never leaves you.
So when I see the colours of the Spanish Republican flag fluttering in the breeze at the Stray Dog, or the change kit flashing down the wing on the back of Joshua Adejokun, (boy is he fast!), I know I’m among like minded people and at a community club with a big beating heart.
I’ve found my place on the terrace of the Stray Dog, a refuge from the corporate greed and predictability of the Premier League. Everyone involved in the hard work behind the scenes at Clapton CFC deserves a huge amount of respect.
I’m proud to be a member and part owner of the club. I seriously cannot miss a game now! Football and politics. It was supposed to happen. I feel I’m home.
One day all of a sudden, I really did fall in love with you!
I first visited the Old Spotted Dog on a Saturday when I was wandering along Upton Lane with a group of mates in around 1944 and we came across the football ground by chance and we decided to go in and watch.
There was indeed a game going on with around 500 to 1000 spectators all taking the game very seriously but not making any noise.
After that I went whenever I was able to but on each occasion the result was the same
I couldn’t fathom why the results were so bad, although I was told that the other teams were mostly putting a 10 shilling note inside the players boots and getting the best player whilst Clapton kept to the best amateur principles.
When I went to College I had to work weekends and was conscripted into the Army and finally ended up working 7 days a week for many years but always kept and eye on the results and tables of the Isthmian League.
Usually we ended up neat or at the bottom although if I can recall we won the London Senior Cup.
When I retired in 2000 I decided to attend regularly.
The first game I missed the first half as the floodlights were not working and the attendance was around 10 or 12.
I was told at my first game back by the under 18 coach that the team would never get anywhere whilst a guy called Vince was in charge.
Soon after he disappeared.
There was a young lady called Jenny who looked after the clubhouse but she left after a few seasons. When I phoned her up she’s aid that she had had enough.
At one time the alcohol licence was lost.
There were lots of managers and a chairman called Colin who ploughed lots of money into the club.
Then one day there was a crowd of about 20 who appeared at the scaffold having read i was told an article in Metro about the history of being the team playing senior football on the same ground for the longest period of time.
The rest is history.
There comes a point in life when you realise you need to take a stand against something you previously supported your whole life. I very nearly walked away from football completely. Having held a season ticket at a professional club for over 10 years of my childhood, football was a big part of growing up as a British kid.
In my early 20s however I was becoming increasingly ethically minded and concerned about where my money was going. This coincided with being a bit more selective about the kind of people i wanted to associate with politically as i’m sure many of you Tons fans can relate.
As you chat with your neighbour on the terraces, conversation has a tendency to stretch beyond football talk. Football in Europe is so entrenched in culture that political views inevitably creep in.
At times I heard things i really didn’t want to hear from anyone’s mouth. Sometimes the expectation that the hundreds of people around them have the same views breeds a confidence to shout such extremities. Although football was such a big part of my life.
I was determined that i would not let the opinions of certain fans shape who I was as a person. I started going to fewer games, whilst mentally having an increasingly bleak experience of the kind of people that enjoyed the sport. Still, it was hard to turn my back on the game i had loved so much in my childhood..
I struck up a bit of a friendship with a group of guys I met at a game. We started meeting in the pub before games and having a few drinks. One Day, pre-match, one of the group made a throw away comment about female sports people which was sexist, homophobic and disgusting all rolled into one.
For me it was the final straw, I didn’t want to associate with people who hold such views. Some might say it was cowardly not to say something, but not being a particularly confrontational person, the best protest for me is to walk away.
I started to follow non-league football for a while, but something was missing. It just didn’t match that camaraderie that I’d felt as a kid. The idea of Anti-Fascist clubs had just entered my consciousness, upon reading further,
A little club in a small district of Hamburg stood out to me for obvious reasons. I thought to myself, wow, 30,000 people, every match, coming together with a collective voice, super powerful!
Then I found Clapton through word of mouth! I managed to catch the last 3 games at the OSD at the end of a very successful 16-17 season, needless to say football was back in my heart. Within 30 minutes of arriving at the match I was singing in the scaffold, and made to feel really welcome. By the end of the game my voice was well and truly lost!
The Clapton trials and tribulations since have been enthralling. The boycott against the McBean regime and the formation of Clapton CFC shows that the fans hold the real power.
I’ve since moved to Taiwan for both work and love, (quite a long way for a home game, sadly) but I hold you all in my heart and hope to see you in the not too distant future!
I’m originally from Newcastle Upon Tyne but have lived in East London for 25 years. I was looking for a team to support and Clapton is where I live but I wouldn’t break the picket line at Clapton FC, or give money to the owner.
I was delighted when I read about CCFC and signed up for my membership straight away. The away shirt was ordered soon after, I’m afraid that being a huge Newcastle Utd fan I wasn’t enamoured with the idea of wearing the red & white stripes of the home strip, especially if I was working on Tyneside.
I love the whole ethos of the football club, the ability to get involved and the special relationship between the players & fans. I’ve been to several games at the Stray Dog and to half a dozen away matches.
I’m currently unlikely to share the joy of attending either of the two cup finals, as I’m an actor and we’re touring with Much Ado About Nothing until June.
My CCFC scarf hangs over my dressing room mirror. I have been taking it everywhere, taking a photo in each city we visit.
I’m very honoured to be part of something as special as CCFC and the team and management have done us proud, especially in our first season. Proud to be Ton.
It was Emma Goldman that once said ‘If there’s no dancing it’s not my revolution!’. The left may use this quote a lot, but it is rarely apparent in its activism. Until I was introduced to CCFC by friends, I scarcely knew any examples where political organising felt so joyous and as a result, sustainable and only growing in its potential.
I didn’t know the ins and outs of the Premier League when I started my weekly chanting for the Tons. Did I know such terms like Out Swinger, or Goal Mouth? Nope. I still don’t, actually but it does it matter? CCFC may be the one football club where I haven’t felt like it does. Newcomers are welcome whatever their knowledge of the game, as long as they’re happy to support the community and team in whichever way they can.
Once you’ve got the CCFC bug, it’s there to stay. What better way to end a week of work, activism and our endless anxieties than surrounding ourselves with like minded comrades, ready to back our team, win or lose, whilst also actively expressing our antifascist, pro-migrant, LGBTQ+ friendly stances. Our politics don’t have to be preachy, they have to be fun.
I am also feeling incredibly excited and privileged that Callum McCarthy and I will be able to expand the CCFC mission soon by introducing a video games committee that will be able to find new audiences, provide more socials for the team, members and staff and hopefully be able to establish the world’s first antifascist esports team.
Many traditional football teams already have esports wings to them so we’ll follow suit, but in a manner that is coherent with CCFC values.
In my work as a games journalist I have often covered the attempts by the alt-right to infiltrate gaming communities so it is really important for us to offer an alternative to that.
Sometimes city life can be a bit much, but my wonderful CCFC Saturdays have allowed me to see London in a new light.
The opportunity to marry my love for video games, activism and communal celebration all via CCFC has been quite an antidote to my political depression. CCFC chants are stuck in my head all week long and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Well, maybe except for the inevitable Sunday hangovers and the fact that the season has to come to a close (sorry team!).
Some of you may recognise Nick (pictured above) and his story. We tweeted about the campaign to save him from deportation back in November last year. Here it is in his own words.
Becoming a member of Clapton CFC has been an amazing experience for me. I was recently deported from Canada for things I did and believed in my past. I had to leave my daughters behind as they still have to finish school.
A large part of my younger life was spent in hate groups but I’ve been out of them for 16 years now. I received so much love and support from CCFC fans after an online campaign was started to recognise how I’ve changed and help keep me and my family together.
People who at one time would have seemed like natural enemies have shown me and my family nothing but kindness, understanding and love.
Coming to my first game I was made to feel at home instantly, I loved the family friendly atmosphere, there’s a real sense of community and love.
Everyone is welcome even someone with my past. The fans have seen me for who I am now and not who I was, something for which I’ll forever be grateful.
The foodbank collections at each game are something very close to my heart too, I did lots of work with the homeless in Chilliwack, Canada and it’s amazing to see the donation boxes fill up at each game.
The atmosphere at CCFC games reminds me of the game I fell in love with as a young kid before all of the money came in and changed the sport.
I’ll always be a member of Clapton Community now, I wear my shirt and scarf with pride and will forever be a Ton. Love to everyone at the club
Nick and family
I first heard about Clapton CFC via the club’s now famous away shirt. Commemorating the end of the Spanish Civil War with the ‘No Pasarán’ International Brigades shirt was a brilliant idea. It also made me curious about the way that Clapton Community Football Club was organised.
For me it’s about more than football. When we emigrated from Dublin in 1957 I was six years old. We moved to Tottenham in 1959 or 60. Tottenham is my other team, since then. They could learn much from Clapton CFC.
I taught Physical Education in two Lewisham secondary schools for twenty years. I never saw a separation between sport and daily life.
This led me to find out more about Clapton Community FC and inspired me to join and get my own International Brigades Away Shirt.
The club is about genuine community, actively anti-racist and also for LGBTQ+ and other important areas of life such as supporting the local food bank and also the Stansted Fifteen. I’ve since bought the First Team shirt!
I’m working on making it to one of the home games in April. I’ve fallen on my feet with Clapton CFC on so many levels!
I think the club is such an inspiration, your ethos is very much what I believed in as an educator. “What do they know of football, who only football know” to loosely paraphrase CLR James.