This week marks five years since Clapton CFC’s first ever game, a seaside beano at Holland FC for our only team at the time, the men’s first team.
In a day of firsts, on July 21 2018 we also had the honour of being the first ever opponents for the opening of their new £550,000 Eastcliff stadium near the promenade in Clacton.
155 fans attended the friendly, the majority from East London. Some travelled with the players in the coach, which was late to arrive by the seaside and meant the game was put back 30 minutes. More drinking time for those already in the clubhouse bar.
Player-manager Geoff Ocran had been appointed earlier in the month, with an announcement photo taken down a back street in Stratford. Our comms operation was still in its infancy.
Geoff used his contacts book and some trialists from the first few weeks of training to field a makeshift Clapton side.
Phil Blakesley, who played on the wing that day and for much of the first season in particular, recalled how he got involved. He said: “As you’re never too far removed from a Clapton fan of some sort in the Hackney area I found out about trials for the new club.
“Along with a couple of future Clapton CFC stars we attended the first trial sessions meeting Geoff for the first time and some other now familiar names.
“Receiving the text to represent the club at Holland in CCFC’s first ever game was a special moment. At the time I had no idea of the strides this club would take in such a small amount of time but you couldn’t help but feel something was building from the beginning.
“Personally, I was also thrilled to be part of the journey from the very beginning as I imagined queues of players would be dying to play for Clapton CFC from all parts of London.
“That journey began that day, not with the first kick but the first step onto the coach with players and fans making sense of what we were doing was something new to me but also important to understand what the club meant to a lot of people and how we can connect as fans and club as new.”
Among the other names on the first team sheet were future club legends including Josh Adejokun, Eliot Crosbie, Liam Smyth, Dan Anfossy and Stefan Nielsen.
Geoff remembers: “I had to look up where Holland FC was and I knew it was going to be a bit of a journey. That’s when it became real after all the prep and the training sessions and the trials.
“It was a very hot day. I had to play as well as we only had 13 players so two fans (Robin and Thom) ended up on the bench because we were short. Obviously they beat us, they were a Step 6 side.
“Players were coming in because they heard about the Clapton fans so actually going to a game where they could see the fans was a carrot and encouragement for more people to sign.
“We’d tried to go into the Middlesex County Football League Premier Division but were placed at Step 8 in the division below. That meant we had aspirations to win the league and it was good to see some foundations were starting to fit into place.”
In the end, the team did win the title and promotion in that first season, sealed with a win over FC Roast in front of 1266 people at our then Stray Dog home in Walthamstow.
Geoff adds: “They’re good memories and it’s good to think back about how far the club has come and how far we can still go.”
Due to the two divisions difference between the sides – and with Holland further along in their pre-season too – their win was never in doubt, but CCFC grew into the game and went close to a historic first goal.
Phil said: “The game and result was tough but the experience was everything. Knowing I had Clapton CFC’s first ever shot (a free-kick which sailed over but in my mind on the coach trip there it hit top bins) was crazy at the time but even crazier to think now.
“I remember thinking we want to give the fans the result and being disappointed afterwards until the coach trip back I realised again that the significance of the day was football, not the score.
“The fans that day, treating us like legends of the club before we’d even kicked a ball, made us want to win together on and off the pitch. Knowing what it meant from the very start definitely fuelled the players to achieve the incredible wins and trophies that season. That day was a true milestone for the club and one I’ll always remember.”
Friendships were forged between the two community-focused clubs, with fans and players on both sides applauding each other after a fantastic day in the sun.
While fans of both sides enjoyed a knees-up in the bar afterwards, there was a touching final gesture from the Clapton CFC side. A bottle of Pussers Rum was handed over by CCFC member Chris Tymkow to the Holland FC board with the instruction that it can only be opened when the new ground sees promotion.
Remembering the day, Chris said: “Forget about the 5-0 – though it was an interesting game. The overriding memory for me is the feeling that ‘we’d done it’. It was the reality of watching our team come out on the pitch and playing for us.
“For me that was one of the great moments in the history of our club so far. After all of the planning and the dreaming. we’d actually got a team out there. It was fantastic.”
That bottle of rum has yet to be opened, though Holland have gone close to promotion since. Meanwhile, with Clapton’s two promotions we are now level with Holland at Step 6, although in different divisions.
A month after this, CCFC played their first home friendly against Wanderers FC, the modern incarnation of the first ever FA Cup winners. Playing in our away kit for the first time, somehow a photo of the two Stefans, Kilron and Nielsen celebrating a goal went viral.
That started a chain of events that led to us selling 15,000 shirts, which helped fund the purchase of the Old Spotted Dog Ground and later the warehouse next door. The expansion with our brilliant women’s first team as well as our development teams, 5s teams and open training sessions. But it all began on a scorching day on the Essex coast.