I had a small window of time to watch some football this Saturday. Still on a high from my Friday night visit to Aveley I decided to squeeze in a local game. It was a straight choice between a revisit to Wadham Lodge or a trip over to E7 to see Hackney Wick take on Great Wakering Rovers. It was an easy choice in the end, and I headed back to the postcode of my birth for my first visit to the Old Spotted Dog ground.
Competition: Essex Senior League
Attendance: 25 (approx)
Refreshments: £1 (tea)
Star man: Stuart Brons-Smith
Who are ya, Hackney Wick?
The Wickers as they are known were founded by Hackney local Bobby Kasanga in 2015. They played in the Middlesex County League for their first two seasons before merging with London Bari, and taking up their position in the Essex Senior League. Hackney Wick was the first semi-professional club set up in the borough in nearly a century. Community engagement and uniting diverse local groups is a strong focus for the club.
The excellent club website provides a great insight into the work of the club and its volunteers.
The Wickers ground share with fellow Essex Senior League club Clapton at the famous Old Spotted Dog ground in Forest Gate. The ground is the oldest senior football ground in London, and Clapton have called it home since 1888. The area was originally part of the Old Spotted Dog hunting lodge used by Henry VIII. The lodge became a pub, and its lands began to be used for sport.
- The record attendance at the Old Spotted Dog was 12,000 for an FA Cup tie between Clapton and Tottenham Hotspur in 1899.
- Spurs, West Ham and Ajax have all played high profile games at the Old Spotted Dog.
- West Ham’s World Cup winning stars played in the ground’s first game under lights in 1966.
The game was the first for both sides after the Essex Senior League took a break over the Christmas period. The Wickers were sitting bottom of the table prior to kick off. They’d drawn their last game before the break but hadn’t won since 22 November.
Great Wakering Rovers were fifth in the League and still within touching distance of the teams just above them. They’d lost three of their last five games in all competitions, however, and had lost their last league outing against promotion rivals Basildon United.
The Hackney Wick experience
Train: Forest Gate is the nearest station to the Old Spotted Dog and is around a 10 minute walk. It’s an overground station that can be easily reached from London Liverpool Street or Stratford. Upton Park Tube Station, on the District Line, is also within walking distance.
Car: The Old Spotted Dog is just South of Romford Road in Forest Gate. There is residents only parking Monday-Saturday around the ground but weekend and evening parking is available on Ham Park Road next to West Ham Park.
The Old Spotted Dog is a well known and popular ground amongst hoppers and non-league football lovers. This is largely down to the presence of the Clapton Ultras, the usual residents of the historic ground. Unfortunately, the ultras are currently boycotting the ground due to a dispute with the Clapton owners, and they were away at Wadham Lodge this particular afternoon.
After finding a parking space by West Ham Park I trotted over to the entrance to the ground, past the heavily fly-stickered Clapton FC sign and down the alley next to the boarded up Old Spotted Dog pub. On first glance the ground appears to be very run down. The dilapidated state, is just a thin veil covering the history and charm of the venue. Every part of the ground from the friendly bar, to the toilets, to the famous scaffold is adorned with stickers from fans and clubs from all over Europe and the World.
A lap around the old ground uncovers its unique and endearing features. At one end fans can watch from picnic tables that look like they’ve been half-inched from the local Wimpey. The sides of the ground provide good options for fans who can sit in the main stand on one side or stand in the scaffold on the other. The far end also has a small standing area, barely visible amongst some overgrown vegetation. It helps add to the local non-league feel.
Around 25 supporters braved the cold to see the game. Most appeared to have come to follow the visitors, Great Wakering Rovers. Some attempted to stick it out on the cold plastic seats, but soon most based themselves closer to the bar or the more sheltered scaffold section. The bar area, apart from being warm, also provided visitors with hot drinks, snacks and an alcoholic beverage or two. It was also possible for a few to stay in the warm while watching the action through the windows.
Wakering catch Wickers sleeping
The visitors were on top from the outset in this one sided contest. The Wickers looked like a side lacking in confidence. The home side relied mainly on trying to clear the ball as far as they could in the opening exchanges. Rovers took advantage of their hosts slow start and scored fairly early on. Nash got on the end of a good cross and headed home.
The visitors doubled their lead soon after. The ball fell to Butterworth after a scramble in the box and he powered the ball home via a deflection off the Hackney Wick defender. The Wickers began to settle a little towards the end of the half and managed to get the ball out to their wide players more.
After the break the home side came out with more intensity and drive. They started to string a few passes together and move up the pitch as a unit. Rovers seemed to lose a little bit of their edge after the break, but the home side weren’t able to take advantage. As the warmth of the floodlights began to take effect the visitors created a few more chances.
Brons-Smith pulled off a few more saves for the home side to go with some great goalkeeping in the first half. The visitors looked like they’d found a third goal towards the end of the game, only for The Wickers centre back to save it with his hand. He was given his marching orders and Rovers had a penalty. Word from the sidelines was that the penalty taker was going to chip it down the middle. He did. Brons-Smith must have heard the rumours and he was able to tip it over the bar.
The result and performance was disappointing for The Wickers and they will hope for better results in the remainder of the season. The club, however, is doing some great work in their community and are about more than just results on the football pitch. The Old Spotted Dog is also well worth a visit. It has a great history and lots of interesting parts. I’d recommend giving yourself some time before kick-off to have a walk around.