Tower Hamlets hosted a Friday night, East End battle
There was no Saturday football for me this weekend. The main football day of the week was booked up with a wedding, so I had to look for other options. One fixture looked particularly appealing. A Friday night clash between Tower Hamlets FC and Clapton in the Essex Senior League. It was nice and close, and it would be my first chance to witness the renowned Clapton Ultras.
Tower Hamlets, formerly known as Bethnal Green United, play at the Mile End athletics stadium. The club was formed in 2000 and worked their way into the Essex Senior League by 2009. They immediately challenged for the ESL title and have consolidated their position in the league ever since.
Both sides had been involved in several FA Cup preliminary round games in recent weeks. Prior to that, however, the home side had accrued just the one point from their first two league games. Clapton had a win and a draw from their first three matches.
Competition: Essex Senior League
Programme: Included with ticket price
Refreshments: None available
Star player: Clapton GK
Getting to the Mile End Stadium
The stadium is just South of Bow Road (A11) next to the Regent Canal, comfortably walkable from Mile End Tube station. I decided, however, to drive and found the Friday evening London traffic to be relatively placid.
The stadium is part of a leisure centre complex and parking is pay and display. Fortunately, I had time to find a space on one of the local, residential streets. I would suggest parking on the canal side of the complex as you’ll then have less of a walk to the entrance of the stadium.
The streets around the canal side still maintain their traditional East End appearance, so there are some interesting sights and pubs around. The leisure centre side is closer to Bow Road and there are plenty of cafés and restaurants to grab some pre-game nourishment.
The Mile End Stadium
It’s an athletics stadium so the pitch is surrounded by an running track. There is an elevated stand, however, that provides a decent view of the action. All supporters congregate in the stand or in front of it as the ends and far side are off limits.
As expected Clapton brought a large away support with them, and the stand was quickly filled with supporters and banners. Their supporters are currently boycotting home games, and they were clearly looking forward to this away trip.
Their singing began before kick-off and continued long after the final whistle. The area around the stadium is quite open, so their chanting was audible over quite a large radius. It was still possible tomake it out when I got back to my car.
I began the game stood with the away fans but found my view of the game was regularly obstructed by their large flags. I moved out of the main hubbub and could then see the game clearly and still enjoy the benefits of the atmosphere. One Clapton fan was glugging white wine straight from the bottle. It was an unusual sight, but a bottle of wine would make a great companion at some West Ham games.
In stark contrast to the atmosphere the game never really got going. Both sides looked a little rusty despite being a few games into the season now. The surface wasn’t up to the standards I’d seen at Cinderford and Redbridge this season, and this may have affected the game.
The home side had the better of the chances in the first half and used their big target man to good effect. Clapton had a lot of pace up front but struggled to fashion any clear chances. Tower Hamlets had a couple of attempts from distance that tested the Clapton keeper.
A similar pattern continued in the second half. As the game went on both sides searched for a winning goal. The hosts, as they had before the break, had the best chances. These chances, however, were more clear-cut than the ones in the first half. The Clapton goalkeeper pulled off two or three fantastic saves (one was from an offside position).
In the end both sides could have won it, but a draw was a fair result for equally matched teams. It was a shame the game couldn’t match the lively atmosphere. The venue isn’t great for watching a game but the club is welcoming and the crowd made it fun.