The remarkable rise of Clapton Community FC – how selling away shirts helped fund ownership of London’s oldest stadium

5 min

“It’s been insane, an absolute rollercoaster,” says Clapton Community FC treasurer Kevin Blowe as he reflects on the last five years at the fan-owned club.

Formed in January 2018 by disillusioned Clapton FC supporters, the club have recently purchased the freehold to London’s oldest football ground, the Old Spotted Dog, following the aforementioned Clapton FC’s eviction.

And although their women’s side already play at the stadium, the men’s team are currently groundsharing with Walthamstow FC at Wadham Lodge while new changing rooms are built to provide the necessary FA requirements to host league football.

But just like the rain and grey clouds during the recent Anagram Records Trophy clash against Battersea Ironsides, nothing is going to dampen the spirits of their fans as they continue to enjoy an incredible journey.

With an atmosphere bouncing from the first minute to the last, the 2-1 win was driven by loyal support of drumming and chanting that demonstrated the overwhelming community pride which the club is built on.

On the East London-based club’s continued success, Blowe exclusively told London Football Scene: “If you think about what has happened between 2018 and now, I still have to pinch myself thinking about how much we’ve actually managed to get done in that time.

“We had the complete closure of football because of the pandemic but in the middle of that we managed to buy the Old Spotted Dog Ground in Forest Gate.”

A large part of the funding for the ground came from the club’s first ever away shirt capturing the imaginations of the Spanish market, after it was based upon the colours of the International Brigade – a group who fought against fascism in Spain during the civil war in the 1930s.

It not only crashed the club’s online shop at the time but raised more than £60,000 for the cause, with Blowe at pains to underline the importance of the club moving into the Old Spotted Dog – a place they call home.

“Everything to do with the shirt, and I cannot emphasise this enough, was a complete accident,” Blowe said. 

“Its popularity is just something we couldn’t have predicted – I think we bought 50 shirts at the time and they all went on the launch night.

“So we thought it might be a bit more popular than we first thought but not as huge as it got and I imagine if you wander around Barcelona, you’ll probably not have to walk very far before you run into somebody wearing one.

“It helped with the purchase (of the ground), which had an emotional resonance for a lot of people as it’s the oldest senior ground in London.

“It has a history and as owners now, we want to build a new history – although I didn’t quite realise how expensive it was to run a ground before we started doing it!”

READ MORE: How Walthamstow FC turned coronavirus struggles into a first league title in 37 years

The club’s anti-fascist support remains prominent in flags and banners at games, alongside others promoting the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ groups and one even urging the Government to stop proposed plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

While the men’s team currently ply their trade in the Middlesex County League Premier Division after gaining promotion from Division One in their inaugural 2018-19 campaign, their women’s side progressed to last year’s FA Cup Third Round.

The first club from the seventh tier to do so, Clapton CFC crowdfunded in order to pay for the players’ accommodation and travel to the game against Plymouth Argyle, with large groups of fans also making the trip to Devon.

This sense of community between the 1,400 club members, players, and volunteers is what drives the club to succeed, as well as being one of the reasons why Richard Prescode, part of the communications team, first got involved with the club.

“I wanted a safe space to watch football with my son,” Prescode told London Football Scene.

“Having been up and down the country supporting a professional team for a number of years, my experience was it was not a space I wanted my son to grow up in. 

“I have stood on terraces and heard racist, homophobic comments and chanting and wanted to step away from this. 

“Clapton Community gives myself, my son and like-minded individuals a space to enjoy football.”

There’s a real sense of the club aiming to develop a progressive relationship between itself and the fans, promoting inclusivity with a large focus also on ensuring the club remains self-sufficient over the next few years.

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“One year at a time, one year at a time,” added David Grigg, part of the matchday team.

“We are just looking to grow the club by getting back into ‘the Dog’ and make it more of a community space than what it currently is. 

“We want to be more sustainable with the income that we’ll get from having games there and when we’re back in our own home, we will be able to get more of the community around Forest Gate to games.

“So there’s lots to look forward to in terms of growing a more community-based spirit within the club and hopefully, the footballing side will be a success as well.”

With the men’s side expected to join their women’s counterparts at the Old Spotted Dog in January, it will hail a fitting fifth anniversary for the club and a bright future for all involved with it.

“It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like in 10 years time,” remarks Kevin Blowe. “But whatever happens, it’s not going to be because some benefactor sweeps in, Ryan Reynolds style with a chequebook, but because our members have built it.”

Special thanks to Garry Strutt & Clapton Community FC for supplying the main image for this piece.

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