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One stop beyond Turkey Street

12/03/2013

FC Romania 1

“You’re playing too much football. Send it Nicolae. Send it” The friendly fur hatted bloke who about twenty minutes earlier had shaken my hand and welcomed me to the home of FC Romania, is leaning over the advertising hoardings at the side of the pitch urging his team to move the ball forward. Unable to make my usual journey north to watch the red shirted heroes of FC United of Manchester this Saturday, I’m at Theobald’s Lane in Cheshunt getting my first taste of Essex Senior League football. FC Romania, who share the ground with Cheshunt FC are playing Clapton FC from East London.

The bloke usually does the tannoy announcements at the matches but today it’s out of action so he has resorted to personally greeting everyone as they came in through the single open turnstile. He gave me a brief history of FC Romania and revealed that he used to operate the tannoy for Isthmian League side Cheshunt FC but it’s clear he’s fallen in love with their tenants.

The club was formed by Romanian immigrants in 2006. In future they hope to attract players from other communities in the London area not only Romanians. They played parks football for a while, beating everyone in sight, including a 12-2 win in their first competitive fixture against a team called Beating Chastards, before being invited to play in the Middlesex County League. Last season they won promotion and now play in the Premier Division of the Essex Senior League at step five of the non-league pyramid.

It’s a shameful reflection of the current debate on immigration that only a couple of pages into my pre-match internet search for information about FC Romania I was already being directed to xenophobic, ill-informed articles about Romanian immigrants. Let’s face it, when was the last time you heard or read anything positive about Britain’s Romanian community? Sadly they’re invariably portrayed as either coming over here nicking our jobs, scrounging benefits or jumping queues for public services. The match programme, on the other hand, emphasises that whilst FC Romania would like to be as successful as possible on the pitch, above all they hope to make friends through football and project a positive image of the local Romanian community. It’s good also to see a local radio reporter here interviewing club officials and fans.

A few minutes into the game, it’s not difficult to see why FC Romania are currently second in the league table. They are well organised and play some neat football with each player looking comfortable on the ball. All the players have apparently played in lower league football in Romania, Turkey, Spain or Bulgaria.

FC Romania 3

The ground reminds me of some of the ones from FC United’s away trips in the North West Counties League. It has the slightly dishevelled air of a venue that’s perhaps seen better days but also a homely, lived-in feel that’s a world away from the sterile plastic surroundings of many modern stadia. There are two small, low-roofed stands, each with seats, at either side of the pitch. I’m stood in what appears to be the main stand and close by is the directors’ box with its oak seats that were apparently taken from White Hart Lane’s old west stand when it was demolished in the early eighties. Behind each goal is fencing. The ground’s capacity is meant be three thousand but today there’s probably about fifty, maybe sixty, spectators.

In the newer looking, blue-seated cantilever stand opposite there’s a group of about twenty or so Clapton FC supporters who never shut up singing throughout the match. These must be the Clapton Ultras that I’ve read about. They certainly don’t disappoint, reminding me of a smaller version of FC United’s away support. An iPod perhaps to FC’s non-stop travelling jukebox. Even at three-nil down early in the second half they’re still bouncing around working their way through an extensive songbook that includes some familiar tunes but a fair few original ones as well. There’s a song to a Desmond Dekker tune that I particularly like that substitutes Claptonites for Israelites. A few anti-fascist songs are also aired and there’s an impressive selection of flags including one featuring the old British Rail logo and others including the distinctive red and black of the anti-fascist movement. It’s impressive stuff for a football club located in the heart of one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the world. I’ve made a mental note to get myself along to the Old Spotted Dog Ground for one of their home games fairly soon.

Clapton FC were formed in 1878 and are one of the oldest non-league football clubs in the country boasting a proud history. They were founder members of the Southern League and, despite their name, they have a longer presence in the borough of Newham than their Premier League neighbours West Ham. Interesting given the unseemly scrap over who should play football at the Olympic stadium in the borough.

On the train out to Tesco-land from Liverpool Street I’d passed through a large chunk of north east London including Seven Sisters and White Hart Lane before alighting at Theobald’s Grove on the southern tip of Cheshunt (it’s one stop after Turkey Street). It reminded me that Manchester United are due to play at Spurs tomorrow lunchtime. Earlier in the week a Spurs supporting mate had rung me to see if I fancied a spare ticket for Sunday’s game. Apparently it would set me back fifty five quid. Or “£57.50 including the booking fee”. He does this every season. I keep banging on about FC United but he’s not really “got” it and can’t understand why anyone would possibly give up watching the likes of Rooney and Van Persie for this non-league malarkey.

FC Romania 4

In eight years of watching FC I’ve been regularly impressed by the quality of non-league football. Okay it’s not exactly Brazil circa 1982 but it’s definitely not all about hoofing it up the pitch either. And today is no exception with both sides trying to play decent football. FC Romania, in particular, with their patient build-up play and emphasis on playing the ball to feet, look a fine side. Before the hour mark they’re three-nil up with the game seemingly over. But Clapton, to their credit, backed by their superb travelling support, some of whom by now are dancing on top of the home team’s dug-out, pull a goal back and for a period threaten a second goal but FC Romania end the match as worthy 4-2 winners. It could have been more if a last minute Beckhamesque lob from just inside the half way line by one of the Romanian midfielders had not bounced narrowly over. It would have been some goal.

As I make my way to the exit the part-time tannoy announcer is bellowing his appreciation. “Bravo, FC Romania. Bravo”. I’ll echo that. And across the other side of the pitch the Clapton Ultras are, well, not surprisingly still singing their hearts out. Forza Clapton FC. Fifty five notes for a trip to Spurs? Pffft, you’ve got to be joking when you can pay a fiver and be as richly entertained as this on and off the pitch.

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From → Politics, Sport

3 Comments
  1. A great read. Obviously a true football follower/supporter. It is these great supporters Non-League football welcomes. Non-League Football is the real football. And We Love It!

    • Cheers John. I recognise that face from the match. Keep up the great work with FC Romania. Really enjoyed the game and hope to be back soon. All the best to you and the club for the rest of the season.

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  1. Clapton Ultras - football rebellion shakes up London non league

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