Tons of history

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


As a curtain raiser to the start of the new Essex Senior League season, which kicks off in earnest this Saturday, we have asked Clapton FC fan extraordinaire, Andy Barr, to provide us with a potted history of this great local institution.

We will be following the Tons, on-line, and a little in person - other commitments permitting - regularly from now on.  Why not join us, and support your local club?

For a fixture list, and hopefully regular match reports, check out the Now - Sports page of this website.

FA Cup Qualifying Round 1931: 
Clapton 1 vs Grays Thurrock 0
 ( save by Gray's goalie Willoughby)
Andy writes:

In August 1877, a bare 14 years after the formation of the Football Association – W.R Davies invited his friends to his father’s house at 11 Queensdown Road, Clapton, London E5. From that meeting Downs FC was born.

A year later, the club was renamed Clapton FC, with Davies as the first honorary secretary and treasurer. For three years the club played on Hackney Downs with the Downs Hotel as its headquarters. Then a move was made to Lea Bridge Road where Clapton FC spent most of its early infancy.

Clapton won their first trophy in 1887-8, the London Junior Cup by beating Edmonton 5-0.

Forest Gate Weekly News report
 of Clapton FC vs QPR November 1897

The next season the club replaced St Bartholomew’s Hospital as tenants on the enclosure in Upton Lane, now known as the Old Spotted Dog Ground. The yearly rental of £35, paid to Landlady Mrs Vause, was a considerable sum in those days.
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Four thousand spectators saw the first game on the new ground when Clapton defeated Old Carthusians, a strong and famous amateur team of the day. By the end of the season, Clapton had also won the London Senior Cup by defeating Casuals at Kennington Oval by 4 goals to 2. The Middlesex Senior Cup was lifted in the same season and a notable result was Clapton Reserves’ 4-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Northumberland Park.

By now, the Tons were able to hold their own with the best teams in the south of England. In 1890 they crossed the channel and were the first English club to play a match on the continent when they beat a Belgian XI in Antwerp by 7 goals to nil.

At home, Clapton were instrumental in the formation of the Southern League (now Evo Stick League) in 1892 and the following season were one of the original entrants for the first season of the FA Amateur Cup.

Heady days for Spurs! - Forest Gate
 Weekly News report of their game
 at the Old Spotted Dog ground
 to the Tons in December 1896
In 1896, the Tons became founder members of the London League, a competition that included Thames Ironworks (now West Ham United) and achieved the distinction in reaching the final of the London Charity Cup for six successive years. It was after the 1904 final that a discussion that took place between officials of Clapton and Casuals and Mr Henry J Husband that the seeds were sown for the establishment of the Isthmian League. Clapton were runners up in the inaugural season of the league and remained members until 2006.

The first 25 years of Clapton’s history were the years of growth and leadership and  spectacular success.

Clapton FC Ultras, 1937 style!
From 1903-1928, (20 competitive seasons due to WW1) Clapton appeared in 6 Amateur Cup Finals, winning on five occasions. They won the Isthmian league twice, and were runners up four times and, during this period, won, on at least one occasion, every other amateur competition for which they entered. Such a record of accomplishment is second to none in the annals for British football.

1909 Clapton FC, Amateur Cup winning team.
 Walter Tull, front row. Second from right
A  host of International players have worn the red and white stripes of Clapton FC, and former Clapton stalwart Stanley Earle, was the last amateur to play for the full England team when with West Ham United.

Decline, however, began to set in from the 1930's. Other than a seventh position held in 1936, Clapton started to regularly end up in the bottom half of the Isthmian League. The Second World War interrupted the Isthmian campaigns and, as a result, Clapton played in the South Essex Combination.

After Easter 1940, the Old Spotted Dog was used as a munitions store and Clapton moved into Ilford’s Newbury Park ground to play their matches. By co-incidence, Ilford had used the Old Spotted Dog for similar reasons during World  War 1.

Clapton FC, 1943
Clapton never recovered the standards of the twenties when the Isthmian League re-started after 1945. In 1952-53, for the first time in 50 years, the club finished bottom of the League. However, they were still pioneering. On 7 December 1953 the first competitive all- amateur match under floodlights took place at Upton Park when Clapton played Barking in an Essex Thameside Trophy replay. The ground was made available to Clapton by the Hammers to mark the 75th anniversary of the Tons.

Clapton FC home game 25 April
 1940 - note size of crowd

The honours won during the 1960s were mainly confined to three AFA Invitation Cup wins and, following the expansion of the Isthmian League and the emergence of semi – professionalism, the Tons invariably struggled and duly slipped into the lower divisions.

In the 1980s and 90s despite a lack of success on the field, Clapton stood by their amateur policy. But, sadly, after over 100 years of unbroken membership of the Isthmian League, the club dropped into the Essex Senior League in 2006.

The outstanding achievement of recent years was the establishment of the Clapton Trust which successfully secured a 99 year lease on the ground in 1992. The original members of the Trust, consisted of Clapton members and former Newham Mayor Arthur Edwards.

In securing the ground, against all odds, Clapton has survived, whilst other great east London clubs such as Walthamstow Avenue, Leytonstone, and Leyton are no more.

The club, which is now looking forward to its 136th year, now has every chance of continuing to flourish and it is incumbent upon the present officers and members of the club to encourage more community involvement so that Forest Gate can, once again, identify with their football club which, despite their name, have been resident in Newham, even before West Ham United (Thames Ironworks) were formed.

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