The sun is shining down on the Old Spotted Dog Stadium in East London and Clapton FC’s supporters are singing Beatles lyrics at the tops of their lungs. Some of them are waving anti-fascist flags, and one of the few older gentleman in the noticeably young crowd comments that you’ll never hear a sexist or racist chant at a ‘Tons’ match.
Last Saturday’s home fixture against Basildon United was one of the club’s hugely successful ‘Football vs Homophobia’ matches. The club coordinate them on a semi-regular basis for the pure and honest purpose of raising awareness in a sport which has a patchy record for tolerance.
“We want to support people in need”
“We are quite unique as a fan group,” concedes Dan James, 28, one of the founders of the Clapton Ultras fan club. Ultras is the name given to ultra-fanatical football supporters who often have radical political opinions.
In Clapton, the group are on the left of the political spectrum – meaning racism, homophobia and sexism are mightily unwelcome at all their home games.
As well as campaigning against homophobia and racism, the group gets involved with the local community. One way it does this is by collecting donations for a food bank for a refugee and migrant project nearby.
“It supports destitute asylum seekers with no access to public funds or support,” Dan explains.
“It’s really popular. We manage to collect huge amounts of food and it’s going to people who really need it. We think it’s ridiculous that people need to use food banks, but this is the area we live in and we want to use our fan base to support people in need,” he says.
You might be forgiven for thinking a team in the Essex Senior League, which sits seven rungs down from the Premier League, wouldn’t attract much of an audience.“At the first game I went to a couple of years ago there was only about 12 other people,” Dan laughs.
However, things are different these days, and there were around 350 people out on Saturday for the Tons’ game against Basildon.
Most of the fans who regularly attend have been “priced out or alienated by top level football,” Dan says. “They come because they can afford to enjoy themselves and the atmosphere is just as good.”
“We try to make people in the terraces feel welcome”
Fans at other clubs – especially those top-level teams – often hit the headlines for their bad behaviour, not their community spirit. The recent incident in Paris, where Chelsea fans were filmed pushing a black man off a train, caused outrage among the general public and Tons fans alike.
“Football doesn’t have a particularly good reputation.” Dan says. “We try to make people in the terraces feel welcome and want to help combat racism generally in the community not just at the stadium.”
Clapton’s players, a diverse bunch themselves, get behind their fans’ efforts. On Saturday at the Basildon game they proudly held a LGBT flag before kick-off and celebrated with the fans afterwards. They helped raise over £200 for a local charity that supports LGBT youth through ticket sales and bucket-shaking.
Meanwhile on the pitch the team won 4-3 in a tense encounter and, in what is fast becoming a tradition, the players lined up in front of the terraces to sing the fans’ songs back at them, delighting all concerned.
The football might not be world-class, but you would be hard pushed to find a happier and more inclusive crowd than this one.
(Featured Image: Kevin Blowe)