Emerging from the tube, first impressions, Upney doesn’t automatically seem like the sort of place where you’d spend as enjoyable two hours as is possible to have on a Saturday afternoon. A tranquil walk along the canal, past a duck pond, you could have been forgiven for momentarily forgetting you were on your way to a grudge match, East London derby.
Approaching the ground, however, any thoughts of a peaceful afternoon in the park are suddenly long gone as the game kicks off while a massive queue continues to grow outside the turnstiles. As cans are hurriedly being stashed away from the men in high-vis, inside the large cowshed stand an away following approaching 100 assembles in the Barking ‘end’ behind the goal.
With all the afters following the previous encounter, losing this game doesn’t bear thinking about and any feelings of anxiety are suddenly escalated by the sight of seasoned striker and former professional David Beckham lookalike, Dave Armstrong, starting in the Clapton goal. Not to mention the giant Barking forward, who stands at least 6’7 (height likely to increase with each re-telling of this story) towering over both his opposing centre backs.
This however, doesn’t seem to concern the Clapton forwards, who determined to keep the ball in the Barking half, in a moment race down the field, cross an awkward ball in close to the goalkeeper for Tom Jeffes to bundle home with an unnameable part of his anatomy. The Tons get their customary early goal and Jeffes emerges from an embrace with the fans covered in beer. 1 – 0 Clapton.
With right back, Sam Naylor, pushed forward, Clapton continue to look compact. David Fallah on the other hand is providing an important out with some fantastic ball control and after he emerges from the Barking back line with just the ‘keeper to beat only to have his shot saved, Tommy Jeffes is on hand to slot in the rebound for a quick fire double and send an already delirious crowd into dreamland. Although this time he avoids a soaking. Half Time: 0 – 2.
Clapton emerge for the second half buoyant, although tension between the players continues to be high. In an incident which Arsene Wenger would forever swear blind he didn’t see, Tons’ captain, Ben Lowes, is shown a red card for altercation which has a man in blue on the floor holding his face. Barking, out of nowhere sense a way back into the match and the opportunity to silence the crowd.
The home side, suddenly remembering that the visitors have an outfield player in goal finally start to attack. Sixteen year-old forward, Ryan Creed is introduced and things start to unravel for Clapton. Ten men suddenly became nine as Jayleon Maynard is dismissed for a hefty challenge in the box and Barking are awarded a penalty. Substitute, Creed steps up to send Armstrong the wrong way and makes a bit of history as his club’s youngest ever scorer, gesturing to the crowd as his picks up the ball.
Clapton’s Craig Greenwood, without his defensive partner, weeks from retirement and against his former club, continues to show how deep his back pocket is as he wins header after header against the enormous man in front of him. The whole team continues to give everything and after Tom Jeffes is forced off through the thigh injury he’s been carrying for the last week, his replacement, Ike Nzurba does the unthinkable. Following heavy Barking pressure and a string of corners, Clapton break and Nzurba, finding himself in space, slots home from a tight angle to settle the game 1 -3.
No superlatives left to describe the crowd’s reaction.
Players, management and fans celebrate together and the champagne won in the raffle is put to good use, pointed mainly at the heroic Dave Armstrong. The huge effort and commitment shown by the team can only be testament to the admiration felt towards Woodsy and Neil. In a more than memorable year for all connected with Clapton, this was without question the game of the season.
And If you’ve never had a party on the District Line with 40 of your mates, I can definitey recommend it.