Where there is a local side, there is a local community. In the shape of Clapton F.C. the 'Ultras' flame burns bright for a side that has captured the imagination of many a local inhabitant. Flying on the shoulder as they secured promotion with an emphatic 7-0 showing, Jeremy Roturier was in the mix as the flairs were lit and the celebrations kicked off.
If there's one thing for sure, it's that the non-league, visually, provides a backdrop for football that very few can. A place where the party seems to grab the mind and provide a settling place for creative thinking, political messages and all round freedom of speech with football running throughout. From Dulwich Hamlet to Whitehawk FC through to Clapton FC, there's many a team who are embracing the energy and bringing back the fun in pitchside football.
You've taken in your fare share of footballing 'scenes', what made Clapton F.C. such a stand out place?
"There's no such a place than the Old Spotted Dog ground. I went there for the first time last season and I literally fell in love with this place. The stadium looks quite decrepit, it seems like everything has been build by hand, no seats in the stands, the pitch is pretty bad. But trust me, it's one of the very best atmospheres you can experience in London. And all the credit goes to Clapton F.C Ultras. Songs, flags, flares and beers, you can be sure the atmosphere will be intense and friendly, any game of the season. The team was playing in the Essex Senior League, and they've just got promoted after the game I shot against Burnham Ramblers. A much better experience than a lot of Premier League stadiums. With less than two hundred people in the stands..."
Did you have an expectations before you went to the game? What had you seen / heard that made you go?
"I guess Clapton FC has got more and more exposure since medias are more interested by football culture nowadays. I wanted to have a different experience of football in London than what you can see on TV. But the thing is, if you don't go there, you can have an idea of what to expect of course, but you won't seize what it's really all about. This is a different vision of football. Clapton fans give a lot of their time for their passion, to support the team, but also to defend their values: friendship, access and diversity. It's much more than just football. To be very honest, first I hear about the flares, but actually the more you go there, the more you'll want to be part of the movement."
Once you were right in the middle of it all, what went through your head?
"Just want to be part of it! That's actually the hard part when you want to capture pictures at the same time. First because it's not really part of the culture of the Ultras to have photographers around, and mostly because you feel stupid with your camera in hand when you enjoy good atmospheres. You're tempted to drop it in your backpack, and go singing in the middle of the kop. But, to be fair, there are also so many emotions to capture, it's crazy. The flares are always impressive of course, but what makes the difference is the strong connection between the players and the fans. It's pretty unique, it feels like everyone belong to the same family. And as you can see on the pictures, when it comes to celebrating the promotion, there are no differences anymore. Players, fans, everyone comes together to enjoy the moment."
Was it a refreshing place to watch football - did people get positively caught up in the excitement?
"It's quite funny every time I go there, because you can see at the beginning of the game, there are the Ultras in the kop, and the other people hanging around without really taking part. They're just curious to find out how it's going to go. But as long as the game goes on, everyone is getting closer to the kop and start cheering as well. At the end of the game, you can be sure that the whole attendance ends up singing on the scaffolds. The fact that you can bring your own beers at the ground might help a little bit, but I believe it's mainly because people stand for similar values: authenticity, respect and acceptance of diversity."
What are the biggest things you'll take away from the experience?
"You don't need to have a 80,000 seats stadiums for a great atmosphere. It's more about the people that you'll bring to the ground. Yes, you can technically fill a stadium selling $80 tickets, but is that really what football is about? It's refreshing to see there are still some places like that in a city like London, to see that some people still believe in the raw beauty of football versus football business. I'm also aware even at this level it's quite complicated for the Ultras to defend their values. They've had hard times this season protesting against entry fees increase, and I would just like to show them my support because fighting to keep football accessible to everyone is something that is worth being recognised."
Crowds attracting crowds and sitting way down the footballing pyramid, this sense of emotion is breeding a re-imagined football culture that tears up convention and does away with the norm. In the case of Clapton FC, their fans recently boycotted the club because of a ticket price increase. In coming to an agreement, the club worked with fans to right the wrongs and remedy any discord. A club for the people that charge a mere £6.50 to get in. You can pitch up on the sideline, pint in hand and megaphone charged. Prepare for the punk football revolution people.
Photography by Jeremy Roturier.