Essex Senior League Premier Division
December 5, 2015
Ground No 180
YOU'RE relaxing on your favourite secluded beach. You're happy and content in your familiar surroundings... then suddenly a coachload of day-trippers turn up from the city and everything changes.
That must have been what it was like for the Stansted regulars when Clapton came to town.
Hargrave Park, Stansted's base since 1937, is a quaint old ground in Stansted Mountfitchet, a sleepy rural village in North Essex which is home to a wooden castle and a windmill and whose main street is lined with thatched cottage.
But providing the opposition today were East London's Clapton, as usual backed by their sizeable band of followers with their banners, songs, political conscience and all-round ability to enjoy themselves on a Saturday afternoon.
As usual they were in fine voice and even seeing their side throw away a 3-0 half-time lead to lose 4-3 couldn't noticeably dampen their spirits.
Their presence doubled what would otherwise have been the matchday attendance and the Clapton fans made their home in the small, flat covered area on the far side of the small, wooden stand. One of them even managed to find a ladder from somewhere and set about diligently taping a couple of banners to the roof.
The small stand, as genteel and traditional a structure as you'll find at a football ground anywhere and also houses the changing rooms.
The three rows of plastic bucket seats inside the wooden frame had only a handful of takers and the contrast between that and the raucous, bouncing, red and white football party machine in the cement and steel structure on the other side of the entrance to the referees' room could hardly have been greater.
It reminded me of a photo of the Mexico/ USA border I saw on the internet - green fields and open spaces on one side, a busy highway, high rises and barely a blade of grass on the other.
On the other side of the stand is the homely committee room which also houses the tea bar - no pies or burgers but a lovely cuppa for just 80p (the programme was free on entry too, so hats off to the committee for thinking the spectators' pockets).
In between that and the entrance is a brick toilet block, complete with a big sign over the sink telling you to wash your hands and some liquid soap... but nothing to dry your hands on. Maybe that's where they cut costs to sell cheap tea and give away the programme.
The clubhouse at the end of the car park behind the goal backs almost onto the net so you can only walk a short way before being confronted with a 'no entry' sign.
There's hard standing all along the other end but, turn the corner and the concrete surface becomes a rubber runner (as it does at the clubhouse end) before coming to a halt at the first of the two plastic dug-outs which prevents you walking any further.
Beyond that is a cricket pitch, the outfield of which looks as if it overlaps onto the football playing area.
As a result there are four floodlight pylons along the other side of the pitch but only two on this side, plus one, which doubles as a mobile phone mast, behind the goal.
Mind you the first in the line of four floodlights wasn't working. Fortunately there were spotlights on both the top of the turnstile structure and the loo roof and both were turned on - ingenious lot, these non-leaguers!