London Bari 2 Bethnal Green United 1

Saturday 6th April 2013
Perhaps appropriate for the 6th April, I fancied a trip that wasn’t going to be too ‘taxing’ and plumped for an overdue return visit to the Old Spotted Dog Ground. London Bari, new to the Essex Senior League this season, hosted neighbours Bethnal Green United and won a lively contest by the odd goal in three. A perfectly-placed header from William Drake gave Bari a first-half lead which they held until Siao Blackwood converted a penalty in the 77th minute. Ashley Fashanu, a forward with a famous uncle, scored a late winner for Bari to earn a much-needed victory which meant a lot to the players.

London Bari 2 Bethnal Green United 1
Essex Senior League
At: Old Spotted Dog Ground, Upton Lane
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: none; Programme: free (8 pages)
Weather: mild and sunny

Twice last month, I was thwarted in my attempts to watch a London Bari home game by waterlogged pitches so decided today to try and make it ‘third time lucky’ with the number of Saturdays left in the season fast diminishing.

To me, there is something magical about the name ‘Old Spotted Dog’. There aren’t many of the iconic old amateur grounds left in London as most have been demolished. The likes of Walthamstow Avenue’s Green Pond Lane and Dulwich Hamlet’s original Champion Hill spring to mind (which I had the pleasure of visiting both on one occasion) as well as Leytonstone, Romford and Ilford’s former homes which I never got to see in the flesh.

The Old Spotted Dog is a survivor from a bygone age though much of the fabric of the place has long since disappeared. As my previous visit came on a dark January night back in 1991, I just HAD to see the ground in daylight and today was the day to finally do it.

Time was against me as my delayed train didn’t arrive at London Euston until 12.55 pm. I took Andy of Kent’s advice and headed to the nearest station, Forest Gate, and as all of the connections fitted perfectly, had a bit of spare time to sample the Ionian Coffee Porter at JDW’s Hudson Bay not far from the ground.

My previous visit to the Old Spotted Dog was over 22 years ago in January 1991 for a London Senior Cup tie between Clapton and Boreham Wood. Even though the old stands that stood on the Disraeli Road side and adjacent to the Upton Lane entrance have long since been demolished, the ground today oozes character. The ground now has a modern 100-seater stand on the Upton Lane side which was erected during the 1990s. Opposite, between the dugouts is an interesting area of covered standing of a ‘scaffolding design’. There is also a small open terrace complete with two crush barriers on the grass bank behind the far goal. Outside the ground on Upton Lane, The Spotted Dog Inn stands derelict and in a poor state of repair.

Two Essex Senior League clubs share the Old Spotted Dog this season – Clapton and London Bari – and this afternoon the latter hosted neighbours Bethnal Green who play home games at nearby Mile End Stadium. Going into today’s derby, both sides were level on 33 points with Bethnal Green United (12th position after 26 games) having played two games more than London Bari (11th position after 24 games). The programme mentioned that Bari were on a run of three straight league and cup defeats during which they conceded ten goals and scored just two. Visitors Bethnal Green had picked up just one point from their last five league games.

I must thank the member of the London Bari coaching staff who lent me the teamsheets and also the chap behind the bar inside the clubhouse, as well as the Bethnal Green supporter who spotted where the programmes were!

“As you are, green kick,” announced the referee with the captains in the centre circle, so Bethnal Green (appropriately in all green) got the game underway attacking the clubhouse end in the first half. The warmish spring sunshine was a welcome contrast to the recent freezing temperatures – the weather forecasters promised mild air and they were correct!

The first chance fell to the visitors in the 6th minute. Chris Hubbard delivered a deep cross from the left to the far post where Kadir Jama hit a well-struck right-foot volley. To me, from my vantage point in the main stand ‘press box’, the shot initially looked unstoppable but Bari goalkeeper Lewis Amos reacted to parry the ball into the air at the near post. Good save.

Play was certainly a bit frantic on the hard playing surface. Bethnal Green had a good shout for a penalty waived away by the well-positioned referee when Stephen Opoka went down inside the area under the challenge of Jack Sawyer.

It was London Bari who took the lead in the 24th minute. Abs Thompson did well to keep the ball in on the right bye-line and deliver a delicious cross which William Drake headed into the far right-hand side of the net. As Harley the Bethnal Green goalkeeper said: the striker peeled off the shoulder of the defender and placed the ball in the only place he could not reach (photo right).

Stung by conceding the goal, Bethnal Green looked to respond. Perry Dobkins played a lofted free-kick forward into a packed penalty area which Amos failed to hold and Jason Fox fired the loose ball over the bar.

Bari were forced to replace the injured Abs Thompson with Patrick Damali-Song in the 31st minute. Bethnal Green struggled to make an impact before half-time and Bari comfortably held their lead up to the half-time whistle.

The visitors were encouraged to “show a bit of quality” and “lift it up a few levels and work harder”. Could they do that in the second half?

They certainly made a positive start to the second half. Kingsley Francis played the ball forward towards Luke With in the area who saw his shot blocked by a defender.

I watched the entire second half from a seat in the ‘Press Box’ and Bethnal Green continued to threaten. Ben Protheroe made an impact as a 58th-minute substitute and his excellent right-wing corners caused problems for the Bari defence.

Perhaps noticing the visitors were posing quite a threat, one Bari player commented: “same workrate all the way through, it isn’t finished”.

It certainly wasn’t going to end 1-0 as Bethnal Green equalised in the 76th minute. Protheroe delivered a great cross from the left into the area where the referee responded to a challenge on Joc Killingback by awarding a penalty. Siao Blackwood stepped up to send Amos the wrong way from the spot.

Bethnal Green certainly now ‘had their tails up’ fancying a winner but so did Bari who, after Danny Hammett replaced Drake, were told to mount “one more big push”.

The visitors quickly got forward and Killingbeck lashed a shot wide of the target.

Bari responded. Former Bethnal Green player Remi Nelson fed Les Thompson who got between two defenders and hit a ferocious shot which was brilliantly pushed clear by the leaping Harley. From the corner, the referee turned down penalty appeals for handball.

Eventually, in the 84th minute, London Bari scored what proved to be the winner. Ashley Fashanu, nephew of former Wimbledon striker John, nipped in between a defender and goalkeeper to flick home an accurate throughball into the area.

With time running out, Bari looked to wind down the clock, helped by a couple of free-kicks in the Bethnal Green half which allowed them to keep possession.

Judging by the reaction of the Bari players at full-time, this 2-1 win over Bethnal Green United meant a lot to them.

After savouring one last lingering look at the Old Spotted Dog ground, I quietly made my way to Stratford station hoping to pick up the two Cask Marque scans needed to reach the 25 milestone. JDW’s Goldengrove was a bit too busy for a quick drink and so got the scans needed first at the Langthorne and second the Goose. The prize for the 25th scan is a fridge magnet bottle opener.

What a ground! #addtoyourbucketlist

London Bari (sky blue / navy blue / navy blue): 1. Lewis Amos, 2. Daniel Smith (capt), 3. Leika Saku, 4. Jack Sawyer, 5. Zaeem Husein, 6. Remi Nelson, 7. Abs Thompson, 8. Les Thompson, 9. Lee Springer, 19. Ashley Fashanu, 11. William Drake. Subs: 20. Patrick Damali-Songe (for Abs Thompson, 31), 21. Danny Hammett (for Drake, 79), 22. Shane Campbell (not used), 17. Ricky Eaton (not used). Manager: Ricky Eaton.

Bethnal Green United (green with white ‘V’ / green / green): 1. Russell Harley, 2. Perry Dobkins, 12. Luke With, 4. Jason Fox, 5/15. Emeka Nkindirim, 14. Kadir Jama, 7. Chris Hubbard, 8. Siao Blackwood (capt), 9. Stephen Opoka, 10. Alex Donker, 11. Kingsley Francis. Subs: 3. Ben Protheroe (for Francis, 58), 6. Danny Dobson (not used), 18. Joc Killingback (for With, 69), 16. Danny Gabriel (not used). Manager: Anton Stephenson.

Referee: Steve Parmeter.
Assistants: Scott Tappin and Ray Wells.

Attendance: 11 (headcount) which had grown to 20 during the second half

Duration (45): first-half: 47:46; second-half: 48:40

1-0 William Drake (24)
1-1 Siao Blackwood (76 pen)
2-1 Ashley Fashanu (84)

London Bari: Les Thompson (YC, 75)
Bethnal Green: Chris Hubbard (YC, 90+3)