Of all the great Clapton players of the early part of the 20th century, there is probably none more colourful or charismatic than Harry Earle who was a striking figure at the heart of Clapton’s defence.
Born in East Grinstead, Mr Earle flirted with other clubs such as Woolwich Arsenal and Millwall Athletic before finding his niche at the Old Spotted Dog. He is easily recognisable amid the group photos of the Clapton team and Essex County, for whom he received a County Cap. Amid a melange of players sporting various forms of ‘face furniture’, his is the most voluminous moustache and with it, he had the frame to match.
Mr Earle was employed at Godwin Road School in Forest Gate. Although not qualified as a teacher, he was eventually co-opted as such, due to 33 years service, but on one occasion he asked the West Ham School Board for permission to leave work early to play for Clapton FC. His employers had refused such request previously and following a vote acceded to his request on this occasion. It sparked an article in the local newspaper in which members of the board described football, and cricket, as being a waste of time whilst the local priest, Father Ring, supported this denunciation of sport, submitting that it was only a little less of a scandal that the drinking business.
Harry Earle was yet to court more controversy when he was declared to be a professional by the Football Association having accepted a gift of a set of furniture from the Clapton club on the occasion of his marriage. Both the club and Mr Earle appealed unsuccessfully to the FA and lost. As a result, Earle immediately signed as a professional with Notts County where he played for a season. He continued to be the trainer of West Ham Schools until 1912 by which time his playing career had come to an end. His obituary. in the Stratford Express in 1951, was adamant that despite his professional status’, he never once accepted a pay packet.
In 1905 he received a most cordial reception from the Clapton supporters when he returned to the Old Spotted Dog Ground for a friendly match against Notts County. Whatever his feelings about his own situation might have been on that day, he must have been pleased to see that his opposite number in the Clapton goal, J. Wilding, who was to go on and play for the Tons in two Amateur Cup finals, had once been the West Ham Schools goalkeeper under his charge.
Harry Earle’s final legacy to Clapton FC was that his son S.G. (Stanley) Earle also played for the Tons with some distinction in the 1920s and at both full and amateur international honours for England. But that’s another story…..