Metropolitan Police FC’s last-gasp ban on Clapton fans going to last night’s London Senior Cup tie sparked a wave of criticism far and wide.
In a statement, posted just before midnight less than two days before the game, The Met said that Clapton ‘suffers’ from having a fanbase who are ‘unacceptable’.
On Friday, Met Police FC had sent match information for Clapton fans travelling to the game. Just days later, they had changed their minds, revealing that came after ‘lengthy talks with Clapton’s officials’.
A strange move, for any club to brief against their own fanbase to ensure they can’t go to a game. Stranger still when Clapton officials have posted two anonymous ‘true supporter’ letters recently trying to appeal to fans to end their home game boycott.
Met Police FC declined repeated attempts to explain their reasons beyond their short statement, or even answer practical questions. However, Clapton chief executive Vince McBean suggested to a journalist the ban came after he discussed historic use of ‘pyro’ with them.
For background, there were two instances of ‘pyro’ at Clapton games early this season, out of 30 games so far. There have been no instances since early October, as fans elected to call a halt due to the threat of fines being levied against clubs.
Fan groups the Clapton Ultras and Real Clapton have both issued statements, with the clear suggestion that Mr McBean pushed for the ban in retaliation for fans blocking his attempt to liquidate the charity which runs the historic Old Spotted Dog ground (a case which is still ongoing in the High Court).
Whatever the reason, the police’s ‘presumption of guilt’ fan ban sparked an online backlash, with everyone from the Football Supporters Federation, to former Wales international goalkeeper Neville Southall, to Stand magazine, and even the UK’s deputy high commissioner in Hyderabad, India, wading in.
Clubs in the Essex Senior League and beyond who have hosted Clapton have also publicly stuck up for the fans, including Redbridge, Barkingside, FC Romania, Ilford, Sporting Bengal, Hullbridge Sports, Waltham Forest, West Essex and Welwyn Garden City.
In fact even the Met Police’s own manager Jim Cooper seemed to question the club’s decision, liking a tweet that said “Oh Met… you got this one badly wrong… Nothing wrong with the ‘Ultras’ at all! Sad” and followed it up with the cryptic message “#baffled’.
And Met Police FC’s own matchday programme – presumably printed before Monday’s decision – welcomed the Ultras and praised the atmosphere they create.
Other observers noted the social activities that the Clapton Ultras are involved in, including in the last few weeks organising foodbank collection, helping a soup kitchen, promoting and attending fundraising games for Waltham Forest, and arranging Christmas toy collection for kids who go without. Is that really ‘unacceptable’?
Some also pointed out that Clapton fans traditionally clean the terraces of every ground they visit, and sportingly applaud and cheer the opposition players at the end of every game. And others suggested there was an irony that a club called Met Police felt they were unable to police a low-profile cup game and had acted on poor intelligence.
The club originally consisted of serving police officers, but this rule was removed when the commissioner refused to sanction time off for the team and it has not had a serving officer play since 2011.
In the end, Met Police FC drafted in four stewards outside their Imber Court in East Molesey to prevent any travelling fans from entering the ground. A group of Clapton fans did make the two-hour journey from East London to sing their support from outside, but did not attempt to gain entry.
Metropolitan Police FC, who as a Bostik League side regularly host clubs with large fanbases such as Dulwich Hamlet and Wealdstone, eventually ran out 3-1 winners.
Pics on social media suggested the crowd barely reached double figures – it was eventually declared at 28.
But what was the ban really all about? We asked all the main bodies involved for their take in the last few days. Here’s what we found out.
Metropolitan Police FC
We made repeated attempts to find out some important logistical questions in the wake of the ban announcement, namely
- Are you sticking by the decision to ban away fans?
- How will you be enforcing the away fan ban?
- What was the ‘unacceptable’ behaviour that prompted the action to be taken?
We did not receive a reply at all.
The only statement from the club remains the initial ban announcement from club chairman Des Flanders from Monday slamming the Ultras on the basis of information given by Clapton FC’s owners.
Mr Flanders said: “Following lengthy discussions with Clapton Football Club Officials and information received through Football Intelligence sources it has been decided that away fans will not be permitted entry to this game.
“Sadly for Clapton, they suffer from a group of ‘supporters’ who refer to themselves as Ultras and have established a pattern of unacceptable behaviour when visiting grounds for away matches in which Clapton are involved.”
Since Monday they have maintained complete silence, on social media and in response to emails. Even the score hasn’t been mentioned.
We asked three questions…
- Is it correct that Clapton officials put pressure on Met Police FC to ban away fans, as their club statement suggests?
- What did Clapton officials say to Met Police FC to make them change their minds about welcoming fans (on Friday to banning them (on Monday)?
- Do you want fans to come back to the club (as the recent anonymous ‘fan’ letters on the website suggest) or do you find them ‘unacceptable’?
The club did not reply, in line with their policy not to communicate with this website.
However, Vince McBean did give quotes to reporter Chris Dyer chasing the story for news agency SWNS.
In that, Mr McBean astonishingly claimed ‘30 flares’ were let off in a game – they were actually Diwali night sparklers at Sporting Bengal’s game against the Tons.
Mr McBean’s quotes in full said: “There is an element of our fans that let off a lot of flares.
“We get fined £250 each time that happens and even if it’s the away fans the home side still get fined. We just can’t afford that level of fine.
“We have been fined already for their actions for ‘failing to control our supporters and officials’.
“Club’s like the Met don’t have the resources to constantly watch the crowd – although they are called the police they are not actually the police.
“Our fans are boycotting our ground, so they all go to away games. Thirty flares were let off at one away game.
“The FA get involved, the county get involved, the league get involved and people say what the Hell is happening? They are all fed up.
“Fans have got to look to behave themselves and just deal with football issues and not getting involved in other things.
“We are about football not politics. I would like to see fans stick to football matters.
“The fans are at the heart of a club and we rely on them so much, but unless they are supporting the club you have a problem.”
A spokesman told CFC News: “Thanks for offering us the opportunity to comment but we won’t be adding anything to the club’s statement.”
Club captain Jerry Jairette tweeted: “Starting to really hate these people behind the scenes of clubs who have power to ban fans.
“Football is for everyone whether watching playing or dealing with the logistics. You are part of what’s wrong with the modern game. No good…. #footballisforeveryone #footballforall”
A message from another player said: “I just want to let you know we the players really feel for you guys and we are so sad about this outrageous situation, honestly you guys deserve better and I really hope it won’t be too late when they realise your importance. I will make sure the boys put in a performance.”
A statement was posted on the Ultras’ blog as news of the ban first emerged, which concluded: “The current regime under Vincent McBean is showing once again that he is at war with Clapton’s fans.
“His lurid allegations against us led to a similar ban by Southend Manor this season but numerous other Essex Senior League clubs have had nothing but praise for our conduct and behaviour.
“McBean, however, is more concerned with driving supporters away. He is desperately trying to turn back the clock five years to a time when attendances were barely in double figures, when there was no public scrutiny of his financial irregularities and nobody challenging his mismanagement of the club.
“Clapton’s opponents on Wednesday appear to have bought into McBean’s bullshit. In some ways, this isn’t really a surprise.
“Using poorly fabricated but otherwise convenient evidence is, after all, something of a speciality for the Metropolitan Police.”
Read their statement in full here.
Real Clapton FC
The members’ club which has blocked the attempted liquidation of Clapton’s ground also suggested the move was part of the general battle between Clapton officials and fans.
A statement issued on Wednesday said: “It speaks volumes that ‘Clapton Football Club Officials’ have been consulted on, and presumably supported, this decision.
“We believe that these unnamed ‘officials’ are demonising Clapton Ultras and other Clapton supporters over their support for our boycott of home games at The Old Spotted Dog.
“This boycott is the fans’ response to the shocking decision by the same ‘officials’ to force Newham Community Leisure Trust, the charity that controls the ground, into voluntary liquidation in order to try and avoid an investigation by the Charity Commission.
“A High Court injunction obtained by us is still in place and we understand publication of the Charity Commission’s investigation report is now imminent.
“We support, appreciate and encourage the efforts of Clapton Ultras to both support the team and organise community projects including collecting donations for food banks and supporting local causes and charities.
“Their stance against racism, homophobia, sexism and fascism should also be applauded, not demonised.
“This certainly doesn’t strike us as ‘unacceptable behaviour’.”
Read their statement in full here.