Clapton FC fans staged an impromptu protest on Tuesday night after the club introduced a price hike and stringent security searches without warning.
The price of entry for the game with Sporting Bengal, which the Tons won 2-1, was jacked up £1 to £7 for adults, while concessions for students and pensioners were also raised by £1 to £4.
As word spread at the Old Spotted Dog turnstile before the game, several long-standing fans turned round and went home.
Meanwhile inside, the fans on the terrace – led by the Clapton Ultras – kept completely silent for the first half in protest even as the team went two goals ahead.
On East London Radio’s Grassroots Football Show last night, physio Lizzy Matthews described the atmosphere as “eerie.”
The usual volume returned for the second half, but noticeably many songs were directed against the Tons’ chief executive Vince McBean.
Respected Essex football pundit Peter Dudley noted on the radio show: “That was the first time they’ve done something against the owners at a game.”
The sudden mid-season price rise was not advertised in a news article on the club’s official website, nor mentioned on Twitter or Facebook.
The prices were changed in the footer of the club’s website, however, for any fans who had scrolled to the bottom of the home page before the game.
A handful of other ESL clubs also charge £7 for adults but that typically includes a complimentary glossy programme. Some other clubs charge £5.
McBean told fans at the game that the price increase was to give £1 per entry fee to new manager Jonny Fowell, his coaching team and the players.
Fowell declared on Twitter that the extra pound would go to the players, and that he would personally guarantee that it all went to them.
The officially declared attendance was an astonishingly low 145, presumably translating to £145 for the staff and players. That was the lowest of the season by some margin – the previous low being 221 and the average being 366.
Puzzled fans had estimated the attendance at double that, and a large crowd was still waiting to enter the Old Spotted Dog at kick off. One said: “I’ve never seen such a huge queue for a midweek game.”
However, that plan was thrown into confusion yesterday when McBean was interviewed by the Newham Recorder. He said that the prices were raised to cover FINES accrued for fan behaviour – and did not mention the player fund.
McBean told the newspaper: “The club is ending up getting fined. They let off flares and stuff. So that’s where we are.”
There have been two incidents of pyro at the Old Spotted Dog this season – both after the full-time whistle to avoid disrupting the game. League rules suggest a maximum fine of £250 if this were to be deemed ‘failing to control spectators.’
The first incident occurred after the first game of the season against Tower Hamlets on July 30. However, in his programme notes for the game against Stansted 10 days later, McBean wrote that the club had narrowly AVOIDED a considerable fine for this.
The second incident occurred after the Barkingside game last Saturday – nearly four months later – and it is understood the Essex Senior League are now considering what action if any to take.
The club may not be so lucky to avoid a fine this time, though it should be noted that other fans in the ESL have used pyro – and a league official even PRAISED one such display last week on the Grassroots Show.
However, even if the ESL decided to throw the maximum £250 fine at the club, that is a drop in the ocean compared to the £40,000 per season the Newham Recorder reports is received in gate receipts.
On Twitter, one fan asked: “How does Johnny Fowell feel now Vince McBean has said the extra £1 is for fines and not the team?”
On the subject of the price rise, Clapton captain Jerry Jairette, who has been at the club for ten years, has bravely said he sympathised with the Ultras.
Jerry told the Newham Recorder: “It’s only a pound, but a pound is a lot when you count up three hundred fans.
“Personally I think it’s a bit harsh. The majority of us play for the fans. In the dressing room it’s not do this for Vince, it’s do this for the fans.”
Another Clapton supporter emailed us to say: “For some people paying an extra pound won’t hit to hard, but it will for others.
“Many people who come to Clapton do so because it’s affordable. Many people went to other London clubs and love the fact that they can afford to follow Clapton every week.”
Former Clapton fitness coach Mike Whitaker tweeted after news of the price increase broke, saying: “its hopefully to raise some money for what he owes me🙌😂”
Tower Hamlets secretary Adam Richardson praised Clapton’s fans – 300 of whom turned up to the away game at the Mile End Stadium last month.
He said on the radio show, which he co-hosts: “The Ultras make the league a better place. When they applauded our players, they absolutely loved that.”
Tons assistant Andre Thomas diplomatically wants both sides to make peace, describing the coaches and players as being ‘like children watching mum and dad arguing’.
He said of the fans: “They may be seeing this as enough is enough. Which is sad.”