Speaking in Newham Recorder last week, Clapton FC Chief Executive, Vince McBean aimed both barrels at Tons supporters, blaming them for the club not being favoured for promotion to the Ryman North last season. Following an angry response from fans after bouncers suddenly appeared at turnstiles and an unannounced rise in price of entry to the ground, McBean lashed out in the local press, saying it is the Clapton Ultras that’s holding the club back.
Citing stickers put in the toilets at away grounds in the ESL, Vince offered that the club was being frozen out from a promotion bid by a committee made up of disgruntled chairmen from opposing clubs. And the stickers are to blame. However, anyone who has taken a cursory inspection around Clapton’s Old Spotted Dog lately may question how far the club would have to upgrade before realistic talk of an Isthmian push would even be considered.
Perhaps higher in the priorities of fellow ESL clubs is the condition of the facilities at Clapton. Complaints of a lack of hot water in the away dressing room and even leaking sewage have dogged Vince over recent seasons. Although hot water isn’t explicitly referenced in the FA’s National Ground Grading – Category E, the first sentence of the guidelines states “The ground must give an overall appearance and impression of being a football ground suitable for the National League System”. Adequate changing facilities would presumably fall under this header.
More direct rules of what constitutes an adequate Step 4 ground also has The Old Dog at a clear disadvantage. While the club has installed outdoor toilet facilities in compliance with FA regulations, relieving the overwhelmed pair of urinals in the clubhouse, work simply never began in other areas. Extending the seated stand (2.1) to the required minimum of 150 never got beyond the pile of discarded plastic chairs stacked by the entrance. The problem of “Adequate car parking at or adjacent to the ground” (1.6) could prove even trickier to resolve.
Other areas of improvement needed, such as paved walkways, fully accessible toilets, secure dugouts and risk assessed perimeter barriers all cost money, but should be within Clapton’s budget. The Newham Recorder reported a figure of £40,000 coming into the club through gate receipts alone last season which could’ve potentially helped to rush through these works before the March 31st deadline. Although soil has yet to be broken on any these projects so far.
Of course applying to the Ryman would also require submitting a Financial Reporting Initiative form, including full disclosure of all creditors and an approved set of audited accounts. According to Company Check, Clapton Football Club 1878 Limited reported a debt of £19,639.00 in 2015, a loss of £12,477.00 from the previous year, while declaring just £184 in total assets. The average attendance for season 2014/15 was 246.
Rumours were abound on Saturday that top of the league, Barking had chosen not to apply for promotion this season, giving brief hope of an easier route to Step 4 for the chasing pack. However, the gossip was immediately laughed off by Blues press officer, Trevor Gilbert, saying that although it had given everyone a ‘giggle’ their application would be submitted by the end of the month.
Thankfully for Barking (and Clapton), there is nothing in either the ESL handbook or the Regulations for the Operations for the National League System that says league counterparts can block or veto another club’s bid for promotion. The application is made between club and the Football Association only, avoiding an obvious conflict of interest. The deadline for submission is the 30th November 2016.