REASONS WHY CLAPTON MISSED OUT ON PROMOTION

The battered entrance to the Old Spotted Dog,  home of Clapton FC, where the charity which holds the lease has been placed in liquidation

Clapton’s chief executive put the blame squarely on the fans when he announced the club’s bid for promotion last season was being withdrawn at the last minute.

Vince McBean wrote on April 1. after the deadline to prove the club was fit for promotion had passed, to explain that the club had decided to scrap its bid anyway.

He blamed the unseemly incident at an away game at Sawbridgeworth (which ended up with a Sawbo player banned from football for life). Previously Mr McBean had warned in the Newham Recorder that stickers left by Clapton fans would bar the club from promoted.

Many Clapton fans felt guilty after being denounced twice as the reason for blocking the team’s promotion. However, Clapton FC News can reveal,…

  • None of the necessary ground improvements were made – and still haven’t been six months later
  • In fact no planning permission was lodged for those – and still hasn’t been
  • We understand FA assessors did not visit the OSD for the ground grading inspection
  • Among the problems, there is not enough seating as it stands for higher levels
  • The current dressing rooms would be too small for Step 4 football
  • The parking provision is unlikely to have been classed as “adequate”
  • There are no disabled toilets or paved walkway for those with mobility issues – though shamefully this ISN’T an FA obligation, just a recommendation
  • There are other minor additions needed, such as a working tannoy system
  • The club would have needed to fix all the above in a maximum of six days if it’s true the fans caused the promotion bid to be scrapped
  • Clapton also needed to prove it had a secure ground – but weeks earlier the same chief exec had just tried to liquidate the charity that runs the Old Spotted Dog
  • The ownership would have need to pass the Isthmian League’s ‘fit and proper’ governance test
  • And, last but not least, Barking were all but mathematically promoted at that time anyway

Want more details? Read on…

Ground improvements needed

In order to qualify for promotion, the Old Spotted Dog needs to be improved from the FA’s F grade to a minimum of the E grade.

Mr McBean, when confirming the promotion application had been submitted in December, admitted that improvements were required to bring the Old Spotted Dog up to scratch.

He wrote: “Our application for promotion is in and additional works to the ground are needed to be done by March.”

However, no work was actually done in the four months from the application being lodged, sometime before November 30th. to the deadline set by the FA of March 31st. In fact no work has yet been done, a further five months later.

On the website Non-League Matters, it was reported that Clapton had in fact withdrawn their promotion without even arranging an inspection from the FA because there was no point since no work had been undertaken.

Not enough seating

Rule 2.1 says clubs at Step 4 must have at least 150 seats, no arguments, no exceptions. The current Old Spotted Dog main stand has just 100.

So the club would have had to get planning permission and install another stand with at least 50 seats before March 31st. Neither happened.

On August 15th, five months on, a club statement admitted they were now ‘in the process of applying for planning permission to build the new seating area.’

As yet, another month on, there is no record of this planning application on the Newham Council website. We’ll let you know of developments.

Overall appearance

The first sentence of the FA guidelines states: “The ground must give an overall appearance and impression of being a football ground suitable for the National League System”.

We will leave it up to you whether, if an FA assessor had ever been invited to visit the Old Spotted Dog at the end of March, these scenes convey such an impression:

Job lot of broken urinals dumped behind the Scaffold stand

Mounds of materials around the perimeter of the pitch – more of which has since been covered in tarpaulin

Abandoned shopping trolleys and assorted odds and ends yards from the pitch

The teeth of what appears to be a broken lawnmower.

Those urinals again and more dumped unwanted goods

Abandoned table gradually being consumed by nature

A big tyre propped up

Note: Some of these hazards – present for several years – have been covered in tarpaulin in the last month after a well-shared tweet by the Clapton Ultras happily spurred the club to finally act.

Much of the fly-tipping, however, remains.

Parking

Much of the Grade E requirements are vague and open to interpretation. A case in point is the parking rule (1.6), which says provision must be “adequate”, but doesn’t put any figures on it.

However, sources tell us that in practice “adequate” means being at least able to park the opposition team coach, something which would be impossible at the moment with space around the Old Spotted Dog at a premium.

It’s possible the club could enter into an agreement with the neighbouring block of flats or the owners of the disused Old Spotted Dog pub to use their car parks on a matchday as a temporary solution.

For the Needham Market FA Cup game, the visitors used the entrance to St Bons school, 100 yards down Upton Lane, which could possibly appease the FA inspectors.

A more permanent solution would be to knock down the breakers’ yard at the entrance to the ground and use that space for parking. That would of course require further planning permission.

Dressing rooms

We’re told that the dressing rooms are much improved since they were subject to frequent complaints – this was the state of the showers a few years ago.

However, while dressing rooms at Clapton’s current level, Grade F, must be a minimum 12 square metres, to step up to Grade E that increases to 18 square metres.

While we are unclear on the size of the dressing rooms, two sources have told us they believe they are too small and would need to be expanded or replaced.

Certainly from these pictures, they look quite small…

So either the dressing rooms are deceptively large, or the club would have need to again apply and receive planning permission, and build new dressing rooms.

Disabled access and accessible toilets

Disappointingly, there are no requirements, just a ‘strong recommendation.’ The wording is: “The Football Association strongly recommends that access is provided to both a covered viewing area and toilet and refreshment facilities.”

A few seasons ago, the club started and then abruptly stopped building some accessible toilets for disabled fans. The remnants of it still exist today. No planning permission was applied for then, which maybe why the works were abandoned.

The hazards and uneven surfaces around the Old Spotted Dog make it tricky for disabled supporters.

The club would ideally need to pave the walkways, or provide a flattened unblocked route around the ground.

The uneven path around the ground, littered with hazards, that fans need to navigate at the Old Spotted Dog. A challenge for those with mobility issues.

Terracing

Rule 2.3 states that: “All terracing must be in a sound condition. Terracing that is crumbling, has grass / weeds growing through it or has broken or loose concrete will not be accepted.”

Public address system

A minor point, perhaps, but there must also be a working public address (tannoy) system.

There are some speakers around the ground to suggest there has been a tannoy system at some point, though it is unclear if the system still works. Again this would have required purchase and installation.

Security of lease

The club must demonstrate security of tenure as required by The Football Association and the league of which it is a member.

Standardised rule 2.3.2 states clubs need to prove they have a “lease for the ground that extends for a minimum of the next full playing season”.

However, with an attempt being made to liquidate the charity which holds the lease, and the ground currently being controlled by the liquidator, it is unclear whether that assurance can be given.

The Essex Senior League allowed Clapton and fellow tenants Hackney Wick to kick off the season despite the uncertainty. It’s mere speculation as to whether the Isthmian League would have taken the same decision.

The ‘fit and proper persons’ test

The club’s owners would also have needed to pass a governance test set by the Isthmian League, the Owners’ and Directors’ Test. It’s unclear who actually owns the club, though it recently referred to investors who had put money into the club, All involved would need to pass the test.

Applying to the Isthmian would also require submitting a Financial Reporting Initiative form, including full disclosure of all creditors and an approved set of audited accounts.

Timings

The application for promotion was lodged before the deadline at the end of November, giving the club until March 31st to pass the improved ground standards on top of what the team needed to do on the pitch.

In the meantime, no planning was sought or ground improvements were made, though the club states that it was “gathering as much hard-core, soil, bricks, blocks and sand as possible” in order to build a new seated stand.

No progress is claimed to have been made in any other area where the ground is lacking.

Mr McBean wrote, on April 1st, that he pulled the application after an inquiry into an incident at an away game. which took place on March 25th.

Let’s assume he concluded his investigation on the same day – tricky as Mr McBean was not there, only attending a handful of away games.

But even if his inquiry and decision did take place on the evening on March 25th, he would only have had six days to apply for and receive planning permission, built a new stand and new dressing room, fix the other requirements including parking and terracing, then finally arrange and pass a ground inspection.

Planning permission alone takes an average of eight weeks to receive. Even this would have been simply impossible in the space of a few days.

Barking nearly there

Regardless of all this, Barking at the time needed just 1 win from 4 games to clinch the title and promotion.

They achieved this at the next opportunity with a thumping 5-0 win at Burnham Ramblers, on their way to 100 points and the title.

So whether Clapton passed the ground grading, failed it or withdrew at the last minute is an irrelevance.

Only one club could get promoted, and Barking had passed the ground grading and were all but mathematically promoted.

So what happens next season?

The club has said it will apply for promotion again this season so in theory all of the issues above would need to be resolved.

However, there are suggestion that the ground rules will be relaxed for one season only as part of the restructure of the non-league pyramid.

If this is true – and the FA website has removed the Grade E details, suggesting it is – then the top two clubs in the Essex Senior League would get promoted regardless of the state of their grounds.

But whether this season or next, at some point all the issues above need to be sorted if the club wants to operate at a higher level.

Why don’t Clapton fans help?

They have, as much as possible. From turning up at the Old Spotted Dog before anyone else, forking the pitch, to never leaving a scrap of litter at a ground, home or away.

Clapton fans forking the pitch to get a game playable

Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of pounds they’ve put into the club over the years at the turnstiles themselves, as well as promoting games and making Clapton one of the most talked about non-league teams in the country.

Clapton fans would be delighted to help more. However, the club, which is legally a members club, has blocked new members from joining for at least five years. There is also a need for transparency about where the money is going.

Given the long to-do list, it is a shame that Clapton fans were blamed for the club’s lack of promotion last season.

The fact there is simply no way for fans to get involved in the club goes some way to explaining why the impasse between the supporters and the club is now so entrenched.

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