The Old Spotted Dog has taken a further step up the endangered species list.
The situation at London’s oldest football ground is now at a critical level, with a potentially unprecedented instance of a liquidation being pushed through despite a High Court injunction in place precisely to stop that happening.
It could leave Clapton’s historic home in the sole control of the club’s chief executive Vince McBean, instead of the charity which was set up to run it. And Mr McBean would have much more freedom to do what he likes with it.
Charity Commission investigation
Mr McBean was due to attend an interview with the Charity Commission on the 2nd March 2017.
This was his final opportunity to answer the Commission’s serious questions about his conduct and mismanagement of Newham Community Leisure Limited, the charity that leases the Old Spotted Dog from the freeholder.
Mr McBean had already postponed the meeting twice, on 22nd December 2016 and 19th January 2017.
New company set up to replace charity
Veercourt CIC was listed at Companies House just one week after the second postponement, on 26th January 2017.
Its only listed director was Mr McBean.
Voluntary liquidation attempted
A bid for voluntary liquidation of the charity NCLL was launched on 1st March 2017, the day before Mr McBean’s scheduled interview with the Charity Commission, seemingly in an effort to transfer the assets to the freshly incorporated Veercourt CIC.
With no charity left for them to investigate, the Charity Commission meeting was cancelled and Mr McBean was off the hook – briefly.
High Court injunction stops liquidation
On 10th April 2017, a trustee of NCLL and a life member of Clapton FC successfully halted the voluntary liquidation process and a High Court injunction was obtained.
On 19th July 2017, a High Court judge directed that the Charity Commission should be involved and any liquidation could not be completed until they had their say.
A long process of waiting for their report began.
Winding up petition
Unknown to the Charity Commission, or the people that had obtained the injunction, a winding up petition was presented to the High Court on the 6th October and their case was heard and approved by the Court in January 2018.
Liquidation attempt part two
This began another liquidation – this time involuntary – due to debts to an external creditor who has claimed they are owed money.
The purported creditor is Taylor Bridge Legal Services (TBLS), though there are no records available to show what the alleged debt is for, or even how much it is supposed to be.
TBLS is run solely by an ex-solicitor called Antoinette Olivia Taylor who was struck off the Roll of Solicitors in November 2012 for multiple cases of dishonesty and misrepresentation.
Asset of Community Value
A welcome complication is that Clapton fans managed to establish the ground as an Asset of Community Value in May 2017.
This also covers the adjoining garage, which NCLL actually owns the freehold on, unlike the rest of the ground where it is the leaseholder only.
Six months’ notice would need to be given to give the local community the opportunity to raise the funds to purchase it before it could be sold to anyone else.
This presents a ray of hope for the future of the ground as it cannot easily be sold off, but in reality the cost is likely to be out of reach.
As has been seen recently at Dulwich Hamlet, there are likely to be property companies waiting to swoop on valuable London land.
Despite the land being designated for sporting use, developers are often happy to sit on the land and even leave it unused until the council gives in and lets them build.
Relations between Clapton’s fans and Mr McBean had already deteriorated over the years.
Fan groups Friends of Clapton FC, Real Clapton and Clapton Ultras had sponsored the club’s kit, volunteered and promoted the hell out of games, helping attendances to averages of nearly 400.
However, things hit absolute rock bottom last season when fans turned up to a midweek game to find admission prices had been raised completely unannounced.
Last summer’s liquidation bid was the final straw and Real Clapton members voted to call for a boycott of home games, which was backed by all other fan groups, to avoid giving money to the person who was attempting to liquidate the charity.
Home attendances have since fallen by almost 90% with the Ultras’ iconic Scaffold stand looking empty and forlorn, though away crowds have kept on growing.
Mr McBean is rumoured to be keen to sell the freehold on the garage to cover the alleged debt to TBLS and then continue to transfer the lease on the Old Spotted Dog ground itself into his own name, under his Veercourt CIC company.
This would allow him to continue as he was without the scrutiny of the Charity Commission, creating a new platform from which to continue operating, bypass regulations and avoid any critical scrutiny and legal action.
Where we are now
That the situation has been allowed to get to this stage seems to be unprecedented and exposes failings at several stages – the High Court issued an injunction that halted the original liquidation, the Members Voluntary Liquidation (MVL).
Months later, the same High Court allowed the next Compulsory Winding-Up Petition to proceed to Companies Court and appear to have failed to check the records at Companies House which still haven’t been updated to show a winding up petition, and at the Insolvency Service who are currently failing to act despite being made aware of the problem recently.
It is understood that the Charity Commission report into McBean’s mismanagement is now complete and awaiting publication. However, the report is yet to be published despite the severity of what could happen if the Charity Commission fail to step in.
What happens next
Statutory body after statutory body has failed to act so far.
Even so, the Insolvency Service, which is now responsible for the liquidation, and the Charity Commission, which has written but not published its report, remain the last hope to stop the destruction of an historic football ground and ensure its assets are used for community good.
The Insolvency Service must resolve the issue in conjunction with the Charity Commission, who must publish their report immediately and follow through by taking the appropriate actions that it raises.
Anyone with fond memories of the Old Spotted Dog’s history, or with bright hopes for its future, is encouraged to help.
Note: We would ask Mr McBean for comment, but he pledged never to answer any of our questions in an article on his website in November.