OLD SPOTTED DOG GROUND LIQUIDATION IN THE HIGH COURT – LATEST SITUATION

Clapton FC chief executive Vince McBean’s attempt to take sole control of the Old Spotted Dog stadium lease was back before a judge in the Royal Courts of Justice today and there are some encouraging signs for fans who oppose to it.

The 20-minute hearing in court 10 of the Rolls Building was merely about how the case will progress. A timetable was agreed by all parties – Judge Sally Barber, Mr McBean’s solicitor, and the solicitor acting for some other members of the lease-holding charity, Newham Community Leisure Ltd, who say they do not approve of the liquidation.

However, in what could be a significant blow to Mr McBean, the liquidator ST Bennett & Co, who did not attend, is now believed to accept that the liquidation cannot be pushed through before the current court case is heard.

Until recently the liquidator is understood to have argued that a recent compulsory winding-up order – filed by struck-off solicitor Antoinette Olivia Taylor on behalf of Taylor Bridge Legal Services for an unspecified amount owed for legal services from 2008 – superseded the members’ voluntary liquidation process, so he should be allowed to disburse the assets and shut down the charity. There are significant reservations about the provenance of this debt which CFC News intends to investigate.

If you are confused by all this – so are we. However, basically it means the attempt to force through the liquidation through the back door, via a winding order from a third party, looks to have stalled. The current legal action will have to run its course.

Mr McBean hopes to liquidate the lease-holding charity and, it is understood, transfer its assets to a new company, Veercourt CIC, of which he is the only director. Other members of the charity are attempting to block this. Mr McBean disputes that the other charity members were ever members, despite him personally appointing some of them, and others preceding his own appointment. The judge declined to go into the rights and wrongs of those arguments, that will be for another day.

The next case management hearing is scheduled sometime in late August with a full trial perhaps as far away as 2019.

Incidentally, Mr McBean’s new company Veercourt CIC, is already in danger of being struck off, being two months overdue in filing a confirmation statement. This document is merely an annual statement of basic details, such as who a company’s shareholders are and how much capital the company owns. It is a criminal offence to not file this document every year. Mr McBean, believed to be the only director, now risks prosecution and Veercourt CIC being struck off.

In the meantime, campaigners have renewed their appeal for those who care about London’s oldest senior football ground to sign the Save the Old Spotted Dog petition, calling on Newham Council and the Charity Commission to act.

You can also join the mailing list and follow the Twitter account.

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CAMPAIGN TO SAVE THE OLD SPOTTED DOG LAUNCHES WITH PUBLIC MEETING AND PETITION

People packed into Durning Hall in Forest Gate for the launch of the campaign

Over one hundred local residents and football fans gathered in Forest Gate on Wednesday for the launch of the Save the Old Spotted Dog campaign.

Fears have been growing for the future of London’s oldest senior football ground as Clapton’s chief executive Vince McBean attempts to seize personal control of it by liquidating the charity which holds the lease.

However, rather than just watch it happen, all Clapton supporter groups joined forces for a meeting at Durning Hall to plan a course of action.

Representatives of Dulwich Hamlet gave an update and valuable advice on their own struggles keeping their historic stadium out of the clutches of property developers.

There were also fans of Leyton Orient, West Ham United and Waltham Forest offering support and solidarity during the 90-minute meeting.

Forest Gate Labour councillor Mas Patel addressed Durning Hall and both Labour MP Lyn Brown and Labour mayoral candidate Rokhsana Fiaz offered their support and apologies for not being able to make it. Local Lib Dems and Greens were also present.

 

Mr McBean sent a representative to observe proceedings, who insisted that he was neutral, though it has actually emerged that he was the signatory to the attempted liquidation itself.

Regardless, it was a public meeting, and it ended with renewed belief that the Old Spotted Dog could be an invaluable resource and needs to be saved and reclaimed for the community.

The organisers said: “Thanks to everyone who came to the public meeting on Wednesday night to launch our campaign to save the OSD – the turnout was fantastic and the mood was overwhelmingly positive, which has really driven home how important it is that we save the Dog, not just for Clapton fans but for the wider community as well.”

After the meeting, a petition was launched to put pressure on Newham Council and the Charity Commission to act. Read the full petition and sign it here.

You can sign up to the mailing list for more information on the campaign and to get involved.

A Twitter account was also launched: @savetheosd

FOUR ESSEX SENIOR LEAGUE CLUBS RECORD HIGHEST ATTENDANCE EVER AS TONS COME TO OWN – ANALYSING FIGURES DURING CLAPTON FANS’ BOYCOTT

An empty Scaffold stand as Clapton take on local rivals Ilford during the fans’ boycott – a game that has attracted crowds over 750 in recent years

Anyone who has caught a glimpse of Clapton’s paltry home crowds this season due to the fans’ boycott might be wondering how the fanbase is holding up.

Quick reminder: the boycott was called by fans’ group Real Clapton, and backed by Clapton Ultras, at the start of the season chiefly due to the club chief executive attempting to liquidate the charity running the Old Spotted Dog, putting our 130-year-old home in peril.

Seven gruelling months later, the case still hasn’t been resolved, and therefore the boycott still stands.

But is the boycott holding firm or are attendances creeping up? Once people get out of the habit of going to home games, have they just drifted away from the club completely? We took a look at the stats.

Home games

At Old Spotted Dog games this season, boycotted by the Clapton Ultras and other fan groups, the average officially declared attendance is 45.

That figure almost entirely consists of away fans, officials, players’ friends and relatives as the Scaffold stand lies empty and forlorn week after week.

Even this low figure of 45 often appears exaggerated. Head counts of people inside the Old Spotted Dog is routinely much lower than the total declared by the club. (Clapton officials insist there is an automated counting device attached to the turnstiles and their figures are correct, despite head counts).

What’s more, analysing the stats week by week, there is no upward creep during the season. In fact one of the last home games, against fellow Old Spotted Dog tenants Hackney Wick, attracted just 18 people. The reverse fixture, not boycotted by Tons fans, saw 785 people turn up.

The average attendance at unboycotted games last season was 383, In other words, the boycott has led to an 88% drop in attendances – even if you take this seasons’s fishy figures as accurate.

Such a powerful fan protest is unprecedented in the British game. 25% of Liverpool’s crowd walked out last season in the 77th minute over prices, something heralded as perhaps the most impressive fans’ protest in recent years. For Clapton fans to sustain a near total boycott for nearly a full season is astonishing.

From boasting the biggest crowds in the ESL last season – nearly five times higher than the next highest club – Clapton are now in 10th spot.

Away games

It’s clear from the above figures that home attendances have shrunk by phenomenal levels, but how about away games? Have fans just stopped going to Clapton games completely, including away games?

The list of away attendances makes impressive reading…

  • Hackney Wick 785 – season best / best in history
  • Tower Hamlets 468 – season best / best in history
  • Basildon United 281 – season best
  • Barkingside 273 – season best
  • Wadham Lodge 248 – season best / best in history
  • FC Clacton (cup) 208 – season best
  • Waltham Forest 208 – season best
  • London Lions (cup) 197 – season best / best in history
  • Sporting Bengal 180 – season best
  • Redbridge 160 – season best
  • Enfield 146 – season best
  • Takeley (league) 145 – season best
  • Woodford Town (league) 133 – season best
  • Wadham Lodge (cup) 133 – season best (beaten by league game later)
  • Stansted 122 – season best
  • Takeley (cup) 114 – season best
  • Ilford 103 – season best
  • Hullbridge Sports 86 – season best
  • Woodford Town (cup) 73 – season best (beaten by league game later)
  • West Essex 70
  • FC Romania 68 – season best
  • Burnham Ramblers 65 – season best
  • Sawbridgeworth Town 38

That makes the average at Clapton away games a fairly substantial 187, though that fluctuates depending on whether it’s Saturday or midweek, whether it’s a London game or a far-flung area of Essex, and the accessibility of the ground by public transport.

It should be noted that we’ve not had a lot of Saturday away league games this season, which traditionally attract larger crowds than midweek matches.

The average attendance at Essex Senior League games not involving Clapton is 58. So it’s clear the Tons’ presence in the league is boosting attendances massively and giving clubs a much-needed payday.

Indeed several clubs will have enjoyed more than a third of their season’s total attendance in 1 game against Clapton than in their other 19 home games in the season.

There have also been three games where fans were banned, ostensibly over a fear of fines over historic use of ‘pyro’, despite fans’ assurances that none would be used.

Those games saw the following attendances…

  • Southend Manor 41, 45
  • Met Police 28 – season worst

An average of 35.

All three games have also featured large numbers of stewards employed to keep supporters out.

At a time when non-league clubs are desperate for funding, it’s crazy to see two spending good money keeping fans away, based on false or outdated information.

SAVE THE OLD SPOTTED DOG CAMPAIGN LAUNCH PUBLIC MEETING

 

clapton

The Save The Old Spotted Dog Stadium campaign is launching

Clapton supporters are hosting an urgent public meeting to try to save London’s oldest senior football ground, the Old Spotted Dog.

Here’s the crisis in a nutshell – the current leaseholder of the OSD is a charity, but club chief exec Vince McBean is attempting to liquidate this and transfer the charity’s assets to a company owned and operated solely by himself.

This is happening under the noses of the Charity Commission, who were due to publish an investigation, and despite a High Court injunction intended to prevent the liquidation. Clapton fans fear what Mr McBean will do with OSD once he has it under his control given his track record so far.

Further details on the emergency are outlined in this Morning Star article we wrote last week.

The public meeting has been called by all Clapton fans groups and will take place at Durning Hall, near to Forest Gate station, at 7pm on Wednesday 11 April. 

Organisers said: “This isn’t just a meeting for Clapton fans but everyone who wants to save the ground for future use for the community.

“It ought to be an invaluable community resource. And yet it is at risk of being lost to the community for generations.

“We must Save the Dog and ensure it is reclaimed by and run for its community.

“Come to our campaign launch meeting to hear why this matters now and work out what we can do about it.

“It would be a fantastic show of community strength and togetherness to pack out Durning Hall on Wednesday.”

The Facebook event page for the public meeting is here.

‘I’M OWED THOUSANDS’: FORMER CLAPTON MANAGER SPEAKS OUT ON HIS TIME AT CLUB

Manager Chris Wood put on the Clapton shirt for his farewell game in a friendly at Leyton Orient

If you’re reading this, you’ll have probably already gathered that Clapton fans are at odds with club chief executive Vince McBean’s handling of the club and its ground, leading to the current gruelling but spectacularly successful boycott of home games.

But what of the management and coaches? What was it like working for him? We spoke to several people who have been part of the Clapton set-up in the McBean era, from 2000 onwards to find out.

The more people we talked to, the same stories kept on cropping up – and always about money. People being left seriously out of pocket. Promises that they would be reimbursed for things they’d bought, only to never receive it.

A typical quote from one person we spoke to: “He never paid for anything to do with the players, the coaches and the training, and never any petrol money – ever.”

Another said: “Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t about the money, Clapton to me in a sense was my life,  and I learned to expect nothing from Vince.”

One former member of the coaching set-up claims to have been owed a five-figure sum but did not want to go public.

However, former manager Chris Wood, who was in his second spell in charge of the Tons when the Ultras formed, was happy to go on record on his time at the club.

Chris oversaw a golden period of fast-growing crowds, fan/management togetherness and the club’s best finish in decades after a long period of stagnation.

Woodsy, as he is known, still absolutely loves Clapton and its fans. But he told us that the period cost him a lot of money too.

He claimed: “Vince owes me well over £1,800 for things I bought for the club during my spell there.

“£400 for topsoil and £150 for seeding. Then bulbs for the floodlights capacitors to keep them going.

“Balls, balls, balls. I remember being in a shop and ringing him saying ‘I’ve found some match balls for £8 a go’. He said ‘get 10 and I’ll pay you Saturday’. He never paid.

“He never paid any of these things which were all agreed at the time with him. He would  say ‘bring the receipts to our monthly meeting’ which I would do but that was the last I saw of the receipts. Or he would say the purchase wasn’t sanctioned by the club. Absolute rubbish.

“He even owed my missus that was battling cancer £180 for kit wash money.  Upon leaving he eventually paid after many, many requests.

“We also had to pay for our own coach travel to cup games with players and supporters
paying towards the costs.

“As for cup games, he said we would get half of the prize money per win to go towards the team. It never happened.

“In my first spell at the club he said ‘get some end of season trophies for the boys presentation night’. Guess what? He never paid for them either.

“The final straw for me was my ride on mower which I used to use to cut the pitch. I went to collect it only to find it was in bits. I was left with another bill for £270 to repair it.”

woodsy

Chris Wood, right, with his assistant Neil Day, centre, and captain Craig Greenwood

Chris left the club in May 2014 ‘by mutual consent’, shortly after his assistant Neil Day had been sacked for ‘becoming too close to the fans’.

Chris, who has also managed Ilford, Basildon United and Mauritius Sports, added: “I’m not the first manager to have been short changed. 

“Take the famous Scaffold stand and the old half-finished toilets, they were built by a then manager who was a scaffolder. Another thing done for nothing and another manager out of pocket.

“Vince comes across as a lovely bloke who can really suck you into liking him but he uses people to get as much out of them for free or any other means without him paying for things.”

Chris finished on a positive message, saying: “I love Clapton, love the place and miss it like hell. Just wish one day finally it can be run in an open and proper manner.

“Love the Tons, love the fans and love the ground. Don’t ever let Vince kill or develop on the famous Old Spotted Dog!”

We are unable to put Woodsy’s claims to Mr McBean, as the club have a policy of not speaking to us.

S.O.S. CALL FOR LONDON’S OLDEST FOOTBALL GROUND THE OLD SPOTTED DOG

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.

The recap of the story so far reveals why Clapton’s fans groups, who are already boycotting home games, feel the ground is in grave danger if this happens…

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.

Boycotting fans

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.

Garage sale

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.

We are told that Real Clapton will soon put out a call to arms of how you can help. In the meantime, you can contact them on info@claptonfc.info with any offers of support, suggestions or questions. 

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.

“GUARANTEE OF GOALS”: OUR ARTICLE FOR SAWBRIDGEWORTH TOWN PROGRAMME

The Sawbridgeworth Town programme featuring an article we wrote

We wrote this piece for Sawbridgeworth Town’s match day programme on March 17th 2018, which was postponed but then played on March 20th. The home side won 4-0 as Clapton played a team full of trialists.

Good afternoon all and a big thanks to Sawbridgeworth Town for the invitation to contribute to today’s programme.

I think all Clapton supporters would agree that the spirit of friendship and cooperation extended by the majority of Essex Senior League clubs has really helped put a positive shine on what has otherwise been a gruelling season.

As an awayday, Sawbridgeworth has always been a stand out fixture for us. It’s an easy train ride up from Stratford and must be unique in its pubs to per head of the population ratio.

It’s also the sort of place that if it wasn’t for following non-league (or for those with an interest in antiques), many of us East Londoners may never have discovered.

Our hosts today might not thank us for saying this, but even with its leafy location, Crofters End definitely has a feel reminiscent of our much missed Old Spotted Dog.

That’s not to say, however, that Clapton have found this to be a home away from home, with just one league victory here in the last 5 years.

The article in the programme

Although we’ve often struggled on trips to Hertfordshire, there hasn’t been much to choose between Clapton & Sawbo in terms of league position in recent seasons.

Both clubs have been mainstays in the top half of the table, with 34 goals traded between us since 2012 – 17 apiece!

From a supporters’ point of view, it’s the guarantee of goals in a hard fought fixture that gets the blood pumping on a Saturday.

With our boycott of home matches now in its seventh month, we’ve missed our usual weekends, which makes fixtures like these all the more special.

Clapton Ultras started in 2012 and joined with existing fan group at the time, the Friends of Clapton, in trying to raise the profile of the club.

We have had some fantastic highs over this period, as our attendances went from single figures to the high hundreds, although we find ourselves now at a difficult point.

Clapton aren’t alone in going through a tough time off the field, with a number of non-league clubs from London and the South East struggling through this season.

It’s the community around non-league, however, that has shone through and has demonstrated to everyone how important it is to support each other.

We all wish Sawbridgeworth Town a good game this afternoon and the best of luck for the rest of the season. Expecting another close one.

The inexperienced line-up that played in the game at Sawbo