CHIEF EXEC LIQUIDATION MOVE PUTS TONS’ SEASON IN PERIL

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The Old Spotted Dog is London’s oldest senior football ground

Well documented troubles behind the scenes at Clapton seem to have taken a dire turn this week, with the Essex Senior League and the FA demanding assurances from club Chief Executive, Vince McBean, over the immediate future of the club.

By taking the extraordinary decision to call in the liquidators for Clapton’s famous Old Spotted Dog ground in March of this year, for reasons as yet unclear, McBean has generated huge uncertainty over where (or if) Clapton will play for the coming 2017/18 season.

Now the Essex Senior League has called on the Chief Exec to clarify the status of the ground as a matter of urgency, with fixtures for the season due to be finalised following the League AGM this Thursday.

 

With liquidation initiated, Mr McBean must now secure permission from the liquidator to continue playing in Forest Gate or find an alternative venue to host Clapton home matches for the season.

With no club statement on the issue forthcoming, It is unclear whether either option is viable.

Hackney Wick – who have merged with London Bari and were also due to play at the Old Spotted Dog  next season – are also in the same position.

This uncertainty couldn’t have come at a worse time for Clapton, following the club’s most successful season in decades.

Clapton could even be forced to explore the same route taken by Eton Manor, by remaining in the ESL as a ‘non-playing member’ for the coming campaign.

Mr McBean took control at the Old Spotted Dog back in 2000 and presided over the club as it dropped out of the Isthmian League for the first time since the Tons were founder members back in 1905.

His previous club, Woodford Town, moved to groundshare at The Dog in 1999 following the demise of their own Snakes Lane ground.

 

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CLAPTON ANNOUNCE TIE-UP WITH NEWLY-REFORMED EPPING FC

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The terrace at Epping FC’s Stonards Hill ground

Tons manager Jonny Fowell has announced via Twitter that Clapton will be working with newly reformed Epping FC.

Epping FC are back for the upcoming season after they folded a year ago. They will be begin life again in the Essex Olympian League, and will be partly serving as development squad for Clapton.

They will be playing once again at Stonards Hill Recreation Ground, a short walk from Epping station on the Central Line, with games taking place on Saturdays at 2pm.

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The Epping FC logo

The link appears to involve players being dual registered for Clapton and Epping and therefore they will be able to play for both teams.

The move comes a year after it was announced there will be no reserves or youth teams for Clapton for the 2016/17 season.

This meant that the manager hosted a number of trial games during his first season to assess potential new players.

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Stonards Hill Recreation Ground

The hope is that this partnership with Epping will return to a more traditional form of developing and assessing players.

Newham-based New Revolution Sport previously announced plans to form a Clapton under-18s team.

The academy, which will be run separately from the main club, also offers a chance to study for a BTEC sports diploma in a two-year football and education program.

Jonny describes Epping manager and ex-Ton Asa Pamplin – who also turned out for Aveley, Enfield Town, Hornchurch and Ilford in his playing career – as a “life long friend”.

Asa told us: “The club folded last year so along with the council and some good sponsors we reformed the club.

“Using yourselves as a good example we aim to be a community club.

“I’ve played football with Jon since we were nine years old so after speaking to him and Clapton not having a reserves and relying on trial games it seemed a good opportunity for us to give some game time to squad players who are not getting 90 minutes.”

It is believed the deal will work in favour of both teams, with Epping able to utilise some of the Tons players who will be hoping to make the step up to the Essex Senior side.

The Epping side will have ambitious of their own as they return to St Stonards Hill with new sponsors.

In partnership with the local council, they hope to embed the club back into the community.

We at Clapton FC News wish them the best of luck.

Follow Epping’s progress here @EppingFC_

SUPPORTERS GROUPS WORLDWIDE BACK CALL FOR A FAN-OWNED FUTURE FOR CLAPTON

A month ago fans’ group the Clapton Ultras released a statement backing campaign group Real Clapton’s legal action fund.

The fund aims to help safeguard Clapton FC’s existence – in real peril given the attempts to liquidate the ground’s leaseholding company — and then by the end of 2017 see the fans run the club. 

Since then a variety of different supporter groups, local businesses and comrades have quickly responded to show their solidarity and support..

St Pauli’s Blocknachbarn

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At their May 14th game against Fürth, FC St Pauli supporter group Blocknachbarn displayed a banner that said, “Hate owners, support the real Clapton FC”

Dissidenti Dusseldorf

At Fortuna Düsseldorf’s April 21st game against FC St. Pauli, Dissidenti Dusseldorf created a tifo with the message “SAVE CLAPTON FC FOOTBALL BELONGS TO THE FANS” and featured the cause in the Dissidenti fanzine.

Roter Stern Leipzig

Long-standing friends of Clapton, Roter Stern Leipzig, who play in Leipzig’s Landesklasse Nord league, displayed a tifo with the message “SUPPORT OUR FRIENDS CLAPTON ULTRAS” at a recent match. 

Werder Bremen Infamous Youth

Werder Bremen’s supporter group, Infamous Youth, showed their support at their April 29th home game against against Hertha BSC with a banner proclaiming “SAVE CLAPTON FC! IY”

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Members of Warsaw grassroots community club Alternatywny Klub Sportowy ZŁY, AKS ZŁY created a display at a recent game with the message, “CLAPTON FC MUST BE FAN OWNED”

Zoo at Swope Park Rangers

Across the pond, the Zoo of American USL team Swope Park Rangers. in Kansas City, took up a collection for the Save Clapton FC fund at their home game against Sacramento Republic on April 15th.  

Local support

Closer to home, local brewery 40 FT held a fundraiser on Easter Sunday to help the cause with proceeds of every pint and and barbecue sale going to Real Clapton’s fund.   

And Clapton Ultras’ very own Eastern European Crew held a disco after the last home game of the season, raising £305 for the action fund.

Messages of solidarity

There have also been supportive  messages including from several international Sankt Pauli fan groups, Colectivo Anticapitalista Londres, Lgbtqi Forest Gate, STRIKE! Magazine, Jolly Roger in Hamburg, London Antifascists and many more.

The latest on the fight

The statement posted by the Clapton Ultras was seen by thousands of people, and helped the legal fund to reach over £8,000 of the £10,000 target set.

The latest legal development is that Clapton’s chief executive’s attempt to liquidate the charitable company that holds the lease has been staved off – for now.

All parties are now waiting for the court to set a date when a judge will decide on whether the voluntary liquidation can proceed.

The result of that case is likely to trigger further developments so Real Clapton are still calling for help.

ANALYSED: THE RISE AND FALL AND RISE OF CLAPTON’S ATTENDANCES THIS SEASON

Clapton fans applaud Geoff Ocran and Jerry Jairette on the last day of the season, which saw a crowd of 684

The size of the Old Spotted Dog crowds continued to catch the eye in 2016-17 despite – or maybe even because of – the Clapton Ultras’ boycott which lasted almost a third of all home games.

In fact, the rise, fall, and rise again of the attendances provide an interesting subtext to a noteworthy season on the pitch for the Tons – and further consolidate the club’s position as one of the best supported at its level nationwide.

Clapton’s average home gate for 2016-17 was 276 in all competitions, with the league average 314, enough to rank in the top 10 for this level of football (Step 5) across the country.

This figure was dampened, though, by the seven-game streak during the winter when the home support’s walkout saw crowds drop to double digits – and included one game (the 1-1 draw with Takeley) where not a single paying supporter was declared.

This left Clapton with the remarkable record of registering both the highest and the (joint) lowest Essex Senior League (ESL) attendances of the season.

That high-point was the incredible 684 that watched the 7-0 demolition of Burnham Ramblers on the final day of Clapton’s season.

Empty Scaffold stand during the boycott

This, in turn, was just one more than the previous season’s best that attended the defeat to FC Romania in September.

Yet in between these twin peaks was the flatline brought about by the club’s unannounced price increase in mid-season.

Prior to the Sporting Bengal game, which saw adult and concessionary prices hiked by £1 out of the blue, the average attendance was 393.

For the following boycotted seven games (excluding the pay-what-you-like derby with Barking in January), which comprised 5 league games and 2 cup defeats, the total combined reported attendance was only 208 – an average of less than 30 per game.

Once the boycott was called off, though, crowds flocked back to the Scaffold, with the average gate for the remaining 6 home league games an even higher 403.

In fact, if the boycott games are removed from the equations, Clapton averaged 383 in the league in 2016/17 – enough to rank fourth highest in England’s Step 5, and higher than any other team outside the famously well-supported Northern League.

Clapton’s support continued to boost crowds on the road, as well, with 18 of their 21 ESL opponents’ highest gates coming when the Tons’ visited. These included 300+ gates at Barkingside and Tower Hamlets.

Season-by-season Clapton average attendances

2016/7 314 (383 for non-boycotted, 20 for boycotted)

2015/6 335

2014/5 183

2013/4 83

2012/3 43

2011/2 20

 

 

BATTLE OVER ATTEMPED VOLUNTARY LIQUIDATION OF OLD SPOTTED DOG LEASEHOLDING COMPANY – THE LATEST

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The case of the liquidation of the Old Spotted Dog leaseholding charity/company is being heard at the Royal Courts of Justice

In March we brought the worrying news that the charitable company Newham Community Leisure Limited, which holds the lease on the Old Spotted Dog, had applied for voluntary liquidation.

To recap:

  • Owner: The Old Spotted Dog ground is owned by Scottish & Newcastle Brewery
  • Leaseholder: NCL holds the long-term lease, which runs for another 75 years
  • Tenants: NCL then rents the ground to Clapton FC as well as London Bari
  • Vince McBean is involved with both the leaseholder NCL and tenants Clapton FC

On 1st March 2017, NCL appointed a liquidator, Stewart Bennett of Buckhurst Hill. The documents showed the trust owing £203,478 in long-term loans, £2,001 in accountancy fees, with the cost of voluntary liquidation estimated at £19,095.

Fans feared this voluntary liquidation would affect the club’s right to play at the Old Spotted Dog, its home since 1888, as well as London Bari (who next season will be known as Hackney Wick FC following a merger).

All went quiet for a while… then on 12th April 2017 came a big update from the campaign group Real Clapton FC direct from Royal Courts of Justice in London – the proposed voluntary liquidation was put on hold by a judge after an urgent application for an interim injunction.

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The form filed for voluntary liquidation of Newham Community Leisure Limited

The liquidator, Mr Bennett, then had the opportunity to contest the injunction, but we are told he has since consented to it remaining in place until the main case is heard.

That means the next step is waiting for the court to fix a day when a judge will decide on whether the voluntary liquidation can proceed/

Real Clapton FC has now raised over £8,000 of a £10,000 target for its action fund, to pay legal fees in the short term and establish a fan-owned club in the long term.

So could this attempted voluntary liquidation of the leaseholder affect Clapton’s ability to play at the Old Spotted Dog next season?

All member clubs must shortly prove to the Essex Senior League – presumably at their AGM on 22nd June 2017 – that they have a secure tenancy on a suitable ground for the whole upcoming season.

That seems under doubt when the leaseholder is attempting to go into liquidation with debts of over £200,000, and there is no indication of how the owner of the ground will react.

The club itself says no, it’s business as usual. A statement on its website on 1st April 2017 insisted the Clapton team “will be playing at the Old Spotted Dog Stadium, the same venue we will be playing matches at for seasons to come.”

Meanwhile Essex Senior League officials have also dismissed supporters’ concerns over the consequences of liquidation as mere ‘rumours’.

That is surprising confidence since the leaseholder company is in the hands of a liquidator. The directors of the company no longer have a say in what might happen. Tenants Clapton FC and Hackney Wick don’t either.

If the liquidation goes through, any transfer of the lease to another company will have to have the approval of the Charity Commission. NCL and its directors are currently under investigation.

We’ll have to wait for the conclusion of the court hearing to see what happens next.

CLAPTON MAKE HISTORY – AND ARE ON COURSE FOR SILVERWARE TOO

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Clapton on their way to the win that sealed a top three finish

Congratulations to Barking, who have wrapped up the Essex Senior League title and will play in the Isthmian League North Division next season.

While the champions were rightly celebrating their promotion, though, Clapton were quietly sealing an historic achievement of their own.

The 6-2 win over Enfield FC guaranteed the Tons would finish in the top 3 at least. That is the first time in 34 years, when Clapton won the 1982/3 Isthmian League Division Two title.

Before then, historians would have to go as far back as 1925/6 for a top 3 finish, meaning this is only the third season in 91 that the Tons have finished so high. Amazing stuff.

And after last year’s Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy Final success, where the Tons broke their 27-year trophy drought, there could be more silverware this season.

The runners-up in the Essex Senior League are given a shield to mark their achievement and it is understood the Tons will be presented with the award after the game on Saturday April 22 if they seal second spot.

Lee Connor of Basildon United with the Runners-Up Shield last season

The Tons are currently five points clear of FC Romania in the fight for runners-up spot and so a win in the last final game of the season, at home to Burnham Ramblers, will bag the runner-up place.

FC Romania meanwhile have two games remaining, away against Basildon United and away to Burnham Ramblers, and would need to win both and hope the Tons draw or lose to sneak into second place.

Whatever happens, Clapton are guaranteed to be in the top four, it also means they are one of 33 clubs around the country given a bye through to the first round proper of the FA Vase.

This will be the first time ever that the club has started its FA Vase campaign in the first round in the 35 years of entering the competition.

It gives the Tons a great chance of reaching the third round for the very first time, having been knocked out at the second round three times in the past.

Also between 1945 and 2013, the Tons only achieved 2 top half finishes. Now they have achieved 4 in the row, coinciding with the rise in supporters and the Clapton Ultras.

This season’s away form has been even more eye-catching. The 15 away wins is the best ever in Clapton history, beating the 12 notched up in 1982/3.

INS AND OUTS: WHO’LL BE IN THE ESSEX SENIOR LEAGUE NEXT SEASON

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Fan-owned Saffon Walden Town FC – who have an average attendance of 199 – are looking to join the Essex Senior League

The Essex Senior League next season will see the exit of Barking to promotion and the return of Great Wakering Rovers after relegation.

However, Great Wakering, who spent two seasons in the Ryman North. might not be the only new club returning to the ESL…

Saffron Walden Town

Saffron Walden Town of the Eastern Counties League have announced they have applied for a sideways transfer to the ESL.

The Bloods were members of the ESL until 2002/3 and indeed won the title in 1999/2000 but were prevented from being promoted due to ground issues.

Based around 10 miles from Stansted and Takeley, if Saffron Walden are accepted it would nudge the boundary of the Essex Senior League further north.

However, the club face journeys up to 90 miles in their current league, so are on the fringes of whichever league they are placed in.

Excitingly for Tons fans, Saffron Walden have a big fanbase, topping the attendance table in the ECL with an average of 199, even despite a mid table season.

Not only that, but they are owned by supporters, after the club went to the wall five years ago only to be saved by fans with help from Supporters Direct among others.

Woodford Town

Woodford Town could also be returning to the Essex Senior League after a 15-year absence since their sad demise.

Historic Town, where Jimmy Greaves once played. were evicted from their Snakes Lane ground in 1993 because of complaints about noise from local residents. A fire later destroyed the main building in 1996.

They continued until 2003, groundsharing in Greenwich and then at Clapton’s Old Spotted Dog ground, before the league decided not to re-elect them.

Incidentally current Clapton chief executive Vince McBean was the Woodford chairman through some of its turbulent final years.

A resurrected Town played one season in the Spartan South Midlands League in 2015/6, based at Brimsdown Road (formerly used by Enfield Town and Enfield FC) and then later ground-sharing with Ware, before withdrawing.

It’s understood a new Woodford Town, with a committee of seven, have applied to the Essex Senior League and would play at Brimsdown Road.

Brentwood Town

Brentwood Town are currently one place above the Ryman North relegation zone, two points ahead of Ware with 3 games to play.

However, if Brentwood were to drop into the bottom three, they would also return to the Essex Senior League along with Great Wakering.

Brentwood were last in the ESL ten years ago and were actually in the Ryman Premier last season.

There is also an outside chance that Waltham Abbey could drop into the relegation zone if Brentwood, Ware and others end the season very well.

Departures

This is looking quieter. Sources have suggested that no club will be relegated out of the ESL.

However, could league officials be forced into a rethink given Barking are the only departure and there are four potential entrants to the league?

Or does it suggest one – or more – of the applicants will be turned down?

Could a current ESL club be voted out of the league? Indeed, hold a current ESL club look to transfer out to a different league themselves?

We will find out all the ins and outs later this month.

Next season’s shake-up

A major shake-up of the non-league pyramid will kick in from 2018/9.

The ESL will have between 16 and 20 clubs – and will have a second division too.

There will be extra leagues above Clapton’s level, meaning that there may well be more than one promotion place up for grabs.

We’ll write in more detail about this shake-up as details emerge.