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.

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CLAPTON vs BARKING – TITLE RUN-IN

With the Tons not playing for a second successive weekend and Barking notching up yet another win in the absence of their title rivals, the top of the Essex Senior League is starting to take on a more settled shape as we enter the final stages of the season.

The Blues’ 3 – 5 win at Sporting Bengal on Saturday pulls open an eight point gap between first and second in the table. As the Upney club cashes in three of its four games in hand, with maximum return, Clapton can only rely on sizeable slip ups from the current league leaders.

However, with eleven league games and two cup competitions still to fight for, Barking have got themselves a crowded schedule to work through before the end of April. Recent goal heavy games appear to suggest legs are beginning to be stretched as a long season takes hold.

As not the most athletic team among this year’s title contenders, either, Barking won’t want to labour over thoughts of an eight point slip at this stage. Bottom four, Bengal pushed them hard on Saturday, as Takeley did by the same scoreline two weeks previous.

Respective run-ins should also give Clapton reason to be hopeful. Barking still have to face three of the top five to get over the line and play third placed, Southend Manor twice! The Tons, moreover, have four games with bottom half opposition and none left against the top five.

Any sudden dip in form for Barking, however, will no doubt depend on what James Peagram does between now and the end of the season. The former Harlow man has banged in an extraordinary 41 goals in 32 starts and is effectively dragging his team toward the Isthmian.

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Peagram netting against Clapton earlier this season

Peagram’s teammates, Delgado & Petrit should also get a mentions for impressive returns, though Barking seem to rely heavily on a tactic of overpowering opponents; a game plan that works well in pummeling teams who’re struggling, but is perhaps less effective against stronger counterparts.

Next Tuesday (28th) Glen Golby & Steve Wills’ team face up against the very physical, FC Romania at Mayesbrook Park. The resurgent Romanians are well known for giving as good as they get and have scored an emphatic 25 goals in the seven matches since losing to Barking in mid-Jan.

By that time that game kicks off, Clapton could be back within five points of their East London rivals, playing away at Barkingside the Friday before. A home win in Forest Gate for the visit of Sawbo on the 28th and a result for FCR on the night would see the title race wide open again.

Following a likely bruising encounter with Romania, Barking then play four games in two weeks, culminating in a vital home fixture with Southend Manor. The league leaders won’t have much respite after that either, not getting more than four days between games until the end of March.

By which point Barking could have qualified for semi-finals and finals in two different cup competitions, adding even more pressure to an already overloaded calendar. Clapton, in contrast, have only one more mid-week fixture before the end of the season.

With such an intensive and challenging run-in, the cracks Barking are already showing, particularly in defence, will deepen. Clapton’s diary, on the other hand, is relatively clear, but dropping points at this stage is something Jonny Fowell’s team can no longer budget for.

CLAPTON FANS’ BOYCOTT ENDS

The Clapton Ultras ended their boycott of home games on Wednesday after seven matches standing outside the Old Spotted Dog, when an agreement on prices was reached with the club’s board.

Similar statements were posted at the same time on the Ultras’ and Club’s websites to announce an agreement on new prices, reasonable security and regular meetings.

The boycott was first called in November after fans were suddenly met at the turnstiles with an unannounced price rise and new invasive security policy.

During the walkout attendances plummeted, down from an average of 366 to low double figures.

A brief hiatus was called during this period when 418 fans turned out at a ‘pay what you want’ day for a top of the table clash with rivals Barking.

Talks between Clapton CEO, Vince McBean, and fans were slow to start, after the Club initially declined to open a dialogue. A meeting was finally sought in January as the Club continued to record very low crowds.

Further negotiations followed and a new price structure was eventually agreed last week.

The new prices agreed:

Under 10s – full rollback from £1 to free.

Pensioners – full rollback from £4 to £3.

Students – full rollback from £4 to £3.

Adults – 50p reduction from £7 to £6.50. Not a full rollback to £6 however…

Changes to concession policy means that many more fans not receiving a full wage will no longer have to pay the full adult price:

Unemployed – a new concession at £3. A big reduction on the £7 adult charge.

Refugees – another new concession at £3. A new recognition from the club.

Fans with disabilities – another new concession with free entry.

16 and 17 year olds have also now classed as ‘kids’, meaning they only pay £1 instead of the £7 adult charge (or the £4 student charge if they were in education)

10 to 15 year olds -the only fans whose price hasn’t dropped, it remains at £1.

It should be pointed out that often unemployed and disabled fans were often not charge full adult price but this agreement formalises this rather than leaves it to the discretion of the turnstile operator.

Unfortunately for Clapton fans, they will now have wait nearly 3 weeks for normal service to resume.

Saturday’s scheduled home fixture with Sawbridgeworth Town was pulled earlier this week to allow ground-sharers, London Bari, a chance to play a re-arranged fixture.

The gesture to forgo the Sawbo game means Clapton will now face the Hertfordshire club on Tuesday 28th February.

TRANSFER ROUNDUP

Clapton manager, Jonny Fowell took the the local press this week to talk about the important role the club’s supporters are to events on the pitch in lifting his team’s performance levels. While negotiations in transferring those massed outside The Dog back into the stands look to be in the final stages, the outspoken gaffer has been on the recruitment drive again, bolstering his squad as top of the table Tons look toward a final title push.

Emmanuel Olajide

Anyone peering in through the fence is recent weeks will doubtless have been impressed with the performances of Clapton’s latest stopper. Olajide is the sixth ‘keeper to have stepped between the sticks for the team this season, following the shock departure of Richie Robbins in December. The former Aylesbury, Broxbourne Borough and Hatfield Town GK has made a strong start to life in East London, notching up three clean sheets in six, with just five goals conceded in total.

Colin Mugoya

colin_mugoya2016Staying on the topic of keeping goals out, defender, Colin Mugoya arrives at Clapton from Southern League, Hayes & Yeading. The 19 year old centre back has made a healthy number of appearances for the West Londoners since breaking into the first team in 2015. He no doubt joins The Tons with an eye on gaining more playing time and could feature in the upcoming friendly with Brentwood Town on Monday 13th.

eamonpayne_5625da655497aEamon Payne

Originally signed for Clapton in 2014, Eamon was last seen by Tons fans in September missing a late penalty against his former club for Southend Manor. Since departing The Dog, the versatile defender has gone on an extended tour of Essex-based Ryman clubs including Bowers & Pitsea, Aylesbury, Witham Town, Heybridge Swifts and Great Wakering Rovers. A welcome return for an old favourite, fans will have to wait until 14th March to see him back in the red & white.

Emmanuel Mokwa

Another handy Emmanuel to arrive at Clapton is Olajide’s current understudy, Emmanuel Mokwa. The nineteen year old ‘keeper has clearly impressed enough to make it into a much trimmed down squad, despite not having the same extended CV of clubs as his goalkeeping counterpart. However, as much needed cover in that position, Mokwa should expect to have his chance at some point, given how many goalkeepers the club has already fielded this season.

Departing

With the clutch of new personnel arriving in E7 there has also been a notable set of departures.

Goalkeepers, Robert Dogaru, Alex Henderson and Yakup Seyer have all de-registered, while outfield players, Christian Adu Gyamfi, Scott Lawton, James Steer and Tobi Adesina exit without much fanfare.

Seyer has unfortunately suffered a long-term shin injury, while Adesina will remain one of those ‘what ifs’, as a signing which promised so much at the start of the season.

The Tons manager has been teasing supporters recently with talk of a another exciting signing, as an additional forward is thought to be high on the shopping list. We’ll wait to see what comes off, although time is on his side as Clapton now have to wait until February 25th for their next competitive game.

CLAPTON TITLE CHALLENGE COULD BE HIT BY LONG LAY-OFF

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Empty Scaffold stand when Clapton played Waltham Forest on Saturday because of the fans’ boycott (pic Waltham Forest FC)

Clapton’s scheduled home game on Saturday has now been postponed due to a fixture clash with London Bari.

The Tons were set to play Sawbridgeworth Town on Saturday 3pm at the Old Spotted Dog – but Bari also rearranged a postponed game for the same day, time and venue.

Something clearly had to give and the Essex Senior League say Clapton have sportingly stepped aside to allow London Bari to play their game.

Bari, who have shared the Old Spotted Dog ground since 2012, will play their rescheduled game against Wadham Lodge on Saturday at 3pm.

Meanwhile in-form Clapton – who top the table and have outside hopes of winning the title – now potentially face 20 days without a game with no fixture scheduled the weekend after either.

There is a chance the game could still be played this Saturday – the Essex Senior League advises that Sawbo have offered to host the game, with Clapton giving up home advantage.

If the Sawbo game is not rescheduled at short notice, The Tons are next due in action on Friday, February 24th away at Barkingside.

By then, title favourites Barking should have played 3 times and could be 8 points clear still with a game in hand over Clapton and have all but sewn up the title.

The next Clapton home game is due on Saturday, March 4th against Hullbridge. It remains to be seen if the Clapton Ultras’ fans boycott will still be in place or whether agreement will have been reached.

An Essex Senior League statement said: “Clapton were due to play at home on 11th February; London Bari rearranged a postponed game for the same date which is easily done with the number of recent postponements.

“There is a chance that Clapton could play their home game at their opponents, which their opponents have approached the league for permission to do so – it is a matter for those two clubs to discuss the possibility and financial implications between themselves.

“Clapton agreed to allow the London Bari fixture to go ahead at the Old Spotted Dog.”

We will keep readers posted as and when the Sawbo game is rearranged.

ANALYSIS OF VINCE MCBEAN’S CLUB STATEMENT

Last Monday, Clapton Chief Executive, Vince McBean, followed up on his recent tirade against Tons supporters in the local press by once again taking aim at the Clapton Ultras and other fans in an extraordinary statement on the club website.

Responding to what he describes as ‘misleading statements’, Mr McBean hit back at criticism over his sudden, unannounced mid-season ‘hike’ in match day prices, by dishing out blame in a number of directions. Although again neglecting to address the lack of notice given to supporters.

‘After careful consideration’
The sudden rise in the price of entry also came attached to new heavy handed security, searching of bags and, as of Tuesday, full body scans with handheld metal detectors. The unorthodox timing of a mid-season increase suggests a more reactionary policy than anything long in the planning.

The reasoning behind the additional charge to supporters also appears a bit muddled. Following vocal protests by Clapton fans, Mr McBean took to the Newham Recorder to state that the extra gate revenue would go toward expenses incurred from fines relating to supporter conduct.

Although still keen to rake over alleged supporter behaviour in his latest statement, the Clapton Chief Exec since reverted to the line that the extra £1 would go to a player’s expenses fund. Citing personnel lost to clubs able to provide a playing budget; which makes his allegations over fines somewhat redundant.

Falling back on Clapton’s previous manager, Mike Walther and current boss, Jon Fowell, the Club statement also sought to shift responsibility for the increase onto to coaching staff. While it’s well documented that Walther was starved of expenses during his tenure, Fowell has done slightly better.

Speaking on the Clapton Ultras’ Dogcast, Fowell told proudly of having persuaded Mr McBean to finally provide a player’s travel budget for away games. The Clapton manager also spoke of his proposal that fans donate an additional 50p at the turnstile which would be then matched by McBean.

This seems to have been unilaterally interpreted by the Clapton hierarchy that fans would foot the full amount.

Make clear the facts’

Accusing the Clapton Ultras of making a ‘number of misleading statements’, Mr McBean launched into the assertion that the supporter group had argued that ‘pyro, fireworks and flares’ should be tolerated during matches. Although no such argument was made.

In fact, there hasn’t been a single incident of anything resembling the above being set off during matches at the Spotted Dog this season. There has, however been two reports of smoke displays at Clapton this term. Both well after the final whistle. Neither has attracted a fine, thus far.

Moreover, occasions of food not provided for opposing teams, changing rooms not fit for purpose and delayed kick offs at Clapton, as reported by other clubs, are things that do encounter fines. Jonny Fowell has admitted that he’s already accrued £140 of fines himself since arriving as manager.

Whether on going infringements by the club are already factored into the £800 McBean says it costs to host an ESL game is unclear. However, the figure belies the fact that based on average attendance this season, each fan could pay a flat rate of £3 and the club would still profit almost £200 per match.

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Redbridge manager gives his thoughts on pricing at Clapton

That’s of course before factoring in the rents Mr McBean collects from London Bari, the mobile phone mast, the mechanic’s yard and clubhouse. Clapton runs on much the same model now as it did before attendances picked up dramatically in 2013, making the extra yield from supporter income a bonus.

Taking into account the £40,000 that Clapton took over the turnstiles last season, as reported by the Newham Recorder, the case for an across the board £1 rise in entry prices is perhaps difficult to explain given the huge additional revenue the club receives on top of its existing operational takings.

‘We need to be unified in our approach’

Following a string of uncorroborated allegations made about supporters, as well youth team players and their parents, Vince McBean rounded off his statement with a call for unity. Demanding that fans fall in behind and support his administration in the same way they do the team.

However, the sudden £1 flat rate increase to all supporters represents a 17% rise for full paying adults, and a 33% hike for pensioners and students. In Forest Gate, an area in which nearly 50% of residents earn less than the living wage, the increase represents further division for fans on different incomes.

The additional cost will also be felt harder by adults claiming benefits as well as fans under 21 in work, as neither gets any concession at Clapton. The current minimum wage for 18 – 21 year olds is £5.30 ph. West Ham do a £150 season ticket for U21s at the London Stadium, the equivalent cost to the same age group paying into the Spotted Dog, eight leagues below, under the new tariff is £147.

While unannounced, mid-season price increases are unprecedented in football, Tons fans know well that Mr McBean has form in this area. In April 2013, the first time Clapton Ultras pushed publically to get a crowd of 100 + into the Spotted Dog, patrons were met with a sudden 50% increase to beer prices in the clubhouse. Cans were later brought down by 50p after sales took a sharp decline.

Clapton fans have on a number of occasions entered into meetings with Mr McBean, and did so prior to the game with Sporting Bengal on 22nd November, when the price of entry and security policy suddenly changed. Why neither of these issues were raised with fans before arriving at the ground remains a mystery and has clearly left the majority feeling taken for granted and disrespected.

As the coffers continue to swell, supporters have long spoken of need for Clapton to pay player expenses; hoping that with the efforts from the Clapton Ultras and others in significantly raising attendances, more support for the team would come from the club’s lucrative gate takings. Why the extra £1 is needed is still yet to be fully addressed.

ESSEX SENIOR LEAGUE SIDE THREATENS TO COMPLAIN TO FA OVER RACISM CLAIMS

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The article by Romania’s best selling newspaper

Essex Senior League side FC Romania are set to lodge an official complaint with the FA after claiming they are regular victims of racism and rough treatment.

It comes after Gazeta Sporturilor, Romania’s biggest selling paper, reported on the club’s concerns yesterday in a story headlined “Scandal in England”.

Manager Ionut Vintila told the newspaper FCR was persecuted ‘because they speak another language’ and said ‘dirty things happen’ and there were ‘incredible decisions’.

Vintila told the newspaper: “They mock us, our families and sponsors… because we speak another language.” It is unclear who the ‘they’ are.

The newspaper article also included pictures of grisly injuries that Vintila had tweeted following an FA Vase game against Tring Athletic.

He tweeted the photos to the FA and asked: “Anyone could tell me why referee missed this?”

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Tonight Vintila told us: “In modern football racism isn’t ended and you hear things said to you on the pitch.

“But FC Romania ignore and want to play football.”

Asked on Twitter what happens next, he tweeted: “Saturday we are gonna have a meeting with our members and probably we’ll send an official letter to The FA.”

If the club goes ahead with its complaint, it would be the second time the FA has investigated negative attitudes towards FC Romania.

In 2014, the then Great Wakering Rovers player-manager Dan Trenkel was fined, banned for five games and sent on a training course over offensive tweets about FCR and Romanian people.

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Clapton fans welcoming FC Romania to the Old Spotted Dog a few seasons back

Clapton fans have built up a close bond with FC Romania over the years, including welcome banners, tifos and chants in the wake of the Trenkel incident.

Ahead of the Tons’ away trip to FCR on Wednesday, Vintila told us: “The Clapton fans every time are fantastic and for this I would like to say a big THANK YOU! For us it means a lot.”

An Essex Senior League spokespetson told us: “Unfortunately the league are not able to assist you with your article.”