WHAT VALUE FANS?

It was the immortal Jock Stein who famously said “football without fans is nothing”.

For many clubs in non-league though, football struggles on largely through its volunteers, with those giving their free time to a local club often outnumbering supporters in the stands.

A good set of dedicated volunteers backed by a healthy number of regular fans is the undoubted golden ratio for any aspiring non-league club.

In the fist half of its 140 year history, Clapton were no stranger to pulling in regular four-figure crowds and even the occasional five-figure. The Forest Gate side was once a prominent name in East London football, safely alongside its local professional counterparts.

Sadly though, as the club’s star fell over the years, along with the overall renown of amateur football, numbers through the turnstiles at The Dog started to fall off. Clapton appeared to be a club standing still as the game and the wider community changed around it.

Without ceremony, The Tons exited the Isthmian League after 100 years in 2006, with attendances mirroring the club’s fallen status – at an all time low. The reshuffle downwards might have felt unkind, but was perhaps not wholly unfair.

Clapton finished third bottom in their inaugural season in the Essex Senior League – 06/07, disappointingly consistent with their league form in the Isthmian since the Millennium.

Notably, during the McBean era, Clapton had only managed to escape a bottom-three finish twice between 2000/01 – 2012/13.

Attendance figures during this period also make for depressing statistics. Clapton recorded an average home attendance of just 31 in 2006/07, and that was with relatively well followed Romford, Brentwood Town and Concord Rangers in the division.

By 2011/12 Clapton had notched a further five bottom-three league placements, while numbers of spectators had fallen to an average of just 20 per game. During that whole season just 274 bodies in total passed through the gates at the Old Spotted Dog.

The following campaign, however, saw a sudden upswing in spectator numbers. In October 2012, the Clapton Ultras formed, with a key aim to raise attendances for the beleaguered Tons.

The Ultras’ efforts soon paid dividends.

By the end of 2013/14, Clapton recorded a crowd of 245 for a single match, at home to FC Romania; a figure nearly as many as the total number of attendees for the season just two years previous.

This massive increase in people through the turnstiles immediately corresponded with an improvement on the pitch, with 10th place that season Clapton’s first top half finish in 11 years.

After a decade of decline, Clapton suddenly became a decent performing team with crowds the envy of every club in the Essex Senior, and many others in divisions above.

By April 2015, Clapton averaged a gate of 183 per game, topping out with a crowd of 519. This while the team saw themselves to a consecutive top half finish and two cup finals. The reciprocal statistics between attendances and success on the pitch continued to climb together.

However, this turnaround in fortunes did not coincide with renewed investment. Despite Clapton having stumbled on a sizeable new source of revenue, the club did not provide its then manager, Mike Walther, with a playing budget or even players with travel expenses for away matches.

Despite regularly losing members of the squad to Isthmian and other ESL clubs willing to provide expenses, the team continued to improve year on year and this was reflected in The Tons’ ever growing home support.

A steady climb in the league table to 7th by the end of 2015/16 and a first trophy bagged since 1989, was witnessed by 6,017 recorded home supporters over the course of the season.

The same season, Clapton also reported the second-highest ever attendance in the history of the Essex Senior League; a 3 – 3 draw with historic rivals Ilford drew a crowd of 761 in October 2015.

The club hierarchy, however, still appeared reluctant to match the energy and commitment of Clapton players and their supporters, and that season made the extraordinary decision to cut back expenses by axing its reserve and youth teams.

Although not much had changed at the Spotted Dog operationally since 2011/12, a good team playing in front of full stands managed to preserve Clapton’s rejuvenated appeal.

The following season, Clapton’s home gate increased again, averaging 335 per game. Amazingly, this statistic survived a 6-week long walkout by supporters, after an unannounced increase to the price of entry, which brought home attendances crashing down to single figures.

An early season change in manager and an overhaul in the team also couldn’t derail The Tons’ growing stature on the pitch. Clapton’s first title challenge in 3 decades fell just short, with a highly respectable 92 points registered by the end of 2016/17.

Numbers paying in through the turnstiles at the Old Spotted Dog this season have since fallen back to pre-Ultras low double and single figures. This is due to a response by Clapton supporters to the Club Chief Exec placing the ground into voluntary liquidation.

The fear among fans is that cash taken at home matches could be used to fund the legal case to push the liquidation process through to completion.

However, with away attendances involving Tons fans this season having already broken two club records, it appears the strong support for the team has not diminished.

The hard work from Clapton’s players and coaches has seen them maintain the high standards set over the last few years, even after the loss of a number of key individuals in recent months.

The story of Clapton’s decade-long stagnation, fall and sudden rise reveals through its mirroring statistics the value of supporters to non-league football clubs.

Although Clapton supporters’ cash fails in most part to reach the team, the energy and support from the stands appears itself to be a tangible commodity in helping players get results on the pitch.

It seems Big Jock was right.

GEOFF

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DON’T MENTION THE L WORD: THE QUESTIONS FROM CLAPTON FANS THE CLUB HAVE DECLINED TO ANSWER

Container inside the Old Spotted Dog

In early September, Clapton FC’s website launched a section called Tons Make Clear, pledging to answer fans’ questions about the current situation on ownership and the supporters’ boycott.

Thousands of words were posted, but one word was curiously absent – ‘liquidation.’ The whole reason that the fans group Real Clapton called for a boycott was because the chief exec of Clapton FC is trying to put the charity running the Old Spotted Dog into voluntary liquidation, putting the club’s historic home in huge peril. Yet this potential catastrophe wasn’t deemed worth a mention.

The section did encourage people to send in their own questions which the club would then answer, so we asked worried Clapton fans what they were concerned about and compiled a list. We submitted those questions by Twitter direct message seven weeks ago, by Facebook five weeks ago then via an online contact form four weeks ago.

In an exchange of emails over the last month, the club have acknowledged receipt and insisted they will answer our questions but have said they have been “too busy” so far. They have also yet to reply to several emails asking for a timescale as to when they may be able to answer any or all of the questions.

It may be the club never answer our questions, or they may be minutes away from posting a full and detailed response online, in which this article is fairly redundant. But for the record, and in case it helps push the process along, here are the questions we posed on behalf of committed Clapton supporters.

The questions the club have declined to answer

Who controls the ground at the moment – the liquidator or yourselves?

How long will the ground be in liquidation for? Is there any end in sight to the court case?

The Charity allegedly has over £200,000 debts, according to your court documents. How has that been accrued, who is it owed to, and will the charity be able to pay that debt back?

Were you pleased that the Clapton fans successfully secured Asset of Community Value on the ground from Newham Council recently to give it some protection from being sold?

What are the targets for the team this season? Is promotion an aim?

What ground improvements need to be completed to meet Isthmian League grading? What is the timescale for putting in planning permission?

Have the enforcement notices on the ground served by Newham Council regarding safety and planning dealt with?

Clapton Football Club is a members club but membership has been closed for restructuring for at least four years. When will it reopen?

How many members of Clapton FC are there? Are the Life Members still members of Clapton Football Club?

What do you like and dislike about the Clapton Ultras? What can and should they do to become the ‘real fans’ you speak about on the website?

Note: we have not included some questions that are no longer valid, including about the coaching set-up which has changed four times since we first submitted the questions.

We will update this article when, or if, our questions are answered.

SERGE PIZZORNO FROM KASABIAN ‘STILL FLOORED’ BY CLAPTON ULTRAS SONG SIX MONTHS ON

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West Essex’s Dan Reading, left, and Serge from Kasabian at the Old Spotted Dog

Serge Pizzorno from Kasabian still talks about his visit to Clapton six months on – and one song from the terraces ‘absolutely floored him’.

The Leicester City-supporting singer was among the 356 at the Old Spotted Dog in March supporting visitors West Essex in a 1-1 draw.

However, perhaps surprisingly the rock star was most impressed by an Ultras’ song based on a dance track – an elongated, rhythmic version of Rui Silva’s Touch Me.

ADan Reading, general manager of West Essex, said: “Serge from Kasabian came down with us last year.

“Clapton in the morning’ absolutely floored him. Still talks about it now.”

He added: “If my memory serves me right, pretty certain he knocked back tickets to West Ham V Leicester to come along.”

And Serge has been invited to the game between the sides at Mayesbrook Park later this season.

West Essex have strong links with the music industry in general, sponsored by indie club night This Feeling and have also been plugged online by Radio X presenter Gordon Smart.

However, Serge is by no means the only musician to have seen the Tons play in the Ultras era either.

St Etienne’s Bob Stanley saw the Tons’ opening day 5-1 defeat at Haringey Borough three seasons ago.

The Tons had a mare, including forgetting their kit, and new manager Mike Walther missed the start of his first game in charge, but Bob was impressed with the Ultras nevertheless.

Infamously, acoustic singer-songwriter Frank Turner visited the Old Spotted Dog on a mate’s stag do last season, prompting a backlash blog. Best not rehash that…

It's my mate @seanedmund 's stag do. We're going to a football match. My first ever. Help.

A post shared by Frank Turner (@frankturner) on

Other music types we’ve seen at Tons game in the last few years include Radio 6 Music DJ Steve Lamacq, Hefner singer Darren Hayman and dance act Caribou, aka Daniel Snaith. However, we’ve been unable to provide photographic or social media evidence yet.

None of them can match DJ Locksmith of Rudimental for commitment to Step Five football. He’s played against the Tons several times in recent years for Ilford, under his real name Leon Rolle.

 

NEEDHAM MARKET CHAIRMAN ON CLAPTON VISIT: ‘SOMETHING HAPPENED THAT I’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE’

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Needham Market chairman Mark Morsley has praised the Clapton fans for their non-stop singing from outside the ground during the recent FA Cup clash.

Members of Real Clapton FC called for a boycott of games while chief executive Vince McBean tries to liquidate the club’s historic Old Spotted Dog in the high court. The Clapton Ultras fan group are respecting the decision, meaning games are being played in front of very sparse attendances.

But around 100 Tons supporters gathered outside to watch the game over the fence and sing in support of the team in their third FA Cup tie of the season.

Vastly experienced Morsley, who moved upstairs at the end of last season after a 19-year management career, admits he’d never seen anything like it before.

Speaking on the Mid Kent Mental Isthmian Show, Morsley said: “It was quite an experience, I have to say.

“Something happened that I’ve never seen before. Basically in previous games they’ve had a lot of supporters there. They’ve had a row with the owner now and all sorts.

“I was sitting in the stands and this guy who’s been watching them 30 years, really nice fella, tells us the story about these young people.

It’s a banana skin as well. Not the greatest pitch in the world.

“We’ve been playing for 15 minutes and all this noise breaks out. I’m thinking, is it a riot or something?

“At the far end, there’s this wall, with a big fence in front, and there must have been 100 supporters popping up, climbing up and all sorts.

“And they sing the whole game. I thought, fair play to them. The owner was walking by and he was getting a bit of grief.

“This guy in the stands says he thinks there is some skulduggery going on.

“Once we got the first goal it was fairly comfortable. To be fair, when our team went off, we
won 3-0… all these lads are cheering us, clapping us and saying well played.

“They played Clacton away in the FA Cup and they brought about 150. And they had the atmosphere, no trouble, just a right good craic.”

TOWER HAMLETS 0 CLAPTON 0: MATCH REPORTS, PHOTOS, REACTION AS TONS ATTRACT BIGGEST AWAY FOLLOWING IN DECADES

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The teams in huddles just before kick-off

The Clapton Ultras drummed up a huge crowd of 468 to Mile End stadium – the Ton’s biggest away game following for many decades.

The largely dreary game didn’t live up to that historic billing, however, with no goals and limited chances at either end.

Given the astonishing numbers of fans at the game, however, there was plenty of coverage online. Here it is:

Match reports

Jacob Ranson of the Newham Recorder wrote in his match report that: “The visitors had more of the ball… but Hamlets had better chances. Only a superb save from Emmanuel Olajide denied the home side a breakthrough.”

Scott Lanza wrote on the Essex Senior League official website that: “Both teams needed a win to kick-start their campaigns but ended up having to share a point.”

Groundhopper Louis Maughan wrote on his Got Seats blog that: “In the end both sides could have won it, but a draw was a fair result for equally matched teams. It was a shame the game couldn’t match the lively atmosphere.”

Photos and videos

The highlight of the match, from a Clapton perspective, was this superb low save by Emanuel Olajide late on.

Non-league groundhopper Richard Brock uploaded several clips during the game on his YouTube channel – including the one below of the teams entering the field.

Various others at the game posted pictures, such as these below:

 

#claptonfc #claptonultras

A post shared by @interesting_thinkpiece on

#ClaptonUltras #ClaptonFC #KeepSmiling

A post shared by Aidan JR (@generaladnan) on

#saufen #büffelhopping #mileendstadium #claptonfc #claptonultras #towerhamletsfc

A post shared by Florian van Buffel (@schnuebue) on

The Clapton FC Facebook page also posted a few snaps.

Players and coaches

We spoke to assistant manager Andre Thomas and defender Quincy Egbajale on Facebook Live after the game. Watch it below:

Andre also spoke to Jacob Ranson of the Newham Recorder about his disappointment with the draw, but added: “We’ll take the positive of our fourth consecutive clean sheet.”

CFC News man of the match: Emanuel Olajide.

Attendance: 468.

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”

AKS ZLY

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.

CLAPTON FANS’ END OF SEASON AWARDS – THE RESULTS

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Pape Diagne received a special King Pape crown

 

After Clapton soundly beat Burnham 7-0 in their last game of the 2016/2017 season, fans joined the team on the pitch to see the Tons receive the Essex Senior League runners-up shield.

While there are still a few remaining fixtures to be played in the league, Clapton secured the second place spot with 92 points, 7 more than third place FC Romania who have one remaining fixture to play.

After the league award, the Ultras handed out their player awards for the season. 208 people voted across four categories: Most Improved Player, Goal of the Year, Best Player of the Year and Ultras Favourite Player of the Year.

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Geoff Ocran with his special award

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Andre Thomas collecting his special award

As the Clapton team had a lot of new faces this season, it was not surprising that almost all of the winners were collecting their Ultras awards for the first time.

 

 

 

 

Injured Clapton goalkeeper Pape Diagne, departing captain Geoff Ocran and assistant manager Andre Thomas were also recognised with special awards.

Each winner received a variety of prizes, including a one of a kind t-shirt designed by a Footy Ultra, depicting Steven Sardinha’s Wadham Lodge goal.

Most Improved Player

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For the Most Improved Player award, centre-back Quincy Egbejale came in third and midfielder Steven Sardinha came in second.

The winner was midfielder Ryan Reed, who started 22 games, had 33 appearances and scored 7 goals this season.

Reed was pivotal in creating chances and towards the end of the season, the combination of Reed and Ashman, with Jay Knight up front, was one of the most promising attacking presences we’ve ever seen at Clapton.

First place: Ryan Reed – 17%
Second place: Steven Sardinha – 16%
Third place: Quincy Egbejale – 12%

Goal of the Year

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Clapton scored 95 goals this season, so it was difficult to pick a favourite for Goal of the Year.

In third place, Nathan Cook’s recent Barca-esque goal against Enfield at home (6-2) in the 62nd minute on April 8th came in third.

Johnny Ashman’s last minute game deciding belter at Stansted (2-3) on January 7th in the 95th minute came in second.

In first place was a goal so lovely that it inspired a Footy Ultra, Clapton Ultras junior division, to draw a re-enactment.

The winner was of course, Steven Sardinha’s 48th minute goal at Wadham Lodge (0-2) on October 5th last year.

Sardinha beat 3 players from the edge of the box and then smashed it into the top corner of the goal, much to the delight of the Ultras who had gone behind the attacking goal that half.

First place: Wadham Lodge v Clapton (0-2) Steven Sardinha 48’ – 05/10/16 – 51%
Second place: Stansted v Clapton (2-3) Johnny Ashman 90+5’ – 07/01/17 – 22%
Third place: Clapton v Enfield (6-2) Nathan Cook 62’ – 08/04/17 – 15%

Best Player of the Year

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For Best Player of the Year, all three winners put on the Clapton shirt for the first time this season.

Second place was a tie between Ryan Reed and Steven Sardinha.

As winger Johnny Ashman quickly became a fan favourite this season, and already has two different songs that are sung about him, it was no surprise that he won the best player accolade.

Johnny had more appearances than anyone else on the team with 46 and started all but two games.

He scored ten goals, and is generally seen racing down the wing, beating players and creating chance after chance for the Tons.
First place: Johnny Ashman – 43%
Second place: (tie) Ryan Reed and Steven Sardinha – 12%

Ultras Favourite Player of the Year

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The Clapton Ultras Fan Favourite award is given to the Ton who best represents the spirit and passion of Clapton.

Third place went to the increasingly popular Steven Sardinha and second place went to last year’s winner and constant fan favourite, Nathan Cook.

First place was an easy one for people to select this year, our captain Jerry Jairette.

Not only has Jerry put in ten years service as a Ton, he’s one of those rare players that can play almost any position, and often had to this year as we went through a rotation of goalkeepers.

When he’s not on the pitch, Jerry also makes an effort to reach out to the fans.

Even during the mid-season boycott, he would make a point to come out and talk to supporters.

First place: Jerry Jairette – 45%
Second place: Nathan Cook – 12%
Third place: Steven Sardinha – 10%