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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BARKING SWOOP FOR TONS STARS REED AND OLAJIDE

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Ryan Reed with the runners-up shield and an award from the fans after last season’s performances

Barking have swooped for two of Clapton’s star players Ryan Reed and Eman Olajide just weeks after coach Andre Thomas switched to the Bostik North side.

Reed scored two, including a 25-yard wonder strike, last night to help the Tons win 3-2 at Barkingside and sign off in style.

Watch it from two angles here:

 

Reed later posted a farewell message to fans on Twitter, saying: “I’d just like too say thank you too every Clapton fan that has come to watch us boys last season and this season, Playing in front of a crowd has been a joy. Thanks guys #COYTons!!”

 

Winger Reed grabbed seven goals and 18 assists last season and was on course to do even better this season with nine goals and six assists already.

He is still registered with the Tons as well so it’s always possible that we could see him back at the Tons – as with Johnny Ashman’s surprise two-game return earlier this season.

However, it feels like he will go straight into the Barking team with the club official Twitter and first team coach Kiers Hughes-Mason both quick to welcome him to Mayesbrook Park.

 

 

Olajide meanwhile joined Barking on an emergency loan last week after an injury to their regular keeper Ollie Bowles and kept a clean sheet on his debut on Tuesday and again on Saturday.

Olajide is also still registered with the Tons although it’s understood it was agreed between the clubs he would not play on Friday night to keep him fresh for Barking.

It’s possible he will play for the Tons again when Bowles recovers from injury – though he may have become first choice by then.

Manager Jonny Fowell said of the departing players: “There two fantastic boys who really want to learn and play as high as they can.

“Just very surprised why other clubs didn’t take them but @barkingfc have them so well done and good luck.”

As well as Andre Thomas, Reed and Olajide join former Tons favourites, striker Jay Knight and defender Hussain Jaffa, at Barking.

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.

ANDRE THOMAS PICKS HIS CLAPTON XI AS TONS LEGEND PAYS EMOTIONAL FAREWELL

Andre Thomas said farewell to the Clapton fans on an emotional night at the Mile End Stadium.

He’s been coach, he’s been assistant manager, he’s been caretaker manager, but for one night only Andre also became the Ultras’ capo, leading some of the songs himself.

On the pitch, the Tons bounced back from going 1-0 down to a Sporting Bengal side who often prove to be a thorn in our side.

Ryan Reed scored the first two, including the pearler of a free-kick below, before Jeffrey Cobblah sealed the points with perhaps an even lovelier run and shot.

So club legend Andre departed with a 3-1 win, leaving the Tons in sixth place, and in the celebrations afterwards he turned the tables by singing one of the Ultras’ songs back at them.

We couldn’t let him leave us without asking him to compile his best ever Clapton XI from his two years at the club.

So, as Andre jumps on the District Line to Upney, to take up the assistant manager’s job with ambitious Bostik League side Barking, here’s his team in a 3-4-1-2 formation.

Goalkeeper

It’s a position that we have always had issues filling after Pape Diagne.

As you know, “there’s only one king Pepe, he keeps the ball out the netty,” but recently we’ve been blessed with the talents of Richie Robins, Emmanuel Olajide, Ignas Budvytis and Mark Kavanagh.

Even when Pape was around we had Alex Biddle and Yakup Seyer who also make credible bids.

However the keeper I’m going to go with is a leader, who talks as much as me, has great reactions, good feet, great kicking and in my opinion is a complete GK who is always trying to get better.

My goalkeeper is Emmanuel Olajide.

Right-sided centre-back

In a back three I’ve gone for someone who’s comfortable playing in a few positions just in case we need to change it during the game.

There’s other natural centre-backs I could have gone with but I know that this guy would give me his all then go get some from the opposition and then give me that too.

He’ll probably complain about playing here telling me this isn’t his position but he’ll stop sulking as soon as the whistle has blown and probably end up getting the Man of The Match Award.

It was a flip of the coin between he and Lanre Vigo but my right-sided centre-back is Kristian Haighton.

Centre back

So many names come to mind. I think of Euan Taylor-Reid, the cup final penalty specialist; Idu Bogdan, who is as hard as a rock; Pete Moore, the coach on the pitch who always talks; Quincy Egbejale, legs long enough to cover the back four; Eamon Payne, goalscoring centre-back; Jamie Lyndon, Mr No Nonsense.

There’s also Zach Miller, Jesse Mckenzie, Nick Loblack, Hussain Jaffa and even Freddie Morris who wouldn’t wanna play there but could.

However, I’ve gone with a centre back who is strong, fast, aggressive, technically sound, understands what I require and he’s a funny guy.

Great character in the dressing room, always has his teammates backs and is the first one swinging his handbag. I’m going with Dylan Ebengo.

Left-sided centre-back

As I said earlier, in a back three I’ve gone for someone who’s comfortable playing in a few positions just in case we need to change it during the game.

On this side I’ve gone with a player who I feel can play this position as I’ve simply not seen a man take him on one-on-one and beat him. That will always give the team confidence.

Again Pete Moore, Francis Best-Ebanks and Yusuf Bello make solid claims as they’re all naturally left footed, strong and good defenders.

However, I’ve gone with the super impressive, super hero Tayo Awoderu. He’ll have to come training though, lol.

Central midfielders x 2

I think the two midfield positions, along with the two forwards, will be the hardest decision.
With the options available to me, it’s very difficult.

Steven Sardinha, Freddie Morris, Bradley Joseph, Paul Oshin, Geoff Ocran, Paul Barry, Reece Hewitt, Louis Rene, Scott Hill, Siao Blackwood and JoJo DeGraft are a few of the many midfield generals I’ve worked with, all packed with experience, quality, pace, power, packed with lungs of a V8 engine, skill, trickery, goals and unreal technique.

The only reason I’ve selected these two to be the midfielders holding for me is because they’ve got everything I’ve listed above and they both ‘get it’. I’m not saying the rest don’t because they definitely do.

The reason they do is because of the levels these two midfielders have set.
When the going gets tough I want someone who’ll put their body on the line, even if it means broken limbs.

In addition to that if we need a 90th minute goal and we have a free kick I wanna make sure he’s on them.

The two midfielders I’ve gone with are the Clapton legends Jerry Jairette and James Briggs.

Left-wing (back)

This player has improved so so much, was under the radar.

He dedicated himself to his craft and got fit and then caused havoc for opposition full backs.

He’s got two great feet, skills in abundance, great first touch and beautiful hair.

Another set piece specialist with the world going crazy for Messi and CR7, I’m glad to have RR7.

To play on the left wing is Ryan Reed.

Centre attacking midfield

Again many, many players who can play in this role. Raphael Duyile who is technically sublime as well as very versatile and intelligent was also an option.

So was Tom ‘goal machine’ Webb and even Stefan Nielsen.

But it’s got to go to a player that had Tons from the 2014-15 season in awe.

I won’t ever forget my first pre-season game when we played a Harold Hill XI and he had never played with these guys.

He had never played any level higher than this one and was playing with the likes of Billy Wise (who actually ran this guy very close for the vote), James Briggs, Shomari Barnwell, Troy Ricketts and JoJo Degraft yet looked superb, like he had been there for years and knew how to create magic.

Funnily enough he has now been here for 3 seasons and he does know how to create magic. He gets it from his hat.

Playing in the CAM role is Nathan Cook.

Right-wing (back)

Khadz Campbell, Aundre Spencer, Johnny Ashman, Raphael Duyile, Paul Barry and Jeffrey Cobblah. Players that come to mind when I think of stars that can play on that right hand side.

I’ve gone with a guy whose name rings bells but only rang the bells of his college colleagues before this.

He came to the club and played over 40 games in his first season only being on the bench once and this was due to his quality on the pitch, his attitude and attendance to training and the game, his hunger to fight off all that tried to take his spot and he’s done it once more.

To play on the right is none other than Johnny Ashman.

Centre forwards x 2

Clapton have been blessed with tremendous forwards and I’ve been lucky to work with the likes of Fahad Nyanja, Warren Mfula, Jay Knight, Ike Nzurba, Miles Hunter, Roddy Lemba, Sherwin Stanley, Tony Cookey and Ajani Domingo-Carrington to name a few.

However, I’ve gone with one of the most natural finishers I’ve worked with.

Top top forwards score with both feet and their head, this guy is able to do that and also score with his junk.

One of my two centre forwards is Jay Knight.

The reason I’ve selected the second guy is because for me he epitomises what a striker should be for me.

Hard-working, relentless, gives 100% effort for his team and the shirt he wears.

He’s a nightmare when you’re against him but a dream when he’s on your team.

I’ve seen him get into the heads of opposition players warming up on the side, he already gains the edge on them before they even get subbed on.

I call him my Non-League Diego Costa.

My forward to join Jay is none other than Mr Warren Mfula.

TRUE CLAPTON LEGEND ANDRE THOMAS LEAVES TO STEP UP TO BOSTIK LEAGUE

Andre Thomas pictured at Takeley last month

Coach Andre Thomas has left Clapton after landing the assistant manager’s job at Bostik North side Barking.

A hugely popular figure with  players and fans, Andre spent two silverware-laden years with Clapton as coach, assistant manager and also as caretaker manager.

However, he had recently been shunted from assistant manager to first team coach as Jonny Fowell brought in Colin Reid as head coach and Wayne Seal as assistant manager.

Barking have moved quickly to offer Andre a step up a division as well as being restored to assistant manager level.

The Blues announced the news on Saturday night – in the wake of Clapton’s fine home win against high-flying Great Wakering.

Their statement described Andre as “a passionate and dedicated football man who’s a student of the game. He’s willing to learn and progress by developing his skills and obtain new ones in the process.”

He will be number two to manager Justin Gardner, formerly of Aveley and Billericay Town .

More details to follow…

 

TONS OF TONS AWAY AT THE OLD SPOTTED DOG – MATCH REPORT, VIDEO AND PICTURES

Hackney Wick 1 Clapton 2

785 at the Old Spotted Dog as the Tons win 2-1 ‘away’ at Hackney Wick

Goals from Jeffrey Cobblah and Hassan Nablani sealed three hard-won points for Clapton against Hackney Wick on Saturday.

And the result crowned an emotional day for the massed Clapton Ultras who, joined by Wick fans and a good number of Non League Day visitors, made up the second-highest Step 5 attendance on the day.

With Clapton fans’ boycott of home games ongoing, this was a rare opportunity for the Tons to get out of the alley and back on the Scaffold safe in the knowledge that their club’s current proprietor would not receive any gate receipts from this game.

The weekend also marked the fifth anniversary of the Clapton Ultras who, joined by friends and allies from all across Europe and closer to home, celebrated in characteristic style.

And it was the jubilant scenes and full-throated support that the Ultras and their guests from all around Europe created which saw the Essex Senior League clash make the news, with top-billing in Non League Day round-ups by the BBC and the Guardian to name just two.

The game itself was a well-contested derby despite both sides showing wholesale changes from their last fixtures.

Clapton had two more debutants in young striker Nead Clarke, and the commanding centre-half Gary Simmonds.

Cobblah gave the ‘visitors’ the lead around the half-hour, converting after a wicked bounce deceived Wick ‘keeper Steven French, before Nalbani doubled the advantage from the spot on the hour.

In between the Tons wasted a series of chances, but were clinging on by the end after Jamie Hardwick’s well-taken effort.

Yet it was the crowd that made the headlines, especially in the context of the Ultras’ unwavering boycott.

The official gate of 785 was the largest the Ultras have ever been part of, home or away, and ten times more than the next best ESL attendance that day.

Remarkably it was alsp more than double the total number of people who have attended all six of Clapton’s league games so far this season.

Happily, half of the gate receipts – a whopping £1575 – is being donated by Hackney Wick to Scope. A great and generous gesture.

The result lifts Clapton back into the top 10 ahead of the visit of title-favourites Great Wakering.

The Ultras will have to make the memory last, at least until the trip to Mile End stadium to face Sporting Bengal on 18 October.

Match reports

The match was given prominence on the BBC’s round-up of Non-League Day, giving a quick background on the court battle over the liquidation of the Old Spotted Dog and subsequent boycott.

On the fans, it added: “The Ultras returned… Their presence seemed to galvanise their idols.”

The Guardian also reported on the game, both on their minute-by-minute live match coverage and also in their league and non-league round-up.

The Newham Recorder also gave the game a short write-up and also had 13 top quality match photos.

Blogger Gareth Platt wrote up his experience, admitttjng the ‘standard of football wasn’t as bad as he feared’ and the match experience was ‘brilliant.’

Video and photos

Lots of views of the penalty

Fun

A post shared by Tom McGowan (@tompmcgowan) on

But none of the other goals yet. Here’s a bit of footage of the teams arriving though…

And there were loads of pictures taken from the stands…

 

Amateur linesman, professional stance #claptonfc

A post shared by Tom McGowan (@tompmcgowan) on

Reaction

Jerry Jairette and Lanre Vigo posted their thoughts after the game.

CFC News man of the match: Gary Simmonds.

Attendance: 785.

NON-LEAGUE DAY AT THE OLD SPOTTED DOG! HACKNEY WICK VS CLAPTON FC: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

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It’s Non-League Day this weekend, the annual celebration of football lower down the pyramid.

With no football in the Premier League or Championship due to the international break, it means the spotlight turns to non-league football.

This year everything has fallen perfectly into place. Fans have been boycotting home games, but Clapton have been handed an away game. Hurrah!

And as luck would have it, it’s ‘away’ at Hackney Wick FC, who play at the same ground as Clapton.

Confused? We’ll try to explain…

Where and when

The game takes place on Saturday, 7th October 2017 at 3pm.

The venue is the Old Spotted Dog, 212 Upton Lane, Forest Gate, London E7 9NP.

The nearest stations as ever are Plaistow, Forest Gate and Wanstead Park. However, there are some weekend engineering works so check the TFL website.  

If all else fails, it’s a 20-25 minute walk from Stratford station or jump on the 25/86 bus or a taxi at the rank outside.

How much does it cost?

Hackney Wick FC’s admission prices this season are as follows:

£5 adults
£3 students
Free over 60s
Free under 16s

Where does my money go?

For this game, Hackney Wick FC have pledged to donate half of the match takings to the charity Scope. Bravo!  

Hackney Wick are a merger of a club of that name who played in the Middlesex League, and long-time Old Spotted Dog tenants London Bari. They also have a women’s side and eight youth teams.

Do I need to buy a ticket?

No, there are no advance tickets, everyone pays at the turnstiles – in cash, no card! This is non-league football, not the Premier League.

Get there any time from about 2pm. The earlier the better as it should be a big crowd.

Where do I sit or stand?

There is a small seated main stand which fits 100 people only. So if you want a seat, get there early to bagsie one.

Otherwise you can stand anywhere around the ground including grass banks behind both goals.

There is also a covered terrace, recently extended, called the Scaffold. This is the traditional home of the infamous Clapton Ultras.

If you want to join in singing non-stop for 90 minutes, as well as before and after the game, these are the people to seek out and stand alongside.

However, space there is at an absolute premium, so if you are wanting a more chilled experience – a chat with your mates, check your phone, take photos, maybe a bit of a rest from singing, it really is best to stand elsewhere. You’ll get a better view too.

Isn’t there a boycott?

Yes, for Clapton home games.

At the start of the season, supporters group Real Clapton called for action in the wake of the club’s chief executive attempting to liquidate the leaseholding charity that runs the Old Spotted Dog.

With the club’s home for nearly 130 years in peril, RC called on fans to donate to a legal fund to try to stop this happening, That matter is currently awaiting a date in the high court. 

They also asked supporters to take the hard step not to go to home games, as their admission fee would essentially be helping to fund the high court attempt to liquidate the OSD.

This call for a home game boycott was supported by the Clapton Ultras and has meant attendances have fallen by 81%. And that’s not taking into account the club over-stating attendances massively this season.

In reality virtually no one is paying to go into home games now. So until there is an end to the boycott, this is a rare chance to see Clapton play in front of a packed Old Spotted Dog.

Why does the boycott not apply for this?

Because it’s an away game. It’s a simple as that.

Real Clapton have only called for a boycott of home games to avoid funding the legal action. Hackney Wick share the ground but are a different entity.

What about the insurance issue on the Old Spotted Dog?

Real Clapton are also concerned that the Old Spotted Dog may not have public liability insurance given it is currently in the hands of a liquidator.

Clapton FC itself insists that it had already automatically been renewed so there is no problem.

It’s hard for us to prove either way. We are not insurance experts. So we would just advise people to be careful and be aware of any hazards.

Anything else happening?

Image result for clapton ultras food bankYes, the Clapton Ultras will be holding on their regular food bank collections for RAMP, based in nearby Manor Park.

This used to take place inside the ground but the Clapton chief executive banned this a year or so ago.

So you will now find the collecting point outside the Old Spotted Dog pub next door to the ground.

The Ultras have requested tinned food ONLY for this one.

Meanwhile, Hackney Wick say there’ll be various activities, including a crossbar challenge, raffle, penalty shootout and correct score challenge.