ANALYSING ATTENDANCES DURING CLAPTON FANS’ GRUELLING BOYCOTT

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

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

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

Five gruelling months later, the case has unfortunately still to be heard in the High Court, and therefore the boycott still stands.

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

Home games

At Old Spotted Dog games that have been boycotted by the Clapton Ultras and other fan groups, the average officially declared attendance is 48.

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

Even this low figure of 48 often appears exaggerated. Head counts of people inside the Old Spotted Dog is routinely much lower than the total declared by the club. (Clapton officials insist there is an automated counting device attached to the turnstiles and their figures are correct, despite head counts).

What’s more, analysing the stats week by week, there is no upward creep during the season.

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

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

From boasting the biggest crowds in the ESL last season – nearly five times higher than the next highest club – Clapton are now in the bottom half of the attendance table, in 11th spot.

Away games

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

The list of away attendances so far makes impressive reading…

  • Hackney Wick 785 – season best
  • Tower Hamlets 468 – season best
  • Basildon United 281 – season best
  • Barkingside 273 – season best
  • FC Clacton (cup) 208 – season best
  • London Lions (cup) 197 – season best / best in history
  • Sporting Bengal 180 – season best
  • Redbridge 160 – season best
  • Takeley 145 – season best
  • Ilford 103 – season best
  • Hullbridge Sports 86 – season best
  • Woodford Town 73 – season best
  • FC Romania 68 – season best

That makes the average at Clapton away games a fairly substantial 233, though that fluctuates wildly depending on whether it’s Saturday or midweek and the accessibility of the ground on public transport.

It should be noted that we’ve only had four Saturday away league games this season with the other six being evening matches, which traditionally attract lower crowds.

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

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

Those games saw the following attendances…

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

An average of 35.

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

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

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CLAPTON FC FIXTURE UPDATE – CUTTING THROUGH THE CONFUSION

Supporters of top football clubs rightly get angry when games are switched for TV, sometimes with just weeks notice. However, at non-league level the situation can be, amazingly, even worse for fans.

Clapton FC had three games scheduled this week but with just a few days to go, all official sources had conflicting information on the dates, times, venues – or even if the games were happening at all.

Of the three opponents, two don’t have working websites and the other had no listing for the game. Clapton FC’s website, it turned out, had the wrong information for all three games.

Numerous attempts to get accurate information from the clubs went unanswered. However, thanks to a series of emails from the Essex Senior League we’ve finally received some official confirmation.

BASILDON UNITED (HOME)

The FA Full Time website had Clapton listed as playing Basildon United in the Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy on Tuesday, December 6.

Manager Jonny Fowell even gave a full-page interview in this week’s Newham Recorder previewing the cup game against the high-flying Bees.

Confusingly, however, the Clapton FC website did not carry any mention of the game, and Basildon United do not have a website.

However, we can now confirm the tie has been postponed. Indeed it has already been rearranged for Tuesday, January 16th 2018.

MET POLICE FC (AWAY)

The situation over the London Senior Cup tie at Isthmian League Premier side Met Police FC was even more confusing.

The Clapton FC website had claimed the game was on Tuesday, December 5th. The FA Full Time website still claims it is taking place at AFC Wimbledon’s Kingsmeadow ground.

We can confirm, however, that the fixture is taking place on Wednesday, December 6th at Met Police FC’s Imber Court, kick-off 7.45pm.

However, two days before the game, Met Police FC have now said that away fans are NOT welcome. A Met club official said this was at the request of Clapton FC officials in collaboration with Metropolitan Police officers.

The Clapton Ultras blog has more details on this extraordinary decision. It is as yet unclear how this fan ban is going to be imposed.

SOUTHEND MANOR (AWAY)

Clapton’s next league game, away at Southend Manor, was listed on the Clapton website as having been switched to Old Spotted Dog with a 3.45pm kick-off. Southend Manor don’t have a functioning website this season.

However, we can confirmed the kick-off is a more traditional 3pm kick-off and it is still taking place at Southend Manor’s Southchurch Park.

FIXTURE LIST RECAP

As you can see, the Clapton FC website can’t be trusted with fixtures. Several fans have gone to the wrong venue on the basis of their duff information.
So where best for fixtures? CFC News has a fixture list here – but in fairness the Clapton Ultras’ website’s fixture list is the most reliable of all.
To recap, however, these are the fixtures for the rest of 2017…
  • 06/12 7.45pm Met Police v Clapton (London Senior Cup)
  • 09/12 3.00pm Southend Manor v Clapton
  • 16/12 3.00pm Clapton v Takeley
  • 23/12 3.00pm West Essex v Clapton
NOTE: We tweeted and emailed Clapton FC on numerous occasions regarding the fixtures and they did not reply – in line with their official policy not to communicate with us. However, they did correct the three inaccurate fixtures on their website on Friday in response, for which we are thankful.

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

BARKING SWOOP FOR TONS STARS REED AND OLAJIDE

IMG_0666.JPG

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…