SAVE THE OLD SPOTTED DOG SUMMER UPDATE

The season may have taken a three-month break, but the fight to save London’s oldest senior football ground has continued over the summer.

Last month, Save the Old Spotted Dog protesters turned up outside the Charity Commission’s headquarters to deliver a 1.750-signature petition calling upon them to release their report.

The Charity Commission first investigated the charity that runs Clapton’s home in 2002 and concluded that “little or no charitable activity was undertaken at the Old Spotted Dog Ground”.

As the news report in trade journal Civic Society states, concerns were reported again in April 2013. Over five years later, the Charity Commission has yet to deliver its report.

However, the Charity Commission did confirm to Civil Society it has opened a statutory inquiry – its more serious kind of investigation.

A spokeswoman told them: “The Commission has an ongoing statutory inquiry looking into the governance and financial management of the charity, Newham Community Leisure Trust.

“We have not yet drafted a report, however it is our intention to publish a report setting out our findings and conclusions on completion of the inquiry.

“We recognise the interest that the local community and supporters of the football club have in this matter, and are fully aware of their concerns.”

Then in July, the Save the Old Spotted Dog campaign held a stall at Forest Gate Festival to find out what a proper. community-run football ground could be used for.

One of the dozens of Forest Gate Festival visitors to drop by was Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, who particularly liked the idea for outdoor cinema in the summer.

Other ideas suggested by Forest Gate residents included outdoor yoga, keep fit for the elderly and football games for local schools and clubs.

A Save the OSD spokesman said:”We are grateful for the enthusiastic support from the Mayor and for so many great ideas from local people at our consultation – from greater access to the Old Spotted Dog Ground’s club house to community events and healthy living activities.

“We believe this valuable resource will have a more sustainable future if it is genuinely open to Newham residents and run for the benefit of the local area.”

“Keep the ideas coming for a genuinely accessible community venue, to savetheOSD@gmail.com”

 

In other news, Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has officially responded to the petition, and pledged she is happy to meet with campaigners.

She said: “The Council’s ‘Local Plan: Detailed Sites and Policies Development Plan Document’ identifies the Old Spotted Dog football ground as protected green infrastructure, and our current planning policy seeks to improve the quality and accessibility of existing open spaces.

“I would be happy to arrange a meeting with the campaign to look into this case and discuss further”.

In the meantime, the Old Spotted Dog has been in the hands of a liquidator for over a year while a High Court case rumbles on over whether the charity can be wound up.

The next stage in the legal tussle will be another case management hearing at the High Court, currently slated for August 17th, with a full trial perhaps as far away as early 2019.

Clapton fans, life members and former committee members announced plans to field a team in the Middlesex League next season under the name Clapton Community Football Club, and run entirely by members.

CCFC will be playing home games at Wadham Lodge in Walthamstow although it has pledged to bring “members-run community football back to E7 as soon as possible.”

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NEWHAM MAYOR TO MEET THE ‘SAVE THE OLD SPOTTED DOG’ CAMPAIGN GROUP

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Rokhsana Fiaz responds to the public question about the Old Spotted Dog ground

Newham’s new mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has agreed to meet the Save the Old Spotted Dog campaign group in its battle to save Clapton’s historic ground.

The pledge came in the public questions section of Newham Council’s meeting last night and follows on from a campaign launch meeting followed by 1,750 people signing a petition calling on the council to help secure the OSD’s future.

Rokhsana, who has been in office for just a few months, said the council is committed to “maintaining the Old Spotted Dog Ground as an asset of community value, run for the benefit of local people.”

She added: “I would like to see the football ground, the Old Spotted Dog, remain, driven, shaped and overseen in terms of its governance by local people.”

Vince McBean, who sparked the current crisis by plunging the charity that ran the OSD into liquidation, was also present at the meeting but did not get chance to speak. We have asked him for comment but he has not responded, in line with his long-standing ‘no comment’ policy.

You can see the full question and answer in the video below, or scroll down to read it,

Question from Save the Old Spotted Dog campaigner

Kevin Blowe of the Save the OSD said: “In 2017, the charity holding the lease to the Old Spotted Dog football ground in Upton Lane, Forest Gate, went into administration.

“This was at a crucial moment in the investigation by the Charity Commission into conflicts of interest and lack of financial accountability by trustees.

“Although now nominally in the hands of the liquidator, however, the charity trust has continued to control the ground.

“The petition signed by 1750 people is calling on Newham Council to help secure a future for the Old Spotted Dog ground.

“We ask the new mayor for a statement on the Old Spotted Dog, a meeting with the campaign, and for the council to support a plan to replace the charity currently facing liquidation with a new charity to guarantee the sports’ ground’s long-term future.”

Newham Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz’s response

“I view the Old Spotted Dog ground as a really vital and important Asset of Community Value, something that we as a council have recognised, acknowledged and accepted.

“I understand that there is an ongoing series of disputes between various pertaining to the charity, Newham Community Leisure Trust, and issues around ownership and governance of Clapton Football Club, and I’m also aware that there’s concern by a significant following of football fans, the Clapton Ultras, and other members of the local community here in Newham, and outside.

“I want to say this. In terms of the statement you are asking me, around the situation at the Old Spotted Dog, I say this. Let’s not lose sight of the central issue of concern to me. That this is an asset of significant community value.

“In our local plan, it features as a protected Green Infrastructure, and what I’m here to ensure is that while all the legalities between various parties is conducted, with liquidators or administrators, that we protect the inherent value of the ground, its history, the way it’s shaped the identity of the Forest Gate community, and ensuring that it remains very much an asset that is determined by local residents and the community.

“So I’m happy to arrange a meeting with the campaign, to look into more detail about the concerns they have, to see what we can actively do as a council to support the integrity of it being and remaining an asset of community value, and to ensure it does not get caught in a crossfire of very significant proportions.

“And I want to finally to make clear that I would like to see the football ground, the Old Spotted Dog, remain, driven, shaped and overseen in terms of its governance by local people.”

What’s next

The next stage in the campaign is to hand over the petition to the Charity Commission. They were told by the High Court to publish their report into Newham Community Leisure Trust last year, but have still not done so.

A tweet from the @savetheosd campaign Twitter account gives the details…

“Join us outside the Charity Commission (102 Petty France, London SW1H 9AJ) on Monday 25th June at 6pm.

“We are demanding the immediate release of its report on the charity controlling the Old Spotted Dog Ground.”

The next stage in the legal tussle over the Old Spotted Dog will be another case management hearing at the High Court in August with a full trial perhaps as far away as early 2019.

CCFC

The Old Spotted Dog situation took another twist last week when fans, life members and former committee members announced plans to field a team in the Middlesex League next season under the name Clapton Community Football Club, and run entirely by members.

CCFC will start the season playing home games at Wadham Lodge in Walthamstow although it has pledged to bring “members-run community football back to E7 as soon as possible.”

A CCFC spokesperson told us: “We are looking forward to returning to the Old Spotted Dog one day and so we welcome the mayor’s pledge for a meeting to discuss the council’s involvement in the campaign to have the ground run by the local community.

“We would love to be part of that, and indeed Community is literally our middle name. We still regard ourselves as a Forest Gate club and we will be making sure to maintain our strong ties with the area while we are playing in Walthamstow.”

Mr McBean’s own Clapton FC is by constitution supposed to be a members club but has long been closed to new members. It has made no public statement, and has taken its website offline, but is expected to start the season in the Essex Senior League, at the Old Spotted Dog.

You can find out more about Clapton CFC and become a member here. Follow the Save the OSD Twitter page here.

S.O.S. CALL FOR LONDON’S OLDEST FOOTBALL GROUND THE OLD SPOTTED DOG

The Old Spotted Dog has taken a further step up the endangered species list.

The situation at London’s oldest football ground is now at a critical level, with a potentially unprecedented instance of a liquidation being pushed through despite a High Court injunction in place precisely to stop that happening.

It could leave Clapton’s historic home in the sole control of the club’s chief executive Vince McBean, instead of the charity which was set up to run it. And Mr McBean would have much more freedom to do what he likes with it.

The recap of the story so far reveals why Clapton’s fans groups, who are already boycotting home games, feel the ground is in grave danger if this happens…

Charity Commission investigation

Mr McBean was due to attend an interview with the Charity Commission on the 2nd March 2017.

This was his final opportunity to answer the Commission’s serious questions about his conduct and mismanagement of Newham Community Leisure Limited, the charity that leases the Old Spotted Dog from the freeholder.

Mr McBean had already postponed the meeting twice, on 22nd December 2016 and 19th January 2017.

New company set up to replace charity

Veercourt CIC was listed at Companies House just one week after the second postponement, on 26th January 2017.

Its only listed director was Mr McBean.

Voluntary liquidation attempted

A bid for voluntary liquidation of the charity NCLL was launched on 1st March 2017, the day before Mr McBean’s scheduled interview with the Charity Commission, seemingly in an effort to transfer the assets to the freshly incorporated Veercourt CIC.

With no charity left for them to investigate, the Charity Commission meeting was cancelled and Mr McBean was off the hook – briefly.

High Court injunction stops liquidation

On 10th April 2017, a trustee of NCLL and a life member of Clapton FC successfully halted the voluntary liquidation process and a High Court injunction was obtained.

On 19th July 2017, a High Court judge directed that the Charity Commission should be involved and any liquidation could not be completed until they had their say.

A long process of waiting for their report began.

Winding up petition

Unknown to the Charity Commission, or the people that had obtained the injunction, a winding up petition was presented to the High Court on the 6th October and their case was heard and approved by the Court in January 2018.

Liquidation attempt part two

This began another liquidation – this time involuntary – due to debts to an external creditor who has claimed they are owed money.

The purported creditor is Taylor Bridge Legal Services (TBLS), though there are no records available to show what the alleged debt is for, or even how much it is supposed to be.

TBLS is run solely by an ex-solicitor called Antoinette Olivia Taylor who was struck off the Roll of Solicitors in November 2012 for multiple cases of dishonesty and misrepresentation.

Asset of Community Value

A welcome complication is that Clapton fans managed to establish the ground as an Asset of Community Value in May 2017.

This also covers the adjoining garage, which NCLL actually owns the freehold on, unlike the rest of the ground where it is the leaseholder only.

Six months’ notice would need to be given to give the local community the opportunity to raise the funds to purchase it before it could be sold to anyone else.

This presents a ray of hope for the future of the ground as it cannot easily be sold off, but in reality the cost is likely to be out of reach.

As has been seen recently at Dulwich Hamlet, there are likely to be property companies waiting to swoop on valuable London land.

Despite the land being designated for sporting use, developers are often happy to sit on the land and even leave it unused until the council gives in and lets them build.

Boycotting fans

Relations between Clapton’s fans and Mr McBean had already deteriorated over the years.

Fan groups Friends of Clapton FC, Real Clapton and Clapton Ultras had sponsored the club’s kit, volunteered and promoted the hell out of games, helping attendances to averages of nearly 400.

However, things hit absolute rock bottom last season when fans turned up to a midweek game to find admission prices had been raised completely unannounced.

Last summer’s liquidation bid was the final straw and Real Clapton members voted to call for a boycott of home games, which was backed by all other fan groups, to avoid giving money to the person who was attempting to liquidate the charity.

Home attendances have since fallen by almost 90% with the Ultras’ iconic Scaffold stand looking empty and forlorn, though away crowds have kept on growing.

Garage sale

Mr McBean is rumoured to be keen to sell the freehold on the garage to cover the alleged debt to TBLS and then continue to transfer the lease on the Old Spotted Dog ground itself into his own name, under his Veercourt CIC company.

This would allow him to continue as he was without the scrutiny of the Charity Commission, creating a new platform from which to continue operating, bypass regulations and avoid any critical scrutiny and legal action.

Where we are now

That the situation has been allowed to get to this stage seems to be unprecedented and exposes failings at several stages – the High Court issued an injunction that halted the original liquidation, the Members Voluntary Liquidation (MVL).

Months later, the same High Court allowed the next Compulsory Winding-Up Petition to proceed to Companies Court and appear to have failed to check the records at Companies House which still haven’t been updated to show a winding up petition, and at the Insolvency Service who are currently failing to act despite being made aware of the problem recently.

It is understood that the Charity Commission report into McBean’s mismanagement is now complete and awaiting publication. However, the report is yet to be published despite the severity of what could happen if the Charity Commission fail to step in.

What happens next

Statutory body after statutory body has failed to act so far.

Even so, the Insolvency Service, which is now responsible for the liquidation, and the Charity Commission, which has written but not published its report, remain the last hope to stop the destruction of an historic football ground and ensure its assets are used for community good.

The Insolvency Service must resolve the issue in conjunction with the Charity Commission, who must publish their report immediately and follow through by taking the appropriate actions that it raises.

We are told that Real Clapton will soon put out a call to arms of how you can help. In the meantime, you can contact them on info@claptonfc.info with any offers of support, suggestions or questions. 

Anyone with fond memories of the Old Spotted Dog’s history, or with bright hopes for its future, is encouraged to help.

Note: We would ask Mr McBean for comment, but he pledged never to answer any of our questions in an article on his website in November.

CLAPTON FANS RESPOND WITH ACV TO HELP SAFEGUARD GROUND

Clapton fans have notched a major victory in the fight to save the Old Spotted Dog ground, having just secured ‘asset of community value’ status for the site following a six-month long process.
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Newham Council have today announced they have accepted the supporters’ bid to add London’s oldest senior football ground to the list of important local landmarks.
Under the Localism Act, the ACV gives The Dog an additional layer of protection in law and also means that the community would get first rights to buy, should the ground ever come up for sale.
Fresh fears were raised earlier this week over the future of the site, following concerns expressed by the Essex Senior League and the FA, over an attempt to liquidate the trust that runs the historic grounds.
An injunction won at the High Court back in March has put a stay on the liquidation process, a position hopefully strengthened by the award of an ACV.
Clapton FC adopted The Old Spotted Dog in 1888 following a relinquishment by St Barts hospital. The grounds had previously been used to stage test cricket before switching usage to football.

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The old ground on Upton Lane has also previously welcomed heavyweights like Tottenham Hotspur and Ajax to Forest Gate and once saw West Ham United as regular visitors.
The OSD joins Queens Street Market and Christendom House as successful applicants for ACV status in Newham. The award, however, doesn’t guarantee Clapton FC will get future use of the land.

A spokesman for the council said the decision was made on 24th May but the decision was only announced on 22nd June.

Local residents in Waltham Forest successfully secured an ACV for the now derelict Leyton FC ground in 2016.

More than a year on, the pitch is still being used as a car park for a nearby function room.

Events at tonight’s Essex Senior League AGM could prove pivotal in determining whether The Old Spotted Dog will see any football in the near future.