OLD SPOTTED DOG GROUND LIQUIDATION IN THE HIGH COURT – LATEST SITUATION

Clapton FC chief executive Vince McBean’s attempt to take sole control of the Old Spotted Dog stadium lease was back before a judge in the Royal Courts of Justice today and there are some encouraging signs for fans who oppose to it.

The 20-minute hearing in court 10 of the Rolls Building was merely about how the case will progress. A timetable was agreed by all parties – Judge Sally Barber, Mr McBean’s solicitor, and the solicitor acting for some other members of the lease-holding charity, Newham Community Leisure Ltd, who say they do not approve of the liquidation.

However, in what could be a significant blow to Mr McBean, the liquidator ST Bennett & Co, who did not attend, is now believed to accept that the liquidation cannot be pushed through before the current court case is heard.

Until recently the liquidator is understood to have argued that a recent compulsory winding-up order – filed by struck-off solicitor Antoinette Olivia Taylor on behalf of Taylor Bridge Legal Services for an unspecified amount owed for legal services from 2008 – superseded the members’ voluntary liquidation process, so he should be allowed to disburse the assets and shut down the charity. There are significant reservations about the provenance of this debt which CFC News intends to investigate.

If you are confused by all this – so are we. However, basically it means the attempt to force through the liquidation through the back door, via a winding order from a third party, looks to have stalled. The current legal action will have to run its course.

Mr McBean hopes to liquidate the lease-holding charity and, it is understood, transfer its assets to a new company, Veercourt CIC, of which he is the only director. Other members of the charity are attempting to block this. Mr McBean disputes that the other charity members were ever members, despite him personally appointing some of them, and others preceding his own appointment. The judge declined to go into the rights and wrongs of those arguments, that will be for another day.

The next case management hearing is scheduled sometime in late August with a full trial perhaps as far away as 2019.

Incidentally, Mr McBean’s new company Veercourt CIC, is already in danger of being struck off, being two months overdue in filing a confirmation statement. This document is merely an annual statement of basic details, such as who a company’s shareholders are and how much capital the company owns. It is a criminal offence to not file this document every year. Mr McBean, believed to be the only director, now risks prosecution and Veercourt CIC being struck off.

In the meantime, campaigners have renewed their appeal for those who care about London’s oldest senior football ground to sign the Save the Old Spotted Dog petition, calling on Newham Council and the Charity Commission to act.

You can also join the mailing list and follow the Twitter account.

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CAMPAIGN TO SAVE THE OLD SPOTTED DOG LAUNCHES WITH PUBLIC MEETING AND PETITION

People packed into Durning Hall in Forest Gate for the launch of the campaign

Over one hundred local residents and football fans gathered in Forest Gate on Wednesday for the launch of the Save the Old Spotted Dog campaign.

Fears have been growing for the future of London’s oldest senior football ground as Clapton’s chief executive Vince McBean attempts to seize personal control of it by liquidating the charity which holds the lease.

However, rather than just watch it happen, all Clapton supporter groups joined forces for a meeting at Durning Hall to plan a course of action.

Representatives of Dulwich Hamlet gave an update and valuable advice on their own struggles keeping their historic stadium out of the clutches of property developers.

There were also fans of Leyton Orient, West Ham United and Waltham Forest offering support and solidarity during the 90-minute meeting.

Forest Gate Labour councillor Mas Patel addressed Durning Hall and both Labour MP Lyn Brown and Labour mayoral candidate Rokhsana Fiaz offered their support and apologies for not being able to make it. Local Lib Dems and Greens were also present.

 

Mr McBean sent a representative to observe proceedings, who insisted that he was neutral, though it has actually emerged that he was the signatory to the attempted liquidation itself.

Regardless, it was a public meeting, and it ended with renewed belief that the Old Spotted Dog could be an invaluable resource and needs to be saved and reclaimed for the community.

The organisers said: “Thanks to everyone who came to the public meeting on Wednesday night to launch our campaign to save the OSD – the turnout was fantastic and the mood was overwhelmingly positive, which has really driven home how important it is that we save the Dog, not just for Clapton fans but for the wider community as well.”

After the meeting, a petition was launched to put pressure on Newham Council and the Charity Commission to act. Read the full petition and sign it here.

You can sign up to the mailing list for more information on the campaign and to get involved.

A Twitter account was also launched: @savetheosd

SAVE THE OLD SPOTTED DOG CAMPAIGN LAUNCH PUBLIC MEETING

 

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The Save The Old Spotted Dog Stadium campaign is launching

Clapton supporters are hosting an urgent public meeting to try to save London’s oldest senior football ground, the Old Spotted Dog.

Here’s the crisis in a nutshell – the current leaseholder of the OSD is a charity, but club chief exec Vince McBean is attempting to liquidate this and transfer the charity’s assets to a company owned and operated solely by himself.

This is happening under the noses of the Charity Commission, who were due to publish an investigation, and despite a High Court injunction intended to prevent the liquidation. Clapton fans fear what Mr McBean will do with OSD once he has it under his control given his track record so far.

Further details on the emergency are outlined in this Morning Star article we wrote last week.

The public meeting has been called by all Clapton fans groups and will take place at Durning Hall, near to Forest Gate station, at 7pm on Wednesday 11 April. 

Organisers said: “This isn’t just a meeting for Clapton fans but everyone who wants to save the ground for future use for the community.

“It ought to be an invaluable community resource. And yet it is at risk of being lost to the community for generations.

“We must Save the Dog and ensure it is reclaimed by and run for its community.

“Come to our campaign launch meeting to hear why this matters now and work out what we can do about it.

“It would be a fantastic show of community strength and togetherness to pack out Durning Hall on Wednesday.”

The Facebook event page for the public meeting is here.

REASONS WHY CLAPTON MISSED OUT ON PROMOTION

The battered entrance to the Old Spotted Dog,  home of Clapton FC, where the charity which holds the lease has been placed in liquidation

Clapton’s chief executive put the blame squarely on the fans when he announced the club’s bid for promotion last season was being withdrawn at the last minute.

Vince McBean wrote on April 1. after the deadline to prove the club was fit for promotion had passed, to explain that the club had decided to scrap its bid anyway.

He blamed the unseemly incident at an away game at Sawbridgeworth (which ended up with a Sawbo player banned from football for life). Previously Mr McBean had warned in the Newham Recorder that stickers left by Clapton fans would bar the club from promoted.

Many Clapton fans felt guilty after being denounced twice as the reason for blocking the team’s promotion. However, Clapton FC News can reveal,…

  • None of the necessary ground improvements were made – and still haven’t been six months later
  • In fact no planning permission was lodged for those – and still hasn’t been
  • We understand FA assessors did not visit the OSD for the ground grading inspection
  • Among the problems, there is not enough seating as it stands for higher levels
  • The current dressing rooms would be too small for Step 4 football
  • The parking provision is unlikely to have been classed as “adequate”
  • There are no disabled toilets or paved walkway for those with mobility issues – though shamefully this ISN’T an FA obligation, just a recommendation
  • There are other minor additions needed, such as a working tannoy system
  • The club would have needed to fix all the above in a maximum of six days if it’s true the fans caused the promotion bid to be scrapped
  • Clapton also needed to prove it had a secure ground – but weeks earlier the same chief exec had just tried to liquidate the charity that runs the Old Spotted Dog
  • The ownership would have need to pass the Isthmian League’s ‘fit and proper’ governance test
  • And, last but not least, Barking were all but mathematically promoted at that time anyway

Want more details? Read on…

Ground improvements needed

In order to qualify for promotion, the Old Spotted Dog needs to be improved from the FA’s F grade to a minimum of the E grade.

Mr McBean, when confirming the promotion application had been submitted in December, admitted that improvements were required to bring the Old Spotted Dog up to scratch.

He wrote: “Our application for promotion is in and additional works to the ground are needed to be done by March.”

However, no work was actually done in the four months from the application being lodged, sometime before November 30th. to the deadline set by the FA of March 31st. In fact no work has yet been done, a further five months later.

On the website Non-League Matters, it was reported that Clapton had in fact withdrawn their promotion without even arranging an inspection from the FA because there was no point since no work had been undertaken.

Not enough seating

Rule 2.1 says clubs at Step 4 must have at least 150 seats, no arguments, no exceptions. The current Old Spotted Dog main stand has just 100.

So the club would have had to get planning permission and install another stand with at least 50 seats before March 31st. Neither happened.

On August 15th, five months on, a club statement admitted they were now ‘in the process of applying for planning permission to build the new seating area.’

As yet, another month on, there is no record of this planning application on the Newham Council website. We’ll let you know of developments.

Overall appearance

The first sentence of the FA guidelines states: “The ground must give an overall appearance and impression of being a football ground suitable for the National League System”.

We will leave it up to you whether, if an FA assessor had ever been invited to visit the Old Spotted Dog at the end of March, these scenes convey such an impression:

Job lot of broken urinals dumped behind the Scaffold stand

Mounds of materials around the perimeter of the pitch – more of which has since been covered in tarpaulin

Abandoned shopping trolleys and assorted odds and ends yards from the pitch

The teeth of what appears to be a broken lawnmower.

Those urinals again and more dumped unwanted goods

Abandoned table gradually being consumed by nature

A big tyre propped up

Note: Some of these hazards – present for several years – have been covered in tarpaulin in the last month after a well-shared tweet by the Clapton Ultras happily spurred the club to finally act.

Much of the fly-tipping, however, remains.

Parking

Much of the Grade E requirements are vague and open to interpretation. A case in point is the parking rule (1.6), which says provision must be “adequate”, but doesn’t put any figures on it.

However, sources tell us that in practice “adequate” means being at least able to park the opposition team coach, something which would be impossible at the moment with space around the Old Spotted Dog at a premium.

It’s possible the club could enter into an agreement with the neighbouring block of flats or the owners of the disused Old Spotted Dog pub to use their car parks on a matchday as a temporary solution.

For the Needham Market FA Cup game, the visitors used the entrance to St Bons school, 100 yards down Upton Lane, which could possibly appease the FA inspectors.

A more permanent solution would be to knock down the breakers’ yard at the entrance to the ground and use that space for parking. That would of course require further planning permission.

Dressing rooms

We’re told that the dressing rooms are much improved since they were subject to frequent complaints – this was the state of the showers a few years ago.

However, while dressing rooms at Clapton’s current level, Grade F, must be a minimum 12 square metres, to step up to Grade E that increases to 18 square metres.

While we are unclear on the size of the dressing rooms, two sources have told us they believe they are too small and would need to be expanded or replaced.

Certainly from these pictures, they look quite small…

So either the dressing rooms are deceptively large, or the club would have need to again apply and receive planning permission, and build new dressing rooms.

Disabled access and accessible toilets

Disappointingly, there are no requirements, just a ‘strong recommendation.’ The wording is: “The Football Association strongly recommends that access is provided to both a covered viewing area and toilet and refreshment facilities.”

A few seasons ago, the club started and then abruptly stopped building some accessible toilets for disabled fans. The remnants of it still exist today. No planning permission was applied for then, which maybe why the works were abandoned.

The hazards and uneven surfaces around the Old Spotted Dog make it tricky for disabled supporters.

The club would ideally need to pave the walkways, or provide a flattened unblocked route around the ground.

The uneven path around the ground, littered with hazards, that fans need to navigate at the Old Spotted Dog. A challenge for those with mobility issues.

Terracing

Rule 2.3 states that: “All terracing must be in a sound condition. Terracing that is crumbling, has grass / weeds growing through it or has broken or loose concrete will not be accepted.”

Public address system

A minor point, perhaps, but there must also be a working public address (tannoy) system.

There are some speakers around the ground to suggest there has been a tannoy system at some point, though it is unclear if the system still works. Again this would have required purchase and installation.

Security of lease

The club must demonstrate security of tenure as required by The Football Association and the league of which it is a member.

Standardised rule 2.3.2 states clubs need to prove they have a “lease for the ground that extends for a minimum of the next full playing season”.

However, with an attempt being made to liquidate the charity which holds the lease, and the ground currently being controlled by the liquidator, it is unclear whether that assurance can be given.

The Essex Senior League allowed Clapton and fellow tenants Hackney Wick to kick off the season despite the uncertainty. It’s mere speculation as to whether the Isthmian League would have taken the same decision.

The ‘fit and proper persons’ test

The club’s owners would also have needed to pass a governance test set by the Isthmian League, the Owners’ and Directors’ Test. It’s unclear who actually owns the club, though it recently referred to investors who had put money into the club, All involved would need to pass the test.

Applying to the Isthmian would also require submitting a Financial Reporting Initiative form, including full disclosure of all creditors and an approved set of audited accounts.

Timings

The application for promotion was lodged before the deadline at the end of November, giving the club until March 31st to pass the improved ground standards on top of what the team needed to do on the pitch.

In the meantime, no planning was sought or ground improvements were made, though the club states that it was “gathering as much hard-core, soil, bricks, blocks and sand as possible” in order to build a new seated stand.

No progress is claimed to have been made in any other area where the ground is lacking.

Mr McBean wrote, on April 1st, that he pulled the application after an inquiry into an incident at an away game. which took place on March 25th.

Let’s assume he concluded his investigation on the same day – tricky as Mr McBean was not there, only attending a handful of away games.

But even if his inquiry and decision did take place on the evening on March 25th, he would only have had six days to apply for and receive planning permission, built a new stand and new dressing room, fix the other requirements including parking and terracing, then finally arrange and pass a ground inspection.

Planning permission alone takes an average of eight weeks to receive. Even this would have been simply impossible in the space of a few days.

Barking nearly there

Regardless of all this, Barking at the time needed just 1 win from 4 games to clinch the title and promotion.

They achieved this at the next opportunity with a thumping 5-0 win at Burnham Ramblers, on their way to 100 points and the title.

So whether Clapton passed the ground grading, failed it or withdrew at the last minute is an irrelevance.

Only one club could get promoted, and Barking had passed the ground grading and were all but mathematically promoted.

So what happens next season?

The club has said it will apply for promotion again this season so in theory all of the issues above would need to be resolved.

However, there are suggestion that the ground rules will be relaxed for one season only as part of the restructure of the non-league pyramid.

If this is true – and the FA website has removed the Grade E details, suggesting it is – then the top two clubs in the Essex Senior League would get promoted regardless of the state of their grounds.

But whether this season or next, at some point all the issues above need to be sorted if the club wants to operate at a higher level.

Why don’t Clapton fans help?

They have, as much as possible. From turning up at the Old Spotted Dog before anyone else, forking the pitch, to never leaving a scrap of litter at a ground, home or away.

Clapton fans forking the pitch to get a game playable

Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of pounds they’ve put into the club over the years at the turnstiles themselves, as well as promoting games and making Clapton one of the most talked about non-league teams in the country.

Clapton fans would be delighted to help more. However, the club, which is legally a members club, has blocked new members from joining for at least five years. There is also a need for transparency about where the money is going.

Given the long to-do list, it is a shame that Clapton fans were blamed for the club’s lack of promotion last season.

The fact there is simply no way for fans to get involved in the club goes some way to explaining why the impasse between the supporters and the club is now so entrenched.

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.

NEWHAM COMMUNITY LEISURE LIMITED FILES FOR VOLUNTARY LIQUIDATION

After reporting last month that Clapton Football Club 1878 Limited had failed to file its Confirmation Statement and was being threatened with being struck off, we can now reveal, in extremely worrying news for Clapton fans, that Newham Community Leisure Limited, the company and charity which holds the lease on The Old Spotted Dog Ground, has applied for voluntary liquidation.

In documents published by Companies House it is shown that the members of the trust entered voluntary liquidation and appointed a liquidator, Stewart Bennett, on 1st March 2017. The document is signed by Vincent McBean, Ransford Taylor and Trevor Gordon, who are listed as being the majority of the trustees of Newham Community Leisure Limited.

The documents also show that the trust owes £203,478 in ‘Long Term Loans’, as well as £2,001 in accountancy fees. The cost of liquidation until the payment of debts in full is estimated at £19,095.

At the moment it is unclear how this will affect Clapton FC. In the short-term it is understood that before the 31st March, the club have to provide the Essex Senior League and the FA with proof of their being able to play at the Old Spotted Dog for the entirety of next season. As the insolvency process can take some months, it is unknown how this could be provided. This may also affect London Bari FC who also play at the Dog.

The trust was set up in 1992 as Clapton Trust Limited before changing its name a year later to Newham Community Leisure Trust Limited. In January 1995, the then Directors of the trust negotiated a 99-year lease with the freeholder Grand Metropolitan Estates, securing the land for use as a sports ground.

It was struck off in 2003 after failing to file accounts, before being restored by Vince McBean in 2009. It appears from documents filed at this time that McBean attempted to transfer the lease from the trust, however it seems he was unable to do so. Since then the trust has regularly failed to file its Annual Return on time and has been threatened with being struck off twice. According to Companies House, the most recent Confirmation Statement (the newer form of the Annual Return) was due by 18th February 2017 and is currently overdue.

Clapton FC News understands that Real Clapton FC are in contact with the Charity Commission and the Liquidator in an attempt to safeguard the future of the ground. You can become a member of the club here and/or donate to their Supporters’ Action fund here.