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Olivia Taylor on behalf of Taylor Bridge Legal Services for an unspecified amount owed for legal services from 2008 – superseded the members’ voluntary liquidation process, so he should be allowed to disburse the assets and shut down the charity.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

 

clapton

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.

‘I’M OWED THOUSANDS’: FORMER CLAPTON MANAGER SPEAKS OUT ON HIS TIME AT CLUB

Manager Chris Wood put on the Clapton shirt for his farewell game in a friendly at Leyton Orient

If you’re reading this, you’ll have probably already gathered that Clapton fans are at odds with club chief executive Vince McBean’s handling of the club and its ground, leading to the current gruelling but spectacularly successful boycott of home games.

But what of the management and coaches? What was it like working for him? We spoke to several people who have been part of the Clapton set-up in the McBean era, from 2000 onwards to find out.

The more people we talked to, the same stories kept on cropping up – and always about money. People being left seriously out of pocket. Promises that they would be reimbursed for things they’d bought, only to never receive it.

A typical quote from one person we spoke to: “He never paid for anything to do with the players, the coaches and the training, and never any petrol money – ever.”

Another said: “Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t about the money, Clapton to me in a sense was my life,  and I learned to expect nothing from Vince.”

One former member of the coaching set-up claims to have been owed a five-figure sum but did not want to go public.

However, former manager Chris Wood, who was in his second spell in charge of the Tons when the Ultras formed, was happy to go on record on his time at the club.

Chris oversaw a golden period of fast-growing crowds, fan/management togetherness and the club’s best finish in decades after a long period of stagnation.

Woodsy, as he is known, still absolutely loves Clapton and its fans. But he told us that the period cost him a lot of money too.

He claimed: “Vince owes me well over £1,800 for things I bought for the club during my spell there.

“£400 for topsoil and £150 for seeding. Then bulbs for the floodlights capacitors to keep them going.

“Balls, balls, balls. I remember being in a shop and ringing him saying ‘I’ve found some match balls for £8 a go’. He said ‘get 10 and I’ll pay you Saturday’. He never paid.

“He never paid any of these things which were all agreed at the time with him. He would  say ‘bring the receipts to our monthly meeting’ which I would do but that was the last I saw of the receipts. Or he would say the purchase wasn’t sanctioned by the club. Absolute rubbish.

“He even owed my missus that was battling cancer £180 for kit wash money.  Upon leaving he eventually paid after many, many requests.

“We also had to pay for our own coach travel to cup games with players and supporters
paying towards the costs.

“As for cup games, he said we would get half of the prize money per win to go towards the team. It never happened.

“In my first spell at the club he said ‘get some end of season trophies for the boys presentation night’. Guess what? He never paid for them either.

“The final straw for me was my ride on mower which I used to use to cut the pitch. I went to collect it only to find it was in bits. I was left with another bill for £270 to repair it.”

woodsy

Chris Wood, right, with his assistant Neil Day, centre, and captain Craig Greenwood

Chris left the club in May 2014 ‘by mutual consent’, shortly after his assistant Neil Day had been sacked for ‘becoming too close to the fans’.

Chris, who has also managed Ilford, Basildon United and Mauritius Sports, added: “I’m not the first manager to have been short changed. 

“Take the famous Scaffold stand and the old half-finished toilets, they were built by a then manager who was a scaffolder. Another thing done for nothing and another manager out of pocket.

“Vince comes across as a lovely bloke who can really suck you into liking him but he uses people to get as much out of them for free or any other means without him paying for things.”

Chris finished on a positive message, saying: “I love Clapton, love the place and miss it like hell. Just wish one day finally it can be run in an open and proper manner.

“Love the Tons, love the fans and love the ground. Don’t ever let Vince kill or develop on the famous Old Spotted Dog!”

We are unable to put Woodsy’s claims to Mr McBean, as the club have a policy of not speaking to us.

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 FC’S DODGY DOSSIER ON THEIR OWN FANS WHICH COST NON-LEAGUE CLUBS THOUSANDS

Clapton fans watch the recent away game at Southend Manor from just outside the ground

The two clubs who banned Clapton fans from their games lost a four-figure sum, our calculations reveal. But was it it all based on outdated or misleading information?

To recap, Essex Senior League side Southend Manor banned away fans and groundhoppers twice in a month, with Met Police FC doing the same for a London Senior Cup tie.

Those decisions sparked a wave of negative publicity for Southend, Met Police and Clapton, with hundreds of critical tweets posted along with articles in newspapers and magazines and on blogs and podcasts.

Met Police FC have even taken the extraordinary step of locking their tweets, so the public can no longer view them.

As well as this loss of goodwill from across the footballing world, our calculations suggest there was a big financial hit.

But what really sparked it? Here we unpick the reasons behind those bans including whether a dodgy dossier provided by Clapton FC was to blame.

Southend Manor

Southend Manor announced their two bans, for a cup and league game, were due to fear of ‘fines being invoked against the home club should any pyrotechnics/flares be let off during a game’.

Perhaps that seems understandable, since two Essex Senior League clubs have been threatened with huge fines when ‘pyro’ (coloured smoke) was used by visiting Tons fans early on this season.

It’s documented that such ‘pyro’ was used at two Clapton games in the 30 played so far this season, though never while the game was in play.

However, it should be pointed out there have been no instances of ‘pyro’ at all – before, during or after games – since early October 2017.

This is because fans elected to call a halt due to the threat of fines being levied against cash-strapped clubs. All Essex Senior League clubs were made aware of that decision – including emails to Southend Manor on more than one occasion.

Incidentally, there have been no instances of ‘pyro’ during Clapton games since September 2015, more than two years, due to the threat that refs would stop the match.

In fact, there has been more ‘pyro’ used at Essex Senior League games not involving Clapton than at those involving Clapton.

Fans of five ESL clubs – which we are choosing not to name – have used ‘pyro’ over the last two seasons alone, completely unconnected to Clapton.

We have spoken to several of these clubs privately and they have revealed they were not fined for ‘pyro’ use, It seems the fines only apply when Clapton are involved.

Regardless, Southend Manor publicly announced they feared that Clapton fans would use ‘pyro’, despite being assured by fans it wouldn’t happen.

But why? Perhaps they just didn’t trust the information provided by Clapton Ultras. Or perhaps the conflicting briefing from Clapton FC officials had more sway.

An article posted on the Clapton FC website on December 8th provides a revealing insight into what sort of misinformation the club has been feeding opposition officials.

In an extraordinary and lengthy trashing of the club’s fans, chief executive Vince McBean craftily uses a screenshot of a tweet dated Nov 16th showing ‘pyro’ after a Clapton game.

The clear implication to anyone seeing that would be that it happened a few weeks ago. The truth is this was a tweet from November 16th 2016, over a year ago.

Met Police FC

Mr McBean also admitted in a dossier on the club’s website that Met Police FC’s ban came after discussions with ‘Clapton officials’.

Mr McBean insists Met Police FC phoned him, not the other way round as we suggested in a previous article. We are happy to clarify that, though we’re unsure why that’s significant.

Sometime soon after this discussion, Met Police FC reversed their previous welcome to fans and instead issued a ban and a statement slamming the Ultras’ behaviour as ‘unacceptable’.

In Mr McBean’s article about the Clapton Ultras on his website, he highlights three instances of bad behaviour over the last five years that Met Police FC were made aware of.

Two of these instances took place at away games, where neither Mr McBean nor any other Clapton officials were present.

Two of them also involved people attending one of their first games, so it is clear Mr McBean takes no responsibility for matchday issues himself, pinning everything entirely on the ‘Clapton Ultras’.

It was also extraordinary to read Mr McBean describe the organised attack on Clapton fans by far-right hooligans hurling racist abuse as ‘fights between supporters resulting in media coverage.’

Nevertheless, while 99% of games have been incident free, it is a fact that Mr McBean did manage to dredge up three unsavoury incidents from across the last five years.

So does that mean the Met Police FC had a point not to want such incidents at their ground?

Well, maybe. But no level of football takes place without incident, there are issues every week from the Premier League down to Sunday leagues and even parents watching kids’ football.

In all those instances, the individual/s responsible for any inappropriate behaviour are dealt with. They don’t punish every single person who happens to support the same team, like in the case of Southend Manor and Met Police FC.

And while you may assume that the Essex Senior League without Clapton fans is entirely incident-free, given attendances only average around 50, already this season there has been….

* An acid attack threat – reported widely in local and national newspapers
* A ‘huge melee’ of players leading to trouble breaking out among spectators’ – reported in a newspaper
* Anti-Semitic chanting – caught on video and reported to Kick It Out
* A ‘mass ruck’ involving players and fans – reported on social media

Quite a charge sheet in the space of a few months – and nothing at all to do with Clapton Ultras.

At the exact moment we published this article, a London FA official is reporting on Twitter that an Essex Senior League club’s match is abandoned due to a spitting incident sparking a mass disturbance.

Of course these are just incidents that have become public knowledge. Many ESL games are played in front of a mere handful of people, often without a single mention on social media, so who knows what else happens away from the glare.

In contrast, tens of thousands of spectators have seen Clapton play at these hundreds of games over the five-year period, with thousands of tweets covering the fans’ every move, and with virtually no incidents.

A near miss?

A similar situation threatened to develop for the FA Vase game at London Lions in October, we can reveal.

A Clapton Ultras source tells us that the home club were ‘unbelievably welcoming from the moment the draw was made’ but suddenly became nervous the day before the fixture.

It is understood the Lions had received communication from Mr McBean, who massively exaggerated the number of travelling supporters to expect and recommended to prepare for bad behaviour.

The fearful hosts duly drafted in at least six stewards to deal with an invasion of riotous hooligans – only to relax when a fiercely noisy and colourful but brilliantly behaved group turned up.

The home club in fact went so far as to publicly praise the fans, writing: “The ‘Ultras’ did not stop singing and provided a unique element to the day.”

Would anyone have been surprised, however, if London Lions had instead banned visiting supporters based on the similar misinformation they received as Southend Manor and Met Police FC?

Counting the cost

Whatever your opinion of the reasons behind the fan bans, we believe it has cost Southend Manor alone a four-figure sum.

The last two attendances for Southend Manor v Clapton games have been 98 and 93. In contrast, this season’s attendances have been 45 and 41 – a difference of 53 and 52.

Assuming similar numbers of Tons fans had turned up this season, an extra 105 people in total paying £7 admission, and buying just one drink at the bar on average, that’s well over a grand in lost income.

On top of that, the league game saw 6 stewards patrolling the edge of the ground for at least 3 hours. There were at least 3 at the cup game the month earlier too.

At least some of them were hired SIA accredited bouncers, we have been told. That would also have cost the club hundreds of pounds extra in wages.

In the end, around 50 Clapton fans across the two games watched from just outside the perimeter fence for free anyway (and didn’t let off any ‘pyro’ or otherwise behave badly).

Likewise, Met Police FC missed out on hundreds of pounds of gate receipts and shelled out for four stewards outside their Imber Court ground to ensure no visiting fans tried to gain access.

So how much did the outdated and misleading information posted on Clapton’s website sway the opposition clubs’ decisions to ban the club’s fans?

Unfortunately we may never know as Southend Manor and Met Police have declined to reply to any of our emails.

Last month Clapton FC announced a policy not to speak to this website and have not even replied to our last seven emails requesting comment.

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.