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.

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PUTTING THE OLD DOG DOWN – A TIMELINE FOR LIQUIDATION

It’s been a rough 2017 so far for Clapton Football Club off the pitch.

Reports of gross mismanagement from club hierarchy have overshadowed the Tons’ best league finish in nearly three decades and dogged the team’s early-season preparations.

With the players and coaching staff doing their best to keep things ticking over on the pitch, supporter calls for clarity and accountability continue to go unanswered over what many regard as a crisis at 212 Upton Lane.

Clapton Chief Executive, Vince McBean, has yet to publicly comment over his attempt to liquidate the charitable trust* that administers The Old Spotted Dog ground.

The historic site, home to Clapton for over 129 years, is now registered with ST Bennett & Co, insolvency practitioners based in Buckhurst Hill.

However, Mr McBean has continued to trade from the venue he is now legally estranged from, starting the new season with the blessing from the Essex Senior League and apparent tacit approval of the FA.

This legal contradiction has left supporters and some local residents deeply concerned about what is really happening down at the historic football ground.

With what information is available in the public domain, we’ve put together a timeline to try to help explain events leading up to Clapton’s famous home being placed into liquidation, and what has happened since at the beleaguered Old Dog.

 

22 Dec 2016​ – Trustees of Newham Community Leisure Ltd*, including Vincent McBean, directed to attend offices of the Charity Commission for interview. No trustees in attendance. Meeting rearranged for 19 Jan 2017.

19 Jan 2017 – Rescheduled meeting with the Charity Commission & Newham Community Leisure trustees again postponed due to non-availability of trustees. New date for interviews set for 2nd March 2017.

26 Jan 2017 – A new company, ​Veercourt CIC London, is incorporated at ‘Clapton Football Ground’, listing its Industry as ‘Operation of Sports Ground’. Veercourt’s only director is Vincent McBean.

1 Mar 2017 – Newham Community Leisure Ltd enters Members Voluntary Liquidation, appointing ST Bennett & Co as liquidator.

2 Mar 2017​ – Charity Commission interview, that had been postponed twice due to non-attendance of trustees, cancelled due to the insolvency entered the day before.

10 Apr 2017​ – Injunction obtained at High Court by a trustee of Newham Community Leisure Ltd and Clapton FC life member, placing a stay on liquidation.

15 Apr 2017​ – Essex Senior League Secretary Michelle Dorling writes a letter to the liquidator outlining the ‘continued harrassment’ Mr McBean is said to have endured and the league’s ‘integral’ role in attempting to help ‘defuse allegations’ made against him.

24 May 2017 – The Old Spotted Dog is awarded Asset of Community Value status by Newham Council following a supporter-led campaign.

22 Jun 2017 – Clapton FC given the ESL AGM as deadline to provide evidence it has the right to play home fixtures at the Old Spotted Dog. Mr McBean provides a document dated 19th November 2016 (prior to liquidation) as proof. This was accepted by the ESL.

19 Jul 2017 – Mr McBean is a respondent in a hearing at the High Court regarding the liquidation attempt. The judge directs the Charity Commission should be included in proceedings.

12 Aug 2017 – Clapton host their first home fixture on the 2017/18 Essex Senior League season.

 

*Newham Community Leisure Ltd is a registered charity, incorporated in February 1992. Previously named the ‘Clapton Trust Limited’ it was set up to independently administer The Old Spotted Dog ground. Vincent McBean became chairman of NCL in January 2000, shortly after taking over at Clapton Football Club.

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Werder Bremen fans join calls to safeguard the future of Clapton FC

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.

NOTICE GIVEN FOR COMPULSORY STRIKE-OFF OF CLAPTON FOOTBALL CLUB 1878 LIMITED

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In worrying news for Tons fans, Clapton FC News has discovered that Companies House have given notice for compulsory strike-off of Clapton Football Club 1878 Limited (company number 08769591) – the company it is thought runs Clapton FC.

If it were to go ahead, it would be at least the third time a limited company run by Vincent Joseph McBean in connection with the club has been dissolved after Clapton Football Club Limited (07291485) in January 2012, and Clapton Football Club Limited (08011511) in November 2013, both companies having failed to file any accounts.

The latest accounts for Clapton Football Club 1878 Limited filed with Companies House in September 2016 are up until 31st December 2015 and show the club being £19,455 in the red, the debt having grown from £6,854 the year before – despite The Tons enjoying ever increasing attendances during this time. Published attendance figures show that 6,419 people passed through the turnstile at the Old Spotted Dog in 2015.

The notice published on the Companies House website and reproduced above reads as follows:

THE DIRECTORS
CLAPTON FOOTBALL CLUB 1878 LIMITED
29 YORK ROAD
FOREST GATE
LONDON
E7 9HT

Date: 14/02/2017
Ref: DEF6/08769591

Companies Act 2006 (Section 1000(3))

The Registrar of Companies gives notice that, unless cause is shown the the contrary, at the expiration of 2 months from the above date the name of

CLAPTON FOOTBALL CLUB 1878 LIMITED

will be struck off the register and the company will be dissolved.

Upon dissolution all property and rights vested in, or held in trust for, the company are deemed to be bona vacantia, and accordingly will belong to the crown.

The Company Directors of Clapton Football Club 1878 Limited are listed as Vincent Joseph McBean and Jaydene McBean-Willis. Esmond Syfox is listed as the Company Secretary. The is not the first time the company has been threatened with being struck off for failing to file accounts – notice was also served in November 2015 but was discontinued.

In 2013, the three life members of the original Clapton FC re-established what they consider the ‘real club’ – you can find more information on them and become a member here.

Update: It appears that Clapton Football Club 1878 Limited has filed its Confirmation Statement today, 15th February 2017, thus the strike-off action has been discontinued. According to the GOV.UK guidance on Confirmation Statements, it is a criminal offence to file this document more than 14 days after the review period (in this case 11th November 2016), so the company and its officers could be prosecuted.

VINCE MCBEAN BLAMES FANS FOR LACK OF PROMOTION BID

Speaking in Newham Recorder last week, Clapton FC Chief Executive, Vince McBean aimed both barrels at Tons supporters, blaming them for the club not being favoured for promotion to the Ryman North last season. Following an angry response from fans after bouncers suddenly appeared at turnstiles and an unannounced rise in price of entry to the ground, McBean lashed out in the local press, saying it is the Clapton Ultras that’s holding the club back.

Citing stickers put in the toilets at away grounds in the ESL, Vince offered that the club was being frozen out from a promotion bid by a committee made up of disgruntled chairmen from opposing clubs. And the stickers are to blame. However, anyone who has taken a cursory inspection around Clapton’s Old Spotted Dog lately may question how far the club would have to upgrade before realistic talk of an Isthmian push would even be considered.

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‘Footy Ultras’ sticker outside the Old Spotted Dog

Perhaps higher in the priorities of fellow ESL clubs is the condition of the facilities at Clapton. Complaints of a lack of hot water in the away dressing room and even leaking sewage have dogged Vince over recent seasons. Although hot water isn’t explicitly referenced in the FA’s National Ground Grading – Category E, the first sentence of the guidelines states “The ground must give an overall appearance and impression of being a football ground suitable for the National League System”. Adequate changing facilities would presumably fall under this header.

More direct rules of what constitutes an adequate Step 4 ground also has The Old Dog at a clear disadvantage. While the club has installed outdoor toilet facilities in compliance with FA regulations, relieving the overwhelmed pair of urinals in the clubhouse, work simply never began in other areas. Extending the seated stand (2.1) to the required minimum of 150 never got beyond the pile of discarded plastic chairs stacked by the entrance. The problem of “Adequate car parking at or adjacent to the ground” (1.6) could prove even trickier to resolve.

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A job-lot of broken urinals dumped behind one of the stands at The Spotted Dog

Other areas of improvement needed, such as paved walkways, fully accessible toilets, secure dugouts and risk assessed perimeter barriers all cost money, but should be within Clapton’s budget. The Newham Recorder reported a figure of £40,000 coming into the club through gate receipts alone last season which could’ve potentially helped to rush through these works before the March 31st deadline. Although soil has yet to be broken on any these projects so far.

Of course applying to the Ryman would also require submitting a Financial Reporting Initiative form, including full disclosure of all creditors and an approved set of audited accounts. According to Company Check, Clapton Football Club 1878 Limited reported a debt of £19,639.00 in 2015, a loss of £12,477.00 from the previous year, while declaring just £184 in total assets. The average attendance for season 2014/15 was 246.

Rumours were abound on Saturday that top of the league, Barking had chosen not to apply for promotion this season, giving brief hope of an easier route to Step 4 for the chasing pack. However, the gossip was immediately laughed off by Blues press officer, Trevor Gilbert, saying that although it had given everyone a ‘giggle’ their application would be submitted by the end of the month.

Thankfully for Barking (and Clapton), there is nothing in either the ESL handbook or the Regulations for the Operations for the National League System that says league counterparts can block or veto another club’s bid for promotion. The application is made between club and the Football Association only, avoiding an obvious conflict of interest. The deadline for submission is the 30th November 2016.

WHY CLAPTON FANS PROTESTED – AND THE MIXED MESSAGES OVER WHY CLUB RAISED PRICES

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Smoke rises after the full-time whistle at the game before the price rises were implemented – was this the moment Vince McBean (pictured in foreground) decided he needed more cash to cover any potential fine?

Clapton FC fans staged an impromptu protest on Tuesday night after the club introduced a price hike and stringent security searches without warning.

The price of entry for the game with Sporting Bengal, which the Tons won 2-1, was jacked up £1 to £7 for adults, while concessions for students and pensioners were also raised by £1 to £4.

As word spread at the Old Spotted Dog turnstile before the game, several long-standing fans turned round and went home.

Meanwhile inside, the fans on the terrace – led by the Clapton Ultras – kept completely silent for the first half in protest even as the team went two goals ahead.

On East London Radio’s Grassroots Football Show last night, physio Lizzy Matthews described the atmosphere as “eerie.”

The usual volume returned for the second half, but noticeably many songs were directed against the Tons’ chief executive Vince McBean.

Respected Essex football pundit Peter Dudley noted on the radio show: “That was the first time they’ve done something against the owners at a game.”

The sudden mid-season price rise was not advertised in a news article on the club’s official website, nor mentioned on Twitter or Facebook.

The prices were changed in the footer of the club’s website, however, for any fans who had scrolled to the bottom of the home page before the game.

A handful of other ESL clubs also charge £7 for adults but that typically includes a complimentary glossy programme. Some other clubs charge £5.

McBean told fans at the game that the price increase was to give £1 per entry fee to new manager Jonny Fowell, his coaching team and the players.

Fowell declared on Twitter that the extra pound would go to the players, and that he would personally guarantee that it all went to them.

The officially declared attendance was an astonishingly low 145, presumably translating to £145 for the staff and players. That was the lowest of the season by some margin – the previous low being 221 and the average being 366.

Puzzled fans had estimated the attendance at double that, and a large crowd was still waiting to enter the Old Spotted Dog at kick off. One said: “I’ve never seen such a huge queue for a midweek game.”

However, that plan was thrown into confusion yesterday when McBean was interviewed by the Newham Recorder. He said that the prices were raised to cover FINES accrued for fan behaviour – and did not mention the player fund.

McBean told the newspaper: “The club is ending up getting fined. They let off flares and stuff. So that’s where we are.”

There have been two incidents of pyro at the Old Spotted Dog this season – both after the full-time whistle to avoid disrupting the game. League rules suggest a maximum fine of £250 if this were to be deemed ‘failing to control spectators.’

The first incident occurred after the first game of the season against Tower Hamlets on July 30. However, in his programme notes for the game against Stansted 10 days later, McBean wrote that the club had narrowly AVOIDED a considerable fine for this.

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A statement in the Clapton programme said the club narrowly avoided a considerable fine for use of pyro

The second incident occurred after the Barkingside game last Saturday – nearly four months later – and it is understood the Essex Senior League are now considering what action if any to take.

The club may not be so lucky to avoid a fine this time, though it should be noted that other fans in the ESL have used pyro – and a league official even PRAISED one such display last week on the Grassroots Show.

However, even if the ESL decided to throw the maximum £250 fine at the club, that is a drop in the ocean compared to the £40,000 per season the Newham Recorder reports is received in gate receipts.

On Twitter, one fan asked: “How does Johnny Fowell feel now Vince McBean has said the extra £1 is for fines and not the team?”

On the subject of the price rise, Clapton captain Jerry Jairette, who has been at the club for ten years, has bravely said he sympathised with the Ultras.

Jerry told the Newham Recorder: “It’s only a pound, but a pound is a lot when you count up three hundred fans.

“Personally I think it’s a bit harsh. The majority of us play for the fans. In the dressing room it’s not do this for Vince, it’s do this for the fans.”

Another Clapton supporter emailed us to say: “For some people paying an extra pound won’t hit to hard, but it will for others.

“Many people who come to Clapton do so because it’s affordable. Many people went to other London clubs and love the fact that they can afford to follow Clapton every week.”

Former Clapton fitness coach Mike Whitaker tweeted after news of the price increase broke, saying: “its hopefully to raise some money for what he owes me🙌😂”

Tower Hamlets secretary Adam Richardson praised Clapton’s fans – 300 of whom turned up to the away game at the Mile End Stadium last month.

He said on the radio show, which he co-hosts: “The Ultras make the league a better place. When they applauded our players, they absolutely loved that.”

Tons assistant Andre Thomas diplomatically wants both sides to make peace, describing the coaches and players as being ‘like children watching mum and dad arguing’.

He said of the fans: “They may be seeing this as enough is enough. Which is sad.”