Clapton FC ground under threat

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

 
There are worrying developments at Clapton FC, whose Old Spotted Dog ground is immediately behind the Upton Lane pub. What follows is based on a recent article, lifted from a website very concerned about the future of the club and ground. We offer our thanks and acknowledge their slightly edited, authorship: Two Hundred Percent
The Essex Senior League is eight divisions from the Premier League, but the world of its clubs is so far removed from the glamour and glitter of the elite that they may as well inhabit different universes. This is football as a hand-to-mouth existence, where players are seldom paid much more than expenses and clubs subsist on crowds that often fail to reach even three figures.
It is also a level at which clubs that have fallen upon hard times find themselves in. One such club is Clapton FC. Twice winners of the Isthmian League and five times winners of the FA Amateur Cup, Clapton have finished in the top half of any division of which they have been a member just twice since 1936.
So, winning might not be everything to them, but the club's on-going existence is under threat as a result of mismanagement and the threat is, perhaps unsurprisingly, related to the club's home ground, the Old Spotted Dog Ground.
The club signed a 100 year lease on the ground in 1992, through a company called Clapton Trust Limited, which was subsequently renamed as the Newham Community Leisure Trust Limited, in order to emphasis the difference between it and the football club. In the same year, it acquired charitable status.
 
The club's stand today, all too rarely filled
Vincent McBean was co-opted on to the board of NCLT on 8 January 2000, and he later also became Chief Executive of the football club, itself. NCLT was struck off by the registrar of companies for failure to file accounts in 2003, but the company continued to trade and in 2005 McBean wrote to the owners of the freehold of the ground, asking if he could buy it. The offer was rejected.

Two years later, the Charity Commissioner, having noted that NCLT had been struck off by Companies House, removed it from their register, because, in their view it had "ceased to exist". In 2008, however, Mr McBean successfully applied to the High Court to get NCLT re-instated at Companies House, but this reinstatement would come at a cost. The Trust was made to sign an undertaking not to trade or dispose of the lease. In 2009 it filed small business accounts, which meant that the company was reinstated.
The company filed no further accounts, and on 8 January this year Companies House wrote to the NCLT, giving them three months to show a reasonable cause as to why the company should not be struck off the register. It finally submitted a set on 13 March. They showed the Trust to have made a small trading loss for the year to 31 December 2011, of £2,700. Full details can be found here .
If the NCLT had been struck off, the lease of the Old Spotted Dog Ground would have been forfeited and if that had happened, it would have reverted to the freeholders, who have no legal obligation to offer a new lease to the club. It is with this in mind that Friends of Clapton FC was formed (see above, for contact details), who have been in contact with Supporters' Direct, with the aim of getting the leasehold of the ground put into the fans' hands.
In the meantime, Clapton Football Club continues to subsist on the most threadbare of resources. The team, effectively, has to fund itself, which includes buying and washing its own kit, paying for their own match balls and travel, and it has even been suggested that players should be held responsible for their own fines.
Such circumstances hardly lend themselves to the signatures of the best players, so it is hardly surprising to see the Tons finish the season, just completed, at the foot of the Essex Senior League.

A match in April 1940, note packed stand
The NCLT has already overseen the club lose its Isthmian League status, which, having been one of the league's six founding members in 1901, it proudly hung onto for over a hundred years, before relegation in 2006. Its death would mean that only one of the original six that founded the Isthmian League - Civil Service FC - survive in its original state.
On a more positive note, a victory on the last day of the season saw the Tons lift themselves from the very bottom of the Essex Senior League, to finish 18th (out of 19), having recorded 3 victories, 12 draws and 21 defeats during the season. They finished the season with 21 points, with a goal scoring record of 37 for and 77 against.
Manager, Chris Woods commented: "We know that it wasn't the best season, but the club is on the up. We have great fans and players who are in it, together and they created a superb atmosphere. Tell your friends to "'Come along', because there is more life in the Old Spotted Dog, yet".
The Old Spotted Dog Ground, home to the club for 125 years, remains under threat with poor attendances and apparent lack of harmony and stability between many of those associated with the club. Maybe its true that Clapton FC doesn't mean a whole lot to many people, but it is a name that has been a part of the landscape of English football for more than a century. To lose it would be an upset for football in the country, and for the local community's heritage.
The apparent neglect accorded to both the pub and the football ground indicates either a huge amount of slackness by officials and owners alike, or some appreciation of the valuable real estate that would be freed up if the "inconvenience" of local heritage concerns could be overcome. We could not possibly comment.
Together - pub and club, under threat
We can, however, ask you to do whatever you can to help preserve these two vital pieces of Forest Gate heritage, unless, of course, you'd like to see a few more soulless buildings replace them.

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