Killing The Old Spotted Dog: The Battle To Save Clapton FC

10 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   March 17, 2013  |     44

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 even reach 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 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 for this East London club, but it ongoing existence is under threat as a result of the mismanagement of its owner and this 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 emphasise the difference between it and the football club, and in the same year it acquired charitable status. Vincent McBean was co-opted onto the board of NCLT on 8th January 2000, and he later also became the Chief Executive of the football club itself. NCLT was struck off by the registrar of companies for a failure to file accounts in 2003, but the company continued to trade and 2005 McBean wrote to the owners of the freehold of the ground asking if he could buy it. His 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, McBean successfully applied to the High Court to get NCLT re-instated at Companies House, but this reinstatement woulc come at a cost. McBean was made to sign an undertaking not to trade and to dispose of the lease, in 2009, McBean filed ‘small business accounts’ for NCLT, which meant that the company was re-instated, while McBean released from his earlier undertakings, even though this was a breach of the court order, which required McBean to file audited accounts in order to get this reinstatement. Since the, however, the company has filed no accounts and on the 8th January 2013 Companies House wrote to NCLT giving them three months to show a reasonable cause as to why the company should not be struck off the register. McBean and the chairman of the football club, John Murray-Smith, are understood to have no even responded to offers of help from supporters.

Why, then, is all of this so important? The answer to this is that if NCLT is struck off, the lease on the Old Spotted Dog Ground will be forfeited and if this happens it reverts to the freeholders who have no obligation legal obligation to offer a new lease to the club. It is with this in mind that the Friends of Clapton FC has formed, and has been in contact with Supporters Direct with the aim of getting th leasehold over the ground put into safe hands. If those accounts, however, aren’t produced in the next three weeks the club’s future will be put into jeopardy, and Clapton wouldn’t be the only club affected by any uncertainty over the future of the Old Spotted Dog Ground, either – another Essex Senior League side, London Bari, also use call this ground home having moved there in order to join from the Essex Corinthian Sunday Football League. This club would be at serious risk of being unable to complete it ESL fixtures were it and Clapton to be evicted from the Old Spotted Dog Ground.

In the meantime, Clapton Football Club coninues to subsist on the most threadbare of recources. The team, effectively, has to fund itself, which includes buy 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 signature of the best players, so it is hardly surprise to see the Tons at the foot of the Essex Senior League, having played more games than the clubs above them in the table. Vincent McBean has already overseen the club losing its Isthmian League status, which, having been one of the league’s six founding member clubs in 1901, it proudly hung onto for one hundred and one years before relegation in 2006. Its death would mean that only one of the original six clubs that founded the Isthmian League, Civil Service FC, would still exist in its original state. The Old Spotted Dog Ground, home to this club one one hundred and twenty-five years, would most likely be lost forever. And maybe it is true to say that Clapton FC doesn’t mean a whole lot to a whole of people, but this is a name which has been a part of the landscape of English football for more than a century. To lose it would be be another tiny tragedy for lower league football in this country.

Perhaps the majority of the people of that part of London don’t could about the football club that bears its name. A small number do, however, and they formed themselves into a group which is seeking to get answers from those running on the club with to regard to what on earth they think they’re doing to it. You can get further information on Friends Of Clapton FC here. It seems likely that if this football club is to be saved, the only people that can be entrusted to do it will be the supporters themselves.

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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • March 20, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Tony T

    Very sad – a lot of fond memories of that ground and the people whilst following Isthmian Div 2 football.

  • March 22, 2013 at 6:24 am

    Andrew Barr

    Thank you for this excellent and factually correct article which sets out some of the problems at the Old Spotted Dog. I am pleased to report that Mr McBean has said that he has filed accounts (although the Companies House website is yet to be updated to confirm this). Assuming this is correct, then the immediate forfeiture of the lease is allayed, however, the problems remain.

    With the help of Supporters Direct, the aim must now be to place the guardianship of the this famous old sports ground in the hands of a group that not only wishes to retain it but improve facilities for it’s existing users and make it more accessible to it’s community.

    As for the Clapton FC , there are issues regarding membership and the club Chairman, Mr Murray-Smith has said that “membership of the club is closed”. It is probable that no actual membership is being run by Mr McBean. According to the existing three life members, there have been no AGMs, no elections for committee members or officer and no accounts have been disclosed for some years.

    The may lay in the hands of these three existing life members who, in turn, are taking advice from Supporters Direct to revive Clapton FC in manner that the tradition of this famous old club demands.

    Thank you to the members of the Friends of Clapton FC, Supporters Direct, Non League Fans, Forum Users, Groundhoppers and those who have spread the word about Clapton in recent months.

    Keep the faith, and I am sure that the eventual of objective of a good, well run, democratic football club playing senior football at a secure, pleasantly appointed football ground in the heart of East London may yet be achieved.

    If anyone would like any other info (we operate perestroika) on our group, the club or the ground. Don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  • March 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Andrew Barr

    Companies House have confirmed that the accounts ave been submitted and the striking off process has been cancelled.

    The accounts for the NCLT can be found on our website

  • March 24, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Bernard Carvell

    Good luck in your efforts to save the club and the ground.
    As a long time Wycombe supporter the Spotted Dog was one of our favourite away trips, an almost certain win plus a decent meal and pint in the pub.
    Never forget from whence you came, you may end up back there.

  • March 26, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Andrew Barr

    Thank you for your kind wishes. I remember many of those excellent WWFC teams with the likes of Searle, Horseman, Maskell etc in their line up. The pub is now derelict but the Clapton welcome will soon be back in full swing.

    As a supporter of the Tons, we would like to get back to whence we came (haha)

    As Sam Cooke said “it’s been a long, long time coming, but I know …………….. “

  • April 8, 2013 at 9:35 am

    Jack Hodges

    Is this the same Vince McBean who was allegedly responsible for driving Woodford Town into oblivion ? What happened to the insurance payout for the fire at Woodford’s former Snakes Lane ground Mr Mcbean ?

  • April 27, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Andrew Barr

    The Vincent McBean, referred to in the article is the same chap who was chairman of Woodford Town FC

    I know nothing about the fire or the plight of Woodford Town, however, it may be extremely relevant to what is happening at the Old Spotted Dog.

    I would be grateful if you would email me privately.

    Thank you

  • June 2, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Ian Evans

    All the very best for the future.
    As a long time fan of Walthamstow Avenue, I have many fond memories of visits to ‘The Spotted Dog’ and I would hate to see yet another famous old east London club disappear.

  • June 25, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Tales From The Old Spotted Dog: Why This Club Deserves To Be Saved | Twohundredpercent

    […] Of Clapton (FOC) initiative was set up by a former committee member, ostensibly as a response to concerns surrounding the long term future of the club. The FOC’s primary aim is to “help those who run, administer and play for the Tons” with […]

  • August 12, 2013 at 9:47 am

    FA Cup Preview: Clapton v Stanway Rovers « The Real FA Cup

    […] The club and the ground have had a Weymouth-esque pall of uncertainty hanging over them for a number of years, for a variety of reasons, most of them seemingly revolving around a chap called Vincent McBean. We won’t pretend to grasp the ins and outs and, as we don’t have a legal budget until the sponsorship comes in, a précis can be found on the always reliable non league wikipedia, 200%. […]

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