Sunday, 18 August 2019

The Clapton Petition. Why Would I Sign?

I think most of us with an interest in non league football in London and Essex are aware of the recent developments at the Spotted Dog ground. Simply put, the landlords, Heineken UK, have repossessed the ground because the rent has not been paid. For me, that's totally understandable and straight forward enough.

In response, an on-line petition has been launched, addressed to Heineken UK, asking people to sign in support of Keeping Clapton Football Club at the Old Spotted Dog Ground.

At the time of writing just over 400 people have signed the petition.  However, I wonder how many of those signatories are actually mis-informed or have signed due to sentiment.

The first fear to allay is that Heineken have clearly stated that they have no intention of the ground being used for any other purpose than leisure and sporting activities which benefit the local community.  So we can forget yuppie housing being built on the site. It should also be remembered that the football ground has been designated as an Asset Of Community Value, and as such, is safe from developers.

Therefore the question is, who will occupy the ground as tenants/lessees?  The petition asks you to sign to show support for Vincent McBean's Clapton FC.  However, his club are entwined with the recently evicted company, Newham Community Leisure Limited who Mr McBean also mismanaged and took into liquidation.

The script of the petition page is interesting for a number of reasons.  

  • There is no mention of Vincent McBean the CEO of Clapton FC  who was a director of Newham Community Leisure Limited before he placed it into liquidation.  In addition, Clapton club secretary Shirley Doyle and team manager Wilfred Thomas signed documents as members of NCL to support this action.
  • The Charity Commission launched a statutory inquiry into Newham Community Leisure Limited in 2013 and I cannot imagine this is undertaken lightly and it could only have been done in the face of serious allegations of misconduct by trustees/directors/ members, who include Mrs Doyle, Mr Thomas and Mr McBean.
  • The petition blames the Charity Commission for not allowing the terms of the lease to be met (payment of rent).  This is also misconceived, as Vince McBean, Shirley Doyle and Wilf Thomas will know that the assets of the company are under the control of the liquidator who was appointed by Mr McBean to administer the liquidation.
As for terms of the lease, Mr McBean will need no reminding that he, and other trustees, have been fined by Newham Council for causing, and the continuance of, public nuisance to neighbours and local residents through loud music being played in the early hours of the morning.  This, of itself, is a breach of the terms of the lease and could result in forfeiture. 

Licensing is not a strong suit for the Vincent McBean's Clapton as, older supporters will know, there was no liquor licence at the ground until 2009.  So that's at least four years of Essex Senior League officials, players and supporters enjoying hospitality at Mr McBean's 'illegal drinker'.  This is a breach of the terms of the lease and could result in forfeiture.

Putting this aside, were McBean's club good tenants?  Judging by what I have seen of the clear up at the ground since the repossession, I don't think so.  Rubbish skips are bursting to the seams with refuse, some looking like it had been previously fly tipped.  I also recall the old urinals piled behind the scaffold stand and imagine that they have also found their way into the skip. Keeping the ground is such a lamentable state is breach of the tenant's covenants in the lease and could result in forfeiture.

I am also aware that Newham Council visited the ground in August 2017 and served notices on Mr McBean due to the dangerous state of the ground due to building spoil littering the public areas.  Once again, this is a breach of the lease and could result in forfeiture.

So, had the landlords been aware of the above, they could have reasonably removed the lease from Newham Community Leisure at any time.

But, fellow non league supporters, let's be honest, were it not for the location, (an oasis of old school football in the middle of a residential area) and the history connected with the name of Clapton Football Club, would we be as unforgiving of a ground in such a poor and potentially dangerous state of repair.  For example, imagine if there was a pile of old urinals stacked at the side of the stand at Cricklefields or Wadham Lodge or a pile of hardcore and glass in the spectator areas of Oakside or Catons Lane?  Would the ground grading gods sit back and ignore it as they clearly have for some time at the Spotted Dog..

I have purposely not referred to Vince McBean's personal antecedents in running charities and companies  That is all over the internet and on public record.

As for the demise of the 140 year old club, this is total folly as Vincent McBean suspended Clapton Football Club in 2000.  He formed a new entity, Clapton Members Club whose constitution is that which is lodged with the Football Association. The interest in Clapton FC, a members' club, has remained with the life members of that organsiation.

So, I hope those who propose to sign the petition understand why I will not do so.  I appreciate the sentiment behind wishng to sign the petition, but be assured, the ground is safe and is not longer being used for personal gain as opposed to being a community asset.  Its a case of the landlords finding a responsible, democratic, local community based entity to run it, for the good of Newham.

To reinstall Mr McBean and his friends as tenants would be like inviting guests to your home who, when they previously stayed with you, defecated and then wiped it up the walls.

I'm not sure that is what any responsible landlord would want to happen.  One can only imagine what the cost of the clear up and making secure has cost them on this occasion and I am sure they would not want to repeat the process.