Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Rules, Fools and a Load of Balls

Over the years one has often heard the phrase “rules are meant to be broken” and, as attractive or maverick a mantra as this might seem, recent events have brought me to the conclusion that, if one is intent of having rules, surely one has to adhere to them so as to achieve good and fair practice in any society, group, club or even a football league.

So before my anarchic friends start spitting at their monitors, let me explain my thinking.

As most people now, the actual status of the ‘club’ that Vincent McBean runs is something of a mystery, and purposely so.  One is aware of the various Limited Companies that he has opened, allowed to be struck off through failing to file accounts, and then started again with a new one with the same name.

Couple that with two more McBean creations, the ‘Clapton Members Club’, and a mysterious supporters group, the ‘Tons Members Club’ who no one has ever encountered, and it adds up to a very complicated situation indeed.


So thank the footballing gods for rule 2.13 of the Essex Senior League that requires all clubs to publish on website and programmes etc its legal name and form. That is to say that they are obliged to declare, as a minimum requirement, to publish whether it is a member’s or a proprietary club, a limited company etc. This rule also requires that if a part of a club is privately owned, they should declare it.

I was one of a number of people who wrote to the secretary of the League asking that he enforces this rule and was firstly disappointed that he chose not to respond personally but send a generic email to Andy Barr, complaining of an ‘email bombardment’.  I was also surprised by his refusal to accede to enforce a rule that is said to be a minimum requirement.  This refusal was all the more surprising as, in the mail, he referred to possible legal proceedings which, as he will know, are unlikely to be started without actual clarification of what kind of operation, and under what guise, Mr McBean’s 'club' is officially being run.

As Dworkin once said. the correct interpretation of a rule is “the one that puts practices in their best light, or makes of them the best that they can be.” In my opinion, an epic fail here.

It is circumstances such as this, where football is unable to be consistent in its application of its rules and where transparency is clearly in question.  To address this, the Football Governance Bill is being put through Parliament.  I wish Damian Collins MP every success with his efforts to enact the Bill.  The only people who have anything to fear from its enactment are those using football for questionable motives and others who support and protect them, tacitly or otherwise.


Last weekend, we came across more rules, this time, apparently, by order of the Football Association.  Here is the sign that greeted spectators at our away match with Sawbridgeworth Town FC.

This sign was probably a product of the Essex Senior League meeting recently referred to by Vince McBean on his website. However, there have been no fireworks let off at Clapton matches that I have been to, and, in fact, the last ones that lit up the Spotted Dog were from neighbour’s gardens at Dwali a couple of years ago. Flares? Pyro? or whatever, I believe qualified undertakings were given to Mr McBean on that front and the issue has been closed.

However, the banning of food and drink was quite a surprise, so the idea of having to dispense with my Greggs pasty and bottle of Dr Pepper at the gate was not the ‘Welcome to Sawbridgeworth Town FC’ I was hoping for.

But, on a serious point, what was the purpose behind the obviously newly commissioned sign?  It was clearly aimed specifically at Clapton supporters, 'purported' or otherwise (see below)  But, there have been no incidents involving drunkenness at any of the Clapton games that I have seen over the past couple of years (if one excludes the infamous Clapton groundsman) and neither sandwich, chomp bar or other tasty comestible has been jettisoned pitchwards.  I don’t recall any kids becoming disruptive whilst having OD’d on sunset orange or other E numbers, so why have the FA, who, according to the sign, expressly ordered this ban, taken such a heavy handed approach?  Someone should ask them, but don’t hold your breath for an answer.

It might be no coincidence that Sawbridgeworth chairman, Mr Steve Day, is a member of the Essex Senior League Management Committee and he may have thought this a way of flexing his muscles in response to the embarrassment they must feel over their failure to apply their own rules in response to our initial request for information.

So I admit to breaking an FA order (if that was what it really was).  I did not dispense with my snacks and drinks outside or declare them at the gate.  I ate and drank my contraband pitch side, alongside a band of locals who were happily imbibing of alcoholic beverages whilst watching the game.


There was another mysterious incident when the referee stopped the game, after his linesman indicated that one of the Clapton followers, who was getting in position to lead the singing, had held onto a pole behind the goal to support himself.  Play was a long way away from the incident and this was hardly a pitch invasion.  But the reaction of the officials to this incident smacked of them being briefed or under some kind of orders, instructions or a campaign, by whoever is instructing referees, to ‘clamp down on Clapton supporters’.  The referee even went to have words with the Clapton dug out. That was ill-advised, no Clapton officials in there mate, as our ‘owner’ was scheduled to be trousering the bar take at the London Bari home match at the Dog.  However, if the referee wanted to be even handed in his pedanticism, he could have equally instructed the home supporters to remove their drinking vessels containing alcohol from the pitch side barrier.  He didn’t. 


But this is non–league / amateur football for pity’s sake and, in contrast to the idiocy of the welcome sign and the fussy referee, the highlight of the day was the superb post match exchange between the Sawbridgeworth and Clapton supporters in which everyone joined in to celebrate their day.  It was an excellent victory for the home team and the visitors had enjoyed another day of vociferously supporting one of the most popular non-league teams in the south of England.

So the overbearing and ridiculous sign was booted into the long grass by those who actually matter, the supporters.  It might be interesting to see if that sign becomes a permanent fixture at Sawbridgeworth games or even if the FA actually did make the specific order or why it only applies to Sawbridgeworth.

As Albert Camus once said “Integrity has no need of rules”.

Finally, I have read in another email that was sent to an ex Clapton Chairman from the ESL Secretary in which he refers to ‘purported Clapton supporters’.  He should be assured that I was a Clapton supporter long before he was ever involved with Ilford FC and, more recently, his tenure at the Essex Senior League.  It is also quite possible that the new breed of Clapton supporters, purported or otherwise, might well outlast him.

Right, I'm up for the cup and I'm off to the Dog for our match against Waltham Forest. Come on you Tons.

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