‘Our heart is in Forest Gate’: Members vote to attempt Clapton CFC ground move
PUBLISHED: 15:00 29 August 2019
A fan-owned football club’s members have voted in favour of kickstarting talks on moving to a vacant ground they call their “spiritual home”.
A total of 99.5 per cent of 660 votes cast by Clapton CFC members were in favour of the club speaking to the freeholder, Heineken's pub business - Star Pubs & Bars - about applying to take on the lease at the vacant Old Spotted Dog Ground in Upton Lane, Forest Gate.
A spokesman for the club said: "Clapton CFC was established by life members and fans of Clapton FC in large part with the aim of bringing Forest Gate's beloved, historic ground back into community use.
"We have public backing from, among others, Lyn Brown MP, Newham's mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and several councillors.
"Our heart is in Forest Gate," the spokesman added.
Since it began, Clapton CFC has used a ground in Walthamstow known as The Stray Dog, and this weekend the side plays in the FA Vase and Women's FA Cup for the first time.
Its away kit which bears the anti-Fascist message, "no pasarán", meaning "they shall not pass", became a hit after pictures of the red, purple and yellow shirt went viral in Spain last year, leading to more than 5,000 orders.
Documents seen by the Recorder show the club has at least £120,000 in its coffers.
The leasehold became available after Star Pubs & Bars in July terminated the lease - held by Newham Community Leisure Ltd since 1995 - due to non-payment of rent. As a result Clapton FC was evicted.
The Essex Senior League side started its own petition to keep Clapton FC at the ground - its base for 141 years.
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A Star Pubs & Bars spokeswoman said: "We had been trying to resolve this situation for many months prior to July and attempted to meet Newham Community Leisure on numerous occasions - we did not receive any responses in our attempts to meet and contact them.
After two years of non-payment, regrettably we had no option but to terminate the lease."
Companies House shows Newham Community Leisure, a registered charity, went into voluntary liquidation in 2016.
Campaigners protested outside the Charity Commission's headquarters in June last year calling on the watchdog to release the findings of its investigation into Newham Community Leisure Trust, which they claimed was being run as a private business.
More than 1,700 people signed a petition calling for action from the regulator.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: "The commission continues to have an ongoing statutory inquiry looking into the governance and financial management of the charity. We continue to work closely with relevant individuals and agencies to address issues of serious regulatory concern as quickly as possible. We are unable to comment further at this time so as not to prejudice the outcome of our inquiry."
On the future of the shuttered ground, the Star Pubs & Bars spokeswoman said: "We want the ground to be used and re-let for football as soon as possible.
"We have been seeking a capable party to run the ground who can put the necessary insurance in place. We're taking bids from interested parties and will continue to work with the community to ensure its long-term future."
She added that over the coming weeks the firm will be reviewing the financial standing of each party and their competence to run the ground.
A spokesman for the Save the Old Spotted Dog campaign group said: "The move by the freeholder to take back control of the Old Spotted Dog is the best thing to have happened to the ground in decades. The Old Spotted Dog is a community asset and we have high hopes it will be run as such in future."
Clapton FC did not respond to the Recorder's invitation to comment.
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