Newham Community Leisure Trust, a charity which has been under a Charity Commission investigation for six years, has lost the lease for a football ground in London, meaning a local club is unable to use its home pitch.
The charity went into liquidation in 2017, and subsequently lost control of the Old Spotted Dog football ground, which has been repossessed by the freeholders, Heineken.
Clapton FC, a football club that had used the pitch until recently, is now appealing to Heineken and blaming the Charity Commission.
Control over the Old Spotted Dog Ground in Forest Gate has been at the centre of an ongoing dispute between the management of Clapton FC and campaigners, Save the OSD – who have set up a rival football team, Clapton Community Football Club.
Clapton FC has played at the London ground owned by the charity for over 140 years. But campaigners were worried about how it was being run and raised concerns with the charity regulator in 2013. Those on both sides of the case have criticised the Commission for how long the case is taking.
‘We had no option but to terminate the lease’
For the time being neither team is able to use the ground after Star Pubs & Bars, the leased pub business arm of Heineken which owns the freehold on the land, terminated the charity’s lease.
A spokesperson from Star Pubs & Bars said: “We’ve been trying to resolve this situation for two years, attempting to meet our leaseholders Newham Community Leisure on numerous occasions. Having not received any response we were left with no option but to terminate the lease.”
Now the football club, Clapton FC, which is run by one of the trustees of the charity, has launched a petition calling on Heineken to allow them to use the ground.
Vincent McBean is chief executive of Clapton FC and a trustee of Newham Community Leisure Trust. He has previously denied allegations that he has mismanaged the club and accused campaigners of mounting a personal attack on him.
The petition calling for support from Heineken blames the Commission for its troubles, saying: “As a result of a lack of response by the Charity Commission for the lease terms to be met, this has resulted in Heineken, as the freeholders, taking possession of the Old Spotted Dog.
“As the club is not involved in these actions, we are asking Heineken to enable Clapton Football Club to honour its commitment to the football leagues and competitions in which it plays as well as to its community and supporters.”
Its petition has attracted just over 300 signatures.
Commission: 'We are not to blame'
The Commission said the case is complicated and that it is not to blame.
A spokesperson said: “We have seen the recent petition. We refute the suggestion that the repossession is the responsibility of the Commission.
“The Commission continues to work closely with other relevant individuals and agencies, including the Insolvency Service. The charity is currently under the administration of a voluntary liquidator who is responsible for the charity’s assets.
“We are unable to comment further at this time so as not to prejudice the outcome of our inquiry.”
‘We want the land to be used by the community’
The spokesperson for Star Pubs & Bars added that the company was actively working to make the ground available.
“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, including Clapton FC, and will continue to liaise with the community to ensure its long-term future,” they said.
‘Duration unavoidably affected by circumstances’
Last year the Save the OSD campaigners held a protest outside the Charity Commission’s London office, and they continue to be frustrated by how long the investigation is taking.
A Commission spokesperson said that: “We recognise the interest that the local community and supporters of the football club have in this matter, and are fully aware of their concerns. The duration of the inquiry has been unavoidably affected by circumstances in this case including litigation.”