This article appeared in the Matchday Programme for the match against Enfield 1893 FC on Saturday 22nd August 2015
In French, the word ‘amateur’ refers to one who likes or loves the activity in which they are engaged. However, for some years in English it has become a term of derision, which is unfair.
In the 1970s the Football Association did away with the distinction between amateur and professionals and deemed them all to be ‘players’. One of the arguments was that ‘shamateurism’ was rife and this new initiative created a level playing field for all. The FA Amateur Cup was discontinued to be replaced by the Vase and the Trophy, and a new era had begun. Since then, the term ‘semi-professional’ is frequently used to indicate those playing below Football League level. Some non-league clubs are full time pros. But there are many others who do not pay at all and I never fail to be amused at the twitter accounts of some players who describe themselves as ‘semi-professional’ when, its clearly apparent by who they play for that they are amateurs.
Recently it has been said that players have left Clapton because they could be paid at other clubs. It’s a shame but understandable if the player was taking a upward step on the football ladder to play at a better standard from which he could, possibly, carve out a professional career. However, when a player takes a sideways move for a paltry amount, it is not only sad for the club, but also makes one asks as to why Clapton are not competing financially to keep such players.
Let us forget, for the moment, the Corinthian ethos and look at the issues. Clapton have the best attendances of any other club at this level and it is tempting to say, “Pay them from the gate money” or “Pay them a win bonus”. But no one knows anything about the financial situation, or actual legal identity, of Mr McBean’s ‘club’. One expects rent is being paid to the leaseholders, but there would be other expenses, such as kit washing and football equipment etc.
Without that information, or any transparency through membership or accounts, Clapton supporters are unable to realistically expect anything. In some respects, let us be grateful that Clapton are not throwing money at players, as there have been innumerable clubs who did this, went to the wall, and left their supporters without a team to support.
The paying of players can have other effects. It can create jealousy in the dressing room as well as fiduciary obligations on the club itself, not least to the Revenue. The term ‘expenses’ is often used as an alternative conduit for remunerating players. But expenses are expenses and are compensation for losses. They are not a few bank notes stuffed into a brown envelope. The ‘win bonus’ idea also makes no sense. Why pay out win bonuses for an end of season victory whilst in mid table? Unless a club is prepared to ‘go pro’, in the true sense, with all its obligations and implications for the membership, then this are throwing money down the drain.
There is no shortage of players at our level, and above. Abilities vary, but these players love the game and want to play, primarily because they enjoy doing so. One of the common reasons for a player leaving a club is that he is not getting enough ‘pitch time’ and this has been the case, even in the days of the great Clapton teams of the 1920s when Viv Gibbins, having been left out of the West Ham team, would turn out for the Tons. Whether at the Boleyn or the Old Spotted Dog, he remained a true amateur, and he loved to play the game.
It is cleat that, at League and non-league level, money does not buy loyalty from any player. Those who might leave Clapton for £20 will more than likely leave their new club if offered an extra fiver. It’s their choice, and its part of the ‘modern game’.
So, what if, all of step 5 clubs decided not to pay players? How many of the players, currently signed with the ESL clubs, would get ‘pitch time’ in the Ryman League, sign a contract and pick up the wages? Would the standard of play in the ESL fall below that of today? Would crowds dwindle? Would these players refuse to play the game they love because they are not pocketing £20? If it was the case that all they wanted to do was play, are they not really ‘amateurs’ in keeping with the French definition?
However, such a moratorium on payments is unlikely to happen in ‘Modern Football’ as there also many people, off the field, in the board/committee rooms, with ambitions of their own. These ambitions are expensive to run and maintain. Unfortunately, a lot of them don’t hang around when it becomes apparent that those ambitions might fail and that they are costing real money. It has not been unknown for such ‘benefactors’ to depart, leaving the club in disarray and, invariably, in freefall.
If it’s the case that Clapton supporters are ‘against modern football’, then there has never been a better opportunity, given the growing fan base, community involvement and media interest, to consider how a club, like the Tons, can retain players in the face of ‘professional clubs’ offering inducements?
Putting aside the current state of affairs as regards finances and transparency, the first aim should be to establish a club in which the players are as much a part of it as the supporters. The post match celebrations between the team and the fans at the Dog are legendary but would anyone in the Scaffold consider switching their allegiance to London Bari if their chairman was to throw in a half price season ticket? It should be for the club to nurture the same allegiance from those players who may have one eye on ‘trousering’ a score a match.
There are many ways in which a club can show a player he is valued and appreciated, rather than in just hard cash. This starts with membership and identity with Clapton FC. You might think that our players should not be ferried to away games in cars like a Sunday football outfit or even embarrassed that the facilities at the Old Spotted Dog are regularly slaughtered on Twitter. However, there is a growing alumni of ex-Clapton players who retain an interest in the club and its fortunes, particularly at the moment. “Once Clapton Always Clapton”
There is a solution, and Claptonites have to be brave enough to make it happen.
N.B. The suggestion is not a return to handle bar moustaches with all the jolly good fellows having a ‘top-hole time’. (although some of the hipster beards and the ‘wizard prang’ in the scaffold would be in-keeping)