You wouldn’t normally expect the newest community-owned football club to feature on the sports pages of the major newspapers let alone make the headlines, but this week Clapton Community Football Club (Clapton CFC) has done exactly that.

Clapton CFC now sits alongside over 50 community-owned clubs in the country, including Exeter City which will soon celebrate 15 years of supporter-ownership and Enfield Town FC, the longest established fan-owned club.

The club’s new away strip featuring the famous anti-fascist phrase “no pasaran” (“they shall not pass”) and based on the colours of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War of the 30s, has captured the imagination of fans here and abroad. Expecting to sell around 250 of the shirts, volunteers have been helping out around the clock to meet demand for nearly 2,500 of the shirts, mainly from Spain.

Netting the club around £60,000, the success of the strip is one of those quirky good news stories that brings a smile to people’s faces, but the real story is how the power of community has kept the flame of community-owned football alive despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Clapton Football Club dates back 140 years and had always been member-owned but this all ended following a takeover at the turn of the Millennium. As Clapton CFC’s website says “The subsequent period saw the dismantling of the membership. The club had become isolated from the community and fell to its lowest ever point.” The following years proved difficult for the club’s supporters and yet with guidance from Supporters Direct, Clapton Community Football Club was voted into existence by its (open) membership in February 2018.

It was of course Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester’s Labour and Co-operative Mayor, who played an important role (with the support of the Co-operative Party) in creating Supporters Direct when working as an advisor to Chris Smith MP, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in 2000; Andy also later chaired Supporters Direct for 3 years in its early years. As Andy Burnham has noted:

“the establishment of Supporters Direct was the Labour Government’s most impressive achievement on the promotion of mutualism. I say this not just because of the rapid expansion of the mutual sector in sport but because it brought the concept of mutualism to a new, younger and different audience, many of whom would not have known about co-operatives before.”

Returning to Clapton CFC and their away kit, it’s worth noting that the shirt is itself evidence of how beneficial community ownership can be. The design was chosen after members voted from a selection of 16 kits and was a conscious acknowledgement of the sacrifice of those who fought against fascism – although one can’t help thinking that the motto “they shall not pass” is not a bad phrase to sum up a team’s approach if it intends to implement a high pressing game.