BY THE SAVE DULWICH HAMLET GROUP
With ballooning crowds and a team playing exciting football, you’d think there wouldn’t be a better time to be a Dulwich Hamlet fan.
But instead the Isthmian League Premier Division club are homeless and are being threatened with huge financial demands by a US property developer that seems determined to hound the Hamlet into extinction, all because it can’t get its way over a housing scheme.
Dulwich Hamlet fans need your help in the battle of Champion Hill. Because this can happen to any club – even one that’s become a bit of a London media favourite in recent years.
Fancy helping? Come to our rally at Goose Green, East Dulwich on Saturday lunchtime. Or come to see us at “home” to Worthing, at Tooting & Mitcham’s ground on Sunday at 3pm.
The good times
Some history first. In early 2014, just as crowds were starting to pick up, the club was in deep financial trouble. The ground was bought by Hadley Property Group, with backing from a US developer called Meadow Partners.
Hadley also took control of the club’s finances, and worked up a plan to redevelop the site to provide housing and a new ground for Dulwich Hamlet. Once that was achieved, the club would be handed over to fans to run.
And for a while, things looked good. Hamlet had always been a second club for fans of the bigger south London teams – Millwall, Charlton and Crystal Palace – but now word was spreading about the friendly club where you could watch some decent football with a beer in your hand for just a tenner, and enjoy wild celebrations and inventive terrace songs.
Crowds grew, and kept growing – aided by some (occasionally embarrassing, let’s be honest) media coverage, peaking (or otherwise) with the Observer magazine dubbing the club “Hipster FC”.
But Dulwich Hamlet was about much more than that. Food bank collections and other social initiatives helped get the wider community involved too. A diverse mix of new fans mixed happily with old faces who’d been coming for years. The greed of the Premier League and misery of the Football League felt a long way away at Dulwich.
The storm clouds gather
If you looked beyond Saturday afternoons, the storm clouds were gathering. Southwark Council wasn’t happy about plans to use open space adjacent to Champion Hill to build the new stadium, while the scheme provided a low level of “affordable” housing.
The wheels really started to fall off when Meadow took control of the scheme from Hadley. Once it became clear the scheme was unworkable, it cut off financial support for the club.
With average crowds of 1,500, the club should be viable. But Meadow had already set it up to fail.
It started landing bills upon the club that it should have paid when it was holding the purse-strings – ranging from a £6,000 VAT bill to a backdated rent invoice for £121,000. There are also debts of £750,000 – most of which is to a Meadow subsidiary. The developer also kept the bar takings, denying another source of precious income.
In December 2017, Legacy Foundation – an affordable housing company set up by Rio Ferdinand, Bobby Zamora and Mark Noble – made an offer to Meadow to buy Champion Hill. The firm would have made a big profit – but it refused to sell.
A property developer’s tantrum
On March 5th, Meadow threw its toys out of its pram, evicting Dulwich Hamlet from Champion Hill. It even made a ham-fisted attempt to seize the club’s trademarks – backtracking only when legal experts pointed out their claims were cobblers.
The firm is now annoying Hamlet’s East Dulwich neighbours by building a huge fence around the site – denying access to green space around the ground. Even the club’s war memorial sits behind the developer’s fence, out of bounds to all, along with much of the club and supporters’ trust’s property.
Old rivals Tooting & Mitcham have come to the rescue for now, offering their Imperial Fields ground as a temporary home. But unless Meadow sells Champion Hill – or the site can be prized out of its grip – the Hamlet’s future looks very uncertain indeed.
Southwark Council is looking to buy the ground – and will attempt to compulsorily purchase it if necessary. But Meadow could end this tomorrow by selling up, taking its profit, and leaving the Hamlet alone.
Come and march with us on Saturday
Fans aren’t taking this lying down. They’ve set up a protest group – Save Dulwich Hamlet – which is holding a rally and march on Champion Hill on Saturday 17th March, where we’ll be celebrating all things Dulwich Hamlet.
It’ll be a family-friendly event – so bring your kids, bring your friends, and wear pink and blue. It all begins at Goose Green, East Dulwich, at 12.30pm. All fans of all clubs are welcome.
If you can’t make Saturday, please come to Dulwich Hamlet’s first league match at its temporary home at Tooting & Mitcham on Sunday. Kick-off against Worthing is at 3pm on Sunday 18th March. Again, all fans of all clubs are welcome – we’re making this a Supporters United match.
Supporters are also making sure Meadow, and anyone who does business with the company, knows what a mistake it is making by threatening Dulwich Hamlet – actions which don’t even make sense in financial terms.
Thousands of people have passed through the Dulwich turnstiles over the past few years and enjoyed the Champion Hill atmosphere. Now we need their help to bring those days back and save Dulwich Hamlet.
Join us on Saturday for a pink and blue party – and leave Meadow with a message it can’t ignore.