A dispute between Dulwich Hamlet Football Club and the owners of their stadium in south London sharply escalated in the week beginning 5 March.
Property developer Meadow Residential has evicted the club from their Champion Hill ground. A subsidiary of the company also wrote claiming to have trademarked “Dulwich Hamlet”, demanding the club no longer use the name.
Five years ago, US property developers Meadow Residential bought the Champion Hill ground for £5.6 million. They promised that their plans to redevelop the land would include a decent provision of social housing, as well as facilitating a new home for the team nearby. While Meadow eyed the lucrative development of an inner London location, they treated the club relatively benignly.
This changed sharply when Southwark Council turned down the development application after the plans failed requirements for affordable or social housing.
Meadow began throwing their toys out of the pram and lashing out at the club to put pressure on the council to let them build unaffordable homes on the site.
Funds for the football team became restricted as the developers claimed more of the match-day revenue and refused to cough-up for the running of the club. Even a £10 million bid by Peckham local Rio Ferdinand to save the club was rejected by Meadow. With the new threat of eviction, the continued existence of the club is in serious question.
This has all happened despite Dulwich being, in many ways, a model of how football can be done in a better way. In recent years, non-league Hamlet has seen a huge rise in attendance and publicity. Once mostly known as a little-known curiosity with a pink kit and a distinguished pre-war history, Dulwich now attracts much press attention, and crowds routinely reach the thousands.
This popularity has been built on a friendly, ebullient, self-mocking fan culture. Many supporters get involved in local causes, collecting for food banks, supporting striking workers and making a determined effort to make the terraces welcoming for women and LGBT people. Even the smallest football clubs draw on the passionate involvement of many people, but Dulwich Hamlet has gradually expanded into being a real community club and a beloved social resource for thousands of people.
Encouragingly, there’s been a massive response to the threat to the club.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and several local MPs have called on Meadow to sell the ground on. Southwark Council is considering a proposal to buy Champion Hill. Bigger clubs and celebrities like Gary Lineker and Peter Reid have expressed their disgust at Meadow’s actions. Arch-rival club Tooting and Mitcham have kindly agreed to share their ground with Dulwich for the remainder of the season. A “Save Dulwich Hamlet” campaign has been launched, and a demonstration planned for 17 March.
Of course, there are far worse problems under capitalism than the mismanagement of small football clubs. But in its way, Dulwich’s predicament is a vivid illustration of what is sick with our current system.
A system in which the rich are able to spitefully trash something that brings warmth and joy to a community, all in pursuit of a grubby profit.