Last Friday, Helen Hayes MP for Dulwich and West Norwood led an adjournment debate in the House of Commons around the situation currently facing London based Non-League club Dulwich Hamlet.
The future of the club hangs in the balance after being caught in the middle of a long-running property dispute.
After the club was recently forcibly evicted from their ground by American-based property investment fund Meadow who purchased the land in 2014, Southwark Council has now approved plans to buy the land on which Dulwich’s Champion Hill stadium sits.
Meadow claim that Dulwich Hamlet owes more than £120,000 in rent and has breached the terms of their licence to use the ground, but the dispute is viewed more with the council after it repeatedly blocked its plans to redevelop the site with luxury flats and a new home for the club.
MP Hayes focused on the plight of Dulwich in the short Commons debate last week, before listing a series of requests to the Government which she insisted would help protect community football clubs going forwards.
Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society attended the debate and offered to intervene to assist Dulwich with their fight for survival, amid calls to assess the similar “threat” faced by sports grounds up and down country.
The Minister detailed that she is willing to find and appoint an independent mediator if negotiations linked to the future of Dulwich Hamlet fail.
Ms Crouch also said lessons must be learnt across the game from this dispute, stating that she will recommend that the Football Association begin by speaking to ourselves at Supporters Direct about carrying out a review into the extent to which football stadiums in the English League System are separated from the ownership of the clubs which are their primary users and to see what steps can be taken to help prevent “further breakdowns” between these clubs and landowners.
The MP for Dulwich and Norwood had previously asked the Minister: “Will she commit to an urgent audit of the premises of league and non-league football grounds and stadia across the country and quantify the extent and nature of the threat, which is exemplified by the situation at Dulwich Hamlet?
“Will she use that information to make the case to her colleagues at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government for great protection to be afforded to league and non-league football grounds – perhaps using the protections introduced by Labour to safeguard school playing fields as a model?”
Ms Hayes also asked the Minister to examine how Meadow was able to tell the club it can no longer use its trademarked name and logo, adding: “Will she take steps to ensure that no other football clubs can be threatened with the loss of their identity in this way?”
Last weekend saw hundreds descend upon the hamlet for a rally and march to show their support of the club. Speeches from Labour and Coop Peer Lord Kennedy, Labour Councillor Catherine Rose, and Chair of Dulwich Hamlet FC Committee Liam Hickey rallied the crowd who turned out droves to add their voices to the campaign.
DHST Board Member Alex Crane had a message of thanks to those who are helping support the fans and their cause.
“Saturday’s rally was a fantastic show of solidarity from fans of Dulwich Hamlet and clubs around the country, along with many of our local community. It demonstrated the strength of feeling there is for Dulwich Hamlet and for all clubs whose existence might be threatened by organisations and individuals who care more about profit than the important role that football clubs play in their communities."
"We hope that the fight for Dulwich Hamlet’s future is the catalyst for greater protection to football clubs. We took great encouragement from the parliamentary debate that the Government is taking reform seriously and we look forward to playing our part in ensuring it comes to fruition.”