Brian Green writes

Off the pitch today at Dulwich Hamlet FC it is a different story and Lorraine Wilson’s financial acumen could certainly be usefully employed. The great success of the club during the inter-war years continued into the !950’s but as the time passed the crowd dwindled and the stadium was in an increasingly bad shape The Sainsbury supermarket scheme of 1990 drawn up by the freeholders Kings College, London in partnership with Southwark Council and Sainsbury’s PLC, removed great stretches of playing fields on Dog Kennel Hill, covering it with acres of tarmac for the giant supermarket’s car park. As a carrot to placate the locals, the scheme created a new small urban park, now in a somewhat neglected condition, and built a spectacular new stadium with a three tier main stand which was leased by Kings to Dulwich Hamlet FC to replace the dilapidated one which existed and upon which footprint the actual supermarket was built. In an almost theatrical reversal of policy, Kings then acquired the lease on the Griffin Sports Ground in Dulwich Village from Sainsbury’s who had used it as a staff sports ground for many years.

The new stadium, was too extravagant for a non-league side to run, costing huge sums in business rates and maintenance and the club began to run up a large debt, something which Lorraine Wilson would certainly have avoided, It is now 2007 and Southwark Council, perhaps to forestall the ground being developed for housing schedule it as ‘Other Open Space’ thus giving it some protection. However in the following year the lease was sold by Kings to a private development company who already had a track record of taking over another South London football club with a view to redeveloping its ground. The picture then gets muddier as that company then went into administration. The lease was then purchased from the administrators in 2014 by another property development company, Hadley Property. By this time the club itself had also entered administration. Miraculously, or so it appeared to the fans, the new owners paid off the debts and outstanding rent to bring the Club out of administration and bankrolled it for the next four years, they claim, to the tune of £750,000. Incredibly, some of the supporters thought this was just being done out of philanthropy.

Hadley Property Group, latterly named Meadow Residential, briefly the saviour of Dulwich Hamlet FC always said that they intended to redevelop the ground . They submitted several schemes, the last of which envisaged building a scaled down version of the stadium on the nearby Astro-turf pitch of the club and encroaching on Greendale Playing fields then leased by Southwark Council to Dulwich Hamlet FC, and redeveloping the existing stadium for 155 dwellings. The entire scheme thus hinged on the replacement stadium being built on part of the Greendale playing fields, which are designated Metropolitan Open Land, owned by Southwark Council and which have a long history of neglect.

Growing opposition to this proposal by local people and environmentalists alike, led to formation of the Friends of Greendale. The proposed development was turned down by Southwark Council in 2017. It was further rejected on appeal in March of this year. Into the fray then stepped Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, lending Southwark Council leader, Peter John his support. The Council’s rejection was based was on the matter of MOL status of Greendale Playing Fields, The lease on Greendale Playing Fields to Dulwich Hamlet FC also ended in March 2018 and the Council declined to renew it.

In a huff, Meadow Residential promptly sent the club a letter announcing that the club no longer had the legal right to use the names Dulwich Hamlet FC, the Hamlet or DHFC which had been registered by Meadow Property nor access to the ground itself. They also erected a large hoarding around the ground thus locking out the club. The now-groundless Dulwich Hamlet, leaders in the Isthmian League appealed for help with a ground-share for the rest of the season and Tooting & Mitcham FC have obliged by allowing the Hamlet to play on their ground. In March over 1200 Hamlet supporters held a protest march to the Champion Hill ground from Goose Green at being locked out. All this must have had some effect because the banning of the supporters use of Dulwich Hamlet FC, the Hamlet or DHFC names was speedily withdrawn by Meadow Residential. The lock-out, however, remains.

To add to the brew, South London football legend, Rio Ferdinand had apparently earlier volunteered to lead a consortium to rescue the club by offering Meadow Residential £10 million for the ground in a plan to keep the stadium and build houses on the car park alone; an offer Meadow Residential turned down. It is not known if the Rio Ferdinand scheme would have council planning approval.

So what are the likely options? 1. Meadow Residential reconsiders the Rio Ferdinand offer, pockets £9million profit and walks away; 2, continues to wait for Southwark to change its mind on its planning decision while at the same time paying out considerable sums in business rates and security ; 3. Leases the ground to a supporters’ trust as well as (presumably, still attempting to claw back the £120,000 rent it says the club owes for the earlier use of the ground. 4. Anticipates that Southwark Council will compulsorily purchase the ground and awaits compensation.

And what would ‘Pa’ Wilson have proposed? In all likelihood, despite his love of Dulwich Hamlet FC he would probably have accepted that the club would have to ground-share elsewhere and as a borough councillor would probably have thought it outrageous that Council tax payers should foot the bill for a compulsory purchase of the ground, He would have been at the forefront of a campaign to put Greendale Playing Fields to good use by leasing them to the new Charter School now being built a half-mile distant at the Dulwich Hospital site. in East Dulwich Grove which will no doubt be anxious for a ground for sports.