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Published on December 19th, 2018 | by Bill

Home for Christmas

Dulwich Hamlet fans spruce up Champion Hill for Boxing Day return after development lock out.

Resplendently ramshackle, Dulwich Hamlet’s ground looks champion once more after a community renovation following an eight month lock out. The pitch had grown a foot following the South London club’s eviction over a set to between property investor landlords Meadow Partners and Southwark Council. Now, pigeons peck at the grass seed as fresh green shoots sprout with Hamlet preparing for a yuletide homecoming on Boxing Day vs. Eastbourne Borough.

Tom Reed, with the words and pictures, for STAND.

In October, the Hamlet announced their return to Dulwich from exile at Tooting and Mitcham via a statement which read “An agreement has been reached after the conclusion of successful talks between Dulwich Hamlet Football Club, Southwark Council and Meadow Partners that will see the club return to Champion Hill.”

The impasse had resulted after Southwark Council repeatedly blocked New York based Meadow’s plans to build 155 houses and flats and move the club to adjacent land. An inadequate level of affordable housing became a political hot potato in a city where putting a roof over your head is a science fiction concept in many areas.

Threats of a Compulsory Purchase Order came from the Council while Meadow enraged Hamlet fans by trademarking the club name.

The questionable sporting merit of a football club being owned by a property company was writ large on beleaguered Hamlet in this affluent area of London where land value inflation surrounds in a concrete suffocation.

The current ground is itself only 16 years old, the former stadium built in the vicinity in 1912, was demolished to make way for a Sainsbury’s supermarket after a 1992 financial meltdown all too common in non-league football. The club has moved from pillar to post while outside interests sniff about all that flat urban land that pre-war football used to inhabit for carefree kickabouts.

For now, Hamlet Director Tom Cullen is looking ahead, the basic club operation taken out of the land deal equation and manager Gavin Rose allowed to get on with the bread and butter of getting his players to knock a ball around on home turf. The full gate and bar take is to go to the club allowing it to increase its turnover after months of restricted income due to the Tooting exile.

Being an outfit so rooted in its community, the Hamlet have received some hefty help from local businesses and fans to get the ground ship shape again. The playing surface has been the foremost recipient of TLC, going from scorched out jungle to something approaching a carpet thanks to the endeavour of Jordan’s Sport Ground Solutions.

You won’t find a Premier League club where the sight of a shipping container being hoisted into place brings tears to the eyes but that was the case at Dulwich when the shipping crate club shop was brought back from it’s holiday at Imperial Fields.

Nb. the shipping container stocks donated copies of STAND, with all monies kept by the club.

Meanwhile, the club bar has been refitted at mates rates with a navy and pink mosaic of club themes at the far end. This is a club where visuals matter, so too cheap beer and £3.50 a pint will bring plenty of winter cheer for the first game back on Boxing Day.

Like all clubs, Hamlet have their fair share of piss-heads, blaggards and scoundrels but as a fan-base they are thoughtful. Time will tell then if the Meadow era leaves deep, difficult wounds amongst the supporters known as “the rabble”. Likewise whether any new stadium will have the character of this beloved old-new ground with its “Toilets Opposites” stand, scene of much mirth, no more than a tin roof. They’ll have to take the concrete wall beside the main stand with them if they go, a brutalist beast with a spray-painted goal where kids have a kick-around, sometimes more skilfully than the first team.

The bar will be heaving as usual on Boxing Day as it’s an online sell-out for the National League South clash vs. Eastbourne Borough. The club are laying on extra bar staff, just one of the common sense perks of the club running the show.

There are few other teams where the phrase the “fans are the club” is more apt. With the cocky pigeons chowing down on fresh seed, the rails empty of the rabble and stickers from far flung visitors flickering in the chill breeze you can almost hear the place calling the supporters back.

Those fans in pink and blue deserve a beer or two and there’ll no doubt be moments in the not too distant future where a stiff whisky will be needed. But for now there is no place like home and there’ll be no finer nor beautifully grimier place to take in a Boxing Day fixture. The grass centred concrete bunker of industrial football founded in an industrial era, where leafy streets and pretty mansions loom menacingly.

Two further home ties take place in quick succession vs. Slough Town on the 29th December and then Bath City on the 5th Jan 2019.

“No-one knows us” chant the rabble to the Millwall “We Are Sailing” tune. Dulwich Hamlet remain one of London’s lesser known but most important clubs.

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