A developer has stopped paying a football club’s players after almost three years, following the decision to bar the firm from moving the stadium on to protected land to build homes on the old pitch.
House builders Meadow Residential (MR) has handed responsibility for cash payments to Dulwich Hamlet to majority shareholder Nick McCormack. But it has not given the club control over paying security guards and match stewards, whose cost has increased as gates have soared past 2,000 in recent months.
MR, which owns the club’s ground, Champion Hill, told the Hamlet football committee on October 26 that the firm would end its contractual obligations to pay players and other staff from November 1 – and hand that back to McCormack.
MR now says it is having to reconsider its position because it cannot make enough money out of its housing development to continue to fund the club.
Hamlet chairman Liam Hickey said: “The only thing that is stopping our many volunteers from walking away is the love of this club. It is left to us to try and find a way to make this work.
“We need all of our fans to donate as much as possible to our 12th man scheme to ensure we can continue having a realistic chance of promotion this season.
The club sit top of the table after their 1-0 win at Thurrock on Saturday after 16 games – six points ahead of second-placed Hendon, and eight points ahead of third-placed Billericay. A statement on Hamlet’s website read: “We were told that as of November 1, 2017, all financial management and payments would revert back to DHFC Ltd’s majority shareholder and director, Nick McCormack.
“As a football committee, made up of fans of the club who volunteer thousands of hours a year to help run the club we love, we were asked to take on what we feel are untenable positions and responsibilities without detailed information on the health of the club in terms of its finances, or without a say in the management of what we see as club facilities.
“We have been told that as per the terms of our licence, we are entitled to net profit from match day activities, after costs have been deducted from the turnstiles and the bar. However we have no say in the management, pricing or efficiency of the matchday operations, therefore our profit is dictated to us.
“We sent a large list of concerns on November 2, and urgent questions to be answered to try and make sense of the situation, that have yet to be fully addressed.
“We hope that Meadow and its subsidiaries will be forthcoming with information ASAP, in an effort to rectify what has been a very worrying period for the football club since their planning appeal was pulled after the Greendale lease appeal was lost and ending Meadow’s development plans.
“We want to assure the fans, players, and all those associated with the club will do all in our power, along with our partners at DHST and at Aspire, to secure a future for the football club that puts the community and club first.”
A spokesman for MR said: “We purchased the Champion Hill ground from the liquidators at a point when DHFC had no future and was potentially homeless.
“Since 2014, along with Hadley, we have managed the stadium, and with the agreement of the director of, and majority shareholder in, DHFC, provided funds monthly to meet the club’s costs. This funding has allowed DHFC to continue to operate, despite having a significant trading deficit.
“We have pursued a solution that wipes out DHFC’s substantial debts and provides a new stadium . As part of the deal, the club itself becomes owned by the community, using the model pioneered by experts Supporters Direct.
“We have built a new bar in the corner of the stadium and refurbished parts of the ground that were previously unusable. We have also paid the salary of an experienced venue manager to overhaul operations, to ensure that DHFC can provide as good a matchday experience as possible. We have also provided financial support for fundraising events for important local and international causes that the supporters care about.
“We have not sought to run the footballing side of the club. As much as possible we want DHFC to be able to operate without our direct involvement, aside from providing the financial support.
“With the benefit of hindsight we might have been unwise in not intervening to address the substantial playing budget of over £8,000 a week gross, including a generous bonus structure for the players. It may also have been unwise to have agreed to pay the fines of players.
“We have, perhaps belatedly, attempted to address these issues and our recent attempts to try to improve cost management and increase revenue at the stadium have caused some upheaval.”
MR claims to be ploughing £170,000 a year into the club to keep it afloat. “We are now considering our legal and commercial positions,” the spokesman added. “Our investors will not allow us to continue providing the financial support without a viable development solution for the site and some prospect of our recovering the very substantial funds that have been invested.
“We accept that all parties: Meadow, London borough of Southwark, and above all DHFC, are now in a very difficult situation. Without Meadow’s funding DHFC will be forced to close in the near future. Without the support of Southwark council we will not be able to develop the site and recover our investment.
“We are now actively seeking to work with DHFC and to talk to Southwark council, to see if a way forward can be found to build a spirit of co-operation and allow DHFC and the stadium project to continue.”