By Simeon Wright
Dulwich Hamlet chairman Ben Clasper continues his fight this week to “protect the long-term future of the football club,” amid threats of penalties from the National League.
The East Dulwich club issued a statement last Friday (February 5) in which they said that the team will not be fulfilling its fixtures until there is definite funding in place, as the National League South emerged from a two-week suspension on Saturday.
Clasper told the News why his club had to speak out.
He said: “Ultimately, the league was suspended for two weeks to achieve one thing – to go back to the government and get the clubs funding to keep them going, as the league agreed there was no viable option for us to carry on.
“The competition set the parameters when we started the season, that we would either have crowds or grant funding.
“But they never contacted us to say ‘we failed, sorry’. Instead, they sent out a vote form and then expected everyone to start playing again. But if we couldn’t play two weeks ago, how could we possibly play now?
“They keep quoting rule 8.39 which threatens expulsion if you don’t fulfil a fixture. We have to defend our position – we’re not refusing to play, you [the National League] called the suspension and haven’t fixed the problem, so the suspension should continue.”
The Hamlet have so far played just thirteen out of the 40 matches which would represent completion of their National League South season, and with the cost of fulfilling fixtures outweighing revenue due to the indefinite absence of gate receipts, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how this campaign could ever get finished.
A vote has been put to all 66 National League clubs of its three divisions on whether to cancel the season, but Clasper is incensed that fixtures would be expected to continue in the meantime.
He continued: “When the general manager of the league was asked why the suspension was not being carried on while they wait for this vote, his answer was if people drag the vote out for four weeks then the season won’t be able to be completed.
“But in the National League North, Darlington have played two games fewer than us [eleven], and as of this week they have to play twice a week every week to finish the season. One more interruption and they’re into three games a week territory.
“Surely then you have to start thinking ‘look, we’re not going to finish it’.
“Almost every other club supports the stance, but a tiny minority will quite happily beat everyone up and bankrupt people by forcing them all to play.
“In the middle you’ve got clubs that have the means to continue but don’t want to see damage to others, and Dulwich Hamlet are in the boat of we want to carry on but we can’t. If we do, we’ll get into debt, and the league’s rules state that if you have insufficient funds to finish a season, they can expel you. We’re already in that position.
“There’s no way we can comply with the league’s Catch-22, so the only rule we’re going to abide by is to protect the long-term future of the football club.”
Ahead of Dulwich’s postponed away trip to St Albans on Tuesday, Clasper reacted with frustration to a tweet by the Hertfordshire club the day before which read: “We are ready and hoping to welcome Dulwich Hamlet to Clarence Park tomorrow evening.”
Clasper criticised the club’s Twitter account on the platform itself, and told the News afterwards: “There’s two reasons why some clubs can afford to play: Some have independent means and are run by wealthy individuals, and another is that they got more money than they were expecting in the ridiculous October to December [bailout fund] distribution scandal.
“One of the punishments for not fulfilling a fixture is that points are awarded to the other team, so what you’re starting to see now is clubs saying they were ready to play and it’s the other club’s fault. ‘They forfeited the fixture, so can we have our three points?’
“St Albans don’t get great crowds, so they got a tonne more money than they were expecting.”
At the forefront of Clasper’s concern is of course also the many people employed by Dulwich Hamlet, and the physical toll Covid-19 infections have taken on Gavin Rose’s playing squad.
Clasper added: “We had a Covid issue happen at a game that would’ve been caused by somebody asymptomatic. No one did anything wrong, but it hit a few of our players, and some of them have been really unwell.
“But when you go to the league and say ‘we’ve got a problem,’ you get told where to stick it.
“We’ve put it to them in writing that we’re not going to put our players or physios in a position where we compel them to play, but it falls on completely deaf ears. It’s this idiotic determination to continue. They’ll get you onto a pitch whenever and how often they can.”