By Ben Henderson
DULWICH HAMLET fans may be forgiven for basking in the warm glow of success as their epic return home reaches its triumphant conclusion. However, they should take heed from the Greeks – those founders of the epic – and avoid resting on their laurels, even if they have been through hell and back.
Champion Hill has probably never previously been compared to a paradisiacal Greek island, but to follow the analogy, their south London equivalent to Ithaca is peeping into view on the horizon. But what if, like the Greek hero Odysseus, they return to a home in a state of depravity? The thought alone is enough to set the alarm bells, or sirens, ringing in the ears of the Dulwich faithful.
Those who have visited the stadium in recent times, or seen the images of Hamlet photographer, Duncan Palmer, will be aware of the unkempt state of the ground. However, Tom Cullen, director at Dulwich Hamlet, provided a comprehensive summary to the News of the preparation needed to ready Champion Hill for the return of competitive football and Dulwich’s rowdy supporters.
“We’re aiming for December 1, which would be a home game against Torquay United. This is of course dependent on Torquay’s progress in the FA Cup. But whether we are playing Torquay or not, the first of December is when the stadium should be up and running.”
Tom had an optimistic message for fans concerned about the current state of their natural home, and perhaps a worrying one for health and safety inspectors.
“In all honesty, we’ve probably operated match-days in the past in a worse state than things are in today. But we can use this as a fantastic opportunity to make improvements. There are a lot of basic things to do such as plumbing, fixing the floodlights and giving the place a deep clean. Furthermore, it’s been a very hot summer of course and so there are a lot of things growing where they shouldn’t be.”
The greatest task, Tom warns, will be preparing the Champion Hill pitch, which eagle-eyed fans will have noticed is heavily overgrown.
Ian Jordan and his eponymous company, Jordans Sports Ground Solutions, has long tended to the playing surface at Champion Hill and other pitches around London. Jordans have worked almost every day since the return was announced in order to get the pitch back up to scratch.
Tom adds: “Another main thing is getting the boardroom ready for the remembrance service this weekend.”
The importance of the Hamlet memorial was alluded to previously in this column by mayor of Southwark, Catherine Rose. It goes without saying that good condition of the memorial will be hugely significant for the local community this weekend.
One might wonder how Dulwich, a club straddled with financial difficulty, can mobilise the resources needed in order to prepare their stadium at such short notice. However, help has come from both familiar and more surprising places.
Tom explains: “Meadow [Residential] are donating £50,000, which we are very grateful for and which really helps us over the next couple of weeks to take the pressure off.
“In addition, there’s a dedicated group of people coming in on a daily basis to help out with the little things. For example, this Saturday there will be a fan clean-up event run by the Supporters’ Trust which will involve weeding and cleaning the ground. Details for those who wish to participate can be found on the channels of both the club and the Supporters’ Trust.”
“We’re blessed with a committed fanbase who are willing to come in and help. This ranges from young people using what little time they have available between shifts to come out and help, through to retirees.
“The support from the community has been overwhelming. Local suppliers have offered their services for free. Whenever I walk up Lordship Lane everyone’s asking how things are going. Everyone’s so happy. Every day I receive at least two or three messages offering support. It just means so much to so many people whether you’re a football fan or not. I’ve never experienced so many grown men cry down the phone to me. It really seems like everyone around here, not just in Dulwich but even farther afield, is itching for us to return.”
Dulwich Hamlet’s supporters have produced a near unbelievable effort to keep their club afloat and negotiate a return to their home ground over the past eight months. It seems that same spirit is ensuring they negotiate the final hurdle safely.