By Ben Henderson
LAST THURSDAY, September 20, the Dulwich Hamlet stadium shop, known ironically as the “Mega-Container”, was moved from its traditional home at Champion Hill to Dulwich’s current home at Tooting’s Imperial Fields in Mitcham.
The Mega-Container, as the name suggests, is a large shipping container converted into a shop. It sells the finest football merchandise – from shirts and scarves to tea cups and vintage match programmes dating back to the ‘50s. It’s got the lot.
The shop is run by volunteers from the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust: a not-for-profit organisation independent of the club. The Trust aims to secure a successful and sustainable future for the Hamlet by increasing supporter involvement in its running.
The Container has proved an increasingly important cash cow over time. Its turnover has rocketed in recent years from just a few thousand pounds to roughly £70,000 last season. One-third of the Container’s proceeds goes directly to the club, with the remaining two-thirds going to the Trust, which invests it in club-related activities. So, the Container plays a significant role in the success of the club, both on and off the pitch.
The Mega-Container was preceded at Champion Hill by the “Mega-Shed”, which was set up by DHST board member, Guy Grater. However, Hamlet attendances have surged in recent times, and so demand for merchandise was causing the shed to burst at its hinges.
So, Al Crane (Chairman of the Supporters’ Trust until he stepped aside this August) replaced the Mega-Shed with the Mega-Container in 2016. It was funded by the Trust, which was assisted by Champion Hill’s then owners – Hadley Property Group, and the football club. They both generously agreed to fund half the cost of the container and its decoration by foregoing their share of profits from sales of merchandise until these costs were recovered (and in the process providing an interesting comparison with Champion Hill’s current landlords).
The Container’s transformation from moldy ship container to gaudy club shop was facilitated through the efforts of local volunteers. Materials such as timber and paint were donated and the expertise of local Andy Greig (or the Honor Oak Handyman as he is professionally known) got the electrics up and running.
In typical Dulwich fashion, the sale of some of the original merchandise went to local playground and charity, Dog Kennel Hill Adventure Playground, to pay for the installation of a new swing.
The Container’s latest move was brought about courtesy, not of Al Crane, but rather Al’s crane – Sussex Transport provided a crane and driver named Alex. Furthermore, Tooting manager, Ashley Bosah, and coach, Jordan Wilson, were on hand to help out on arrival at the ground.
The community ethos intertwined in its history means that the Mega-Container has become a symbol of Dulwich Hamlet. Therefore, while its move to Imperial Fields will by warmly met by those eager for Dulwich merchandise, it will be a bittersweet moment given what it portends.
Duncan Chapman, Co-Chairman of the Supporters’ Trust, illustrated this point. “The Trust is pleased to have The Mega-Container back for match-days as it allows us to offer fans a wider range of merchandise. It is a huge shame, however, that we have been forced to move it away from its home at Champion Hill.
“We are grateful to everyone at Tooting & Mitcham for helping with the move. We would also like to thank Sussex Transport and their driver, Alex, who couldn’t have been more helpful.
“We continue to work hard with the Hamlet directors, match-day committee and fans in seeking a return of the team to Champion Hill.”
However, it seems unlikely that Dulwich would go through the hassle of moving the container if a return to Champion Hill looked a realistic possibility in the short term.