By Ben Henderson
MANY DULWICH Hamlet fans will have heard of the ‘12th Man Scheme’ but far fewer will know exactly what it is and how it benefits the club.
The scheme was set up in 2012 by Dulwich fans, Neil Cole and Shaun Dooley. The club was suffering from financial problems leading to a diminished player budget for manager, Gavin Rose. There was also significant scepticism about the way in which the club was being run, specifically regarding where the few funds Dulwich had available were being directed. The 12th Man Scheme aimed to raise funds, in an independent account, that would be spent solely by Rose on playing staff, with total transparency.
The scheme is now in its seventh season and has hugely benefitted the club. The 12th Man has raised £85,000 since its launch, including an astonishing £57,000 last season.
The list of players signed using the fund over the years comes to 23.
Rose explained the impact this has had on the pitch.
“It’s been very important,” he said. “When it first came about we had a small budget and we needed a few players to maintain a challenge at the top of the league. Maidstone had more resources than us and the 12th Man really helped us out.
“Over time when we’ve had injuries it’s really helped us out in the short term – say for instance getting players in for a month or two during a crisis.
“One thing that must be said is that they [people donating] always endeavour to try and help. They don’t try to get involved with which players are being signed, they simply help where they can.”
When asked which products of the 12th Man fund were the greatest successes, Rose was hesitant to pick out favourites.
He said: “There’s been so many it’d be rude to pick out a few. Connor French was one of the first, Frazer Shaw was excellent. It’s very difficult to pinpoint one that’s more valuable than the next.”
However, there have undoubtedly been some standout performers. In November 2012, Rose used the 12th Man account to pay the wages of Danny Carr, a young striker who had been released from Reading’s academy the previous summer. The forward repaid the fans’ funding by scoring 25 goals in 37 appearances, to inspire the side to promotion to the Isthmian League Premier Division, before moving on to then-Championship side Huddersfield Town.
The 2014-15 season saw the arrival of full-back Frazer Shaw who spent an excellent season at Hamlet before going on to spend two years in the Football League with Leyton Orient.
This season the scheme has provided funds to bring in centre-back Michael Kamara in response to the defensive injury crisis.
The scheme raises money in a number of ways. Firstly, they have donation buckets at every home game and encourage fans to donate any loose change. They also receive donations from fans via standing order. They run raffles and competitions every season, including the popular season prediction competition.
They occasionally receive donated goods, which they sell from the 12th Man stand at home games. This season, these donations have included stylish DHFC card wallets (for your Oyster card, season ticket or any other cards), a new book by Hamlet historian Roger Deason, and a set of replica Hamlet first-team shirts.
Rose continued: “I think along with support from the committee raising awareness of the club, the increase in support of the club, and the activity on the pitch, the 12th Man has been a vital part of the growth of the club over the years.
“It’s stepped in at key times when we’ve had no other avenue. It’s the fans’ money going straight into the team. There’s a feel-good factor seeing fans’ money going directly onto the pitch. Last season, in particular, the 12th Man kept us afloat for a month or two. Without it, I really can’t say what would have happened to the club.”
Given Dulwich’s ongoing financial problems, the need for the 12th Man appears to be as great as ever. The Hamlet faithful will have to pull together from a financial perspective if Dulwich are to challenge their more moneyed rivals in the near future.