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London football club receives Government backing as it fights for survival

The non-league club is caught in the middle of a long-running property row.

The Sports Minister has offered to intervene to help a football club fighting for survival, amid calls to assess the “threat” faced by grounds across the country.

Tracey Crouch told the Commons she is willing to find and appoint an independent mediator if negotiations linked to the future of Dulwich Hamlet fail.

Her offer comes as the south London football club’s future remains uncertain after being caught in the middle of a long-running property row.

Ms Crouch also said lessons must be learnt from the dispute, adding she would hold talks with the Football Association to see what steps can be taken to help prevent “further breakdowns” between clubs and landowners.

Labour’s Helen Hayes focused on the plight of non-league Dulwich in a short Commons debate, before listing a series of requests to the Government which she insisted would help protect community football clubs.

They included an “urgent audit” of league and non-league football grounds across the country to assess the extent of the “threat” they are under, greater protection for grounds from development and how funding is redistributed to grassroots football from the Premier League.

The fit and proper persons test should also apply to non-league ownership, Ms Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) added.

Southwark Council has approved plans to buy land on which Dulwich’s Champion Hill stadium sits.

The Bostik League Premier division side have been evicted from the ground by Meadow, an American-based property investment fund that bought the land in 2014.

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Meadow has claimed Dulwich Hamlet owes more than £120,000 in rent and has breached the terms of their licence to use the ground, but the dispute is viewed more with the council after it repeatedly blocked its plans to redevelop the site with luxury flats and a new home for the club.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Crouch described the situation faced by Dulwich as an “utter mess” and said the club and the fans are the “victims”.

She said: “I understand Southwark Council has asked their director of regeneration to start negotiations with Meadow over the sale of the site.

“Those negotiations must ensure that the needs of the club are protected.

“Should these negotiations fail, and it’s quite clear there remains something of an impasse, then I will look to find and appoint an independent mediator who can facilitate the constructive talks needed between all parties – and in the process help secure a future for this well-supported community club for many years to come.”

She added she hoped a mediator will not be needed and a solution will be found before the start of next season.

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Two Dulwich Hamlet scarves were on the green benches in the Commons as Helen Hayes led a debate about the club's future

Dulwich Hamlet’s colours of pink and navy blue could be seen in the public gallery during the debate, with two of the club’s scarves on the green bench near Ms Hayes.

The Labour MP had asked the minister: “Will she commit to an urgent audit of the premises of league and non-league football grounds and stadia across the country and quantify the extend and nature of the threat, which is exemplified by the situation at Dulwich Hamlet?

“Will she use that information to make the case to her colleagues at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government for great protection to be afforded to league and non-league football grounds – perhaps using the protections introduced by Labour to safeguard school playing fields as a model?”

Ms Hayes also asked Ms Crouch to examine how Meadow was able to tell the 125-year-old club it can no longer use its trademarked name and logo, adding: “Will she take steps to ensure that no other football clubs can be threatened with the loss of their identity in this way?”

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