BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Gavin Rose has revealed Dulwich Hamlet would have struggled to finish their National League South campaign if they had not managed to secure a return to Champion Hill.
The South London club were forced into groundsharing with Tooting & Mitcham in March as their dispute with landlord Meadow Residential turned ugly.
Dulwich still went on to win promotion from the Isthmian League Premier Division – but the financial hit of leaving their home had been severe.
A joint statement from the club and also Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust on Tuesday night announced they could be back at Champion Hill as quickly as four weeks.
The club were regularly getting gates over 2,000 even before they clinched National League South status in May – with the expectation that gates would only get bigger.
This season only one of their matches at their temporary home has crept into four figures – 1,101 for a September meeting with Wealdstone.
Just 727 attended their first home game in the National League South against East Thurrock United – although it was a Wednesday night fixture.
Their most recent match at the KNK Stadium drew a crowd of 717 for a 2-0 win over Chippenham Town.
Rose, one of the longest-serving managers in non-league and who has won two promotions for Hamlet, said: “It is quite hard to believe [the return to Champion Hill has been agreed] because it has been a bit of a whirlwind last 18 months or so. It feels a bit surreal. We’ve got used to being nomadic over this period and not knowing what the next month holds in store.
“It is about seeing what comes next – I don’t want to get too excited because it is not done yet. With the events of the last year or so, we have to be a little cautious.
“I’m not sure the club would have been able to see the season out with our current outgoings. We would’ve done really well to get past December or January, because we didn’t really have any significant FA Cup run. If we’d have some sort of investment it would have changed things, but it’s very difficult for people to invest in a club it can’t see the future of.
“It was looking very bleak. We had done so much to get to where we are now but the attendances at Tooting had started to dwindle, understandably so because it is quite hard for our guys to commit to it. It isn’t home, even if it has been good to us and we’ve had some great times there.
“At the very least there would have been a significant budget cut just for survival and then there is what that would have meant for the playing team or on the pitch. This just gives us a chance to survive and plan beyond this season.
“In the past we haven’t been able to put a plan in place – it’s just been us trying to do well on the pitch. If we can now put a plan in place for the next few years it will stand us in good stead.”
Long-serving Rose had not been back to Champion Hill since the stadium was locked up.
“I’ve chosen not to on purpose because it leaves a bitter taste,” he said. “You don’t want to keep reminding yourself of that.
“It will be great to go back. You think just about the football side but there was also the community side – different generations of a family coming to watch games in a safe and fun environment, with local businesses also benefitting. It will be great to try and restore that and build on it in the future.”
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