Exclusive: Dulwich Hamlet chairman: National League should have acted – we told them no fans would be allowed

Dulwich Hamlet chairman Ben Clasper has expressed his frustration at the National League’s inaction – and reckons it was always clear the campaign would not start with supporters.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove confirmed on Tuesday morning that plans for fans to return to watch live sport from October 1 will not go ahead due to an increased in Covid-19 cases.

And it has been claimed the National League will not start on October 3 if supporters are not able to attend.

Clasper said: “Today’s announcement is exactly what we told them [the National League] would happen in a letter sent to them on July 31.

“We told them that we expected them to act and they haven’t acted for the last eight weeks – so that’s a frustrating point. This was about the most predictable thing that could’ve occurred, so it’s frustrating that the football authorities had a failure to acknowledge the reality we’re in.

“We’ve written on three occasions and sought confirmation [fans would be allowed] before we made any commitment and before we started talking to sponsors and fans’ consultations on season tickets. Most recently it was player contracts and that we were only able to commit to contracts on expenses on the assurance the league will start with fans. Every club should be doing this.

“Everyone talks about football clubs but they are limited companies – we have to remain solvent and a going concern. No-one should be committing to costs or self-services which they can’t deliver on.”

The National League are set to hold a board meeting on Thursday.

Clasper said: “There is a non-league email chain – all the clubs are on it – and we’ve already seen teams who are quite happy to go without fans and happily incur £100,000 losses. For others it is quite simple – either everyone plays for free or we boycott the season. There will be no consensus – there will be extremes.

“The fact that league has waited to react rather than act – when we as a club wrote to them on July 31 – is on them. Now we expect them to take the right decision after six months flailing around. We’ve got government statistics and scientists agreeing this is not a one-month thing – it is a six-month problem and not a blip.

“If sport doesn’t get its head out of the sand and start thinking along those lines it is doomed to failure over and over again.”

Hamlet’s player contracts would have been triggered by the start of the 2020-21 season.

Clasper said: “We were happy to make those commitments and put season tickets on sale once we were categorically confident and had assurances [that fans would be allowed]. If there’s a change to that we have to revisit all commitments – both inbound and outbound.

“We were perceived as one of the pessimists because we kept talking about the long-term rather than the short term.

“We have a club which is 126 years old to protect. No-one cares about a sub-standard season if it costs us the football club. We’ve got to take a long-term view and we’ve acted in good faith financially throughout.

“With the exception of the time to pay agreement with HMRC we don’t owe anybody anything. We’ve had an influx of cash from season tickets and we were about to commit to a lot of outgoings. We always knew that there was a scenario where we’d have to mothball and go into hibernation.

“The clubs pushing [to play] have committed already and incurred significant costs. They are trying to push an agenda but it is like trying to push water up a hill. We knew we were heading for restrictions and that it was highly likely to be significant local lockdowns.

“It’s not about fans. Even if there were no fans and we were all given a pot of gold to play without them there we are still not going to finish the season. Teams are going to test positive – they are now – and games will be off where there are local lockdowns. It will take teams out of the equation for weeks. There is no perfect path to finish the season.

“The priority is to ensure the club will be here for the next 127 years and we’re not going to compromise that.”


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