“Gobsmacked” – Dulwich Hamlet chairman Ben Clasper on National League sanctions

Dulwich Hamlet chairman Ben Clasper has described himself as “gobsmacked” at their £8,000 fine and suspended points deduction from the National League.

The punishment relates to matches that the South London club did not play in February.

The National League South campaign was declared null and void in the same month.

And Clasper says that he has had no return correspondence from the National League’s interim general manager Mark Ives, who was appointed on a three-month contract at the start of January.

Asked about the sanctions taken against Dulwich, Clasper told the South London Press: “I was surprised, for the first time. Normally you see it coming with this lot. Not even I thought they would be this stupid.

“I spoke to the vice-chairman of the National League [about the punishment] – and he didn’t know. He can’t believe it. The general manager hasn’t responded to anything, but he did give a comment to The Non-League Paper that they had to do this because they had to follow the rulebook. But I can probably give you a dozen rules they have probably set aside during the pandemic. So they absolutely do not have to follow the rulebook.

“They didn’t follow the rulebook. We are not allowed time to pay a grievance with HMRC, we’re not allowed loans – every club has got a loan or a time to pay grievance with HMRC. We haven’t been expelled from the league [for doing that’. It is just not true. They have applied the rules at their discretion. So we can only assume they are applying this one at their discretion.

“You can go to the Football Association and appeal to say your governing body for the competition is wrong, but there comes a point where you have to go to the overall authority – which is the FA – and say ‘this league as a competition is not fit for purpose and none of the clubs have confidence in the board and none of the clubs have confidence in the general manager, or chairman, and the FA has to intervene’.

“I’ve written to the general manager, to ask for clarification on a few points. Not least when is he coming knocking for this money? Having just about got to the end of the season, where we’re scrimped and saved not to go into the red, he has suddenly become my number one creditor. I need to know when he is going to call on that debt.

“That is priority number one and priority number two is to listen to what the other clubs are saying – because the groundswell of opposition now has gone well past critical mass.”

Clasper says one impact of the financial penalty will affect their women’s team.

“The tragedy of this is that we’ve got a bit of money in the bank and it was only there to do two things. One was to keep the pitch in order – you have to do that or you’re looking at a bill – and sadly the rest of the money was going to go on the women’s team to allow them to play their games when they recommence. If you add up referees’ fees and pitch fees then that is a few thousand pounds for a few games for them. That is what is now at risk and that is the absurdity – how on earth can a competition put teams at risk of not being able to play? Which, ironically, is exactly what they have fined you for.

“It’s ludicrous. You have got 20 clubs in dire, dire straits financially. And you can’t have a competition talk about being sympathetic and then immediately make itself a six-figure creditor of those clubs in distress. I cannot think of a precedent.

“The initiating incident here is that they suspended the season at the end of January. They said: ‘Look, it’s not viable – clubs can’t play – so we need to suspend the season. And during that suspension, while it isn’t viable, we’re going to have a vote on whether to null and void’. I called the general manager at the time and said: ‘You’ve walked right into this. You’ve just given people 14-day suspensions and a 28-day voting period. So what on earth are the clubs going to do who want to continue? They are just going to drag your process out and force you to restart the league.’ And remember that is all we’re being fined for – that ridiculous 14-day period between him suspending the league and the end of the vote. Where he felt he had no alternative other than to force clubs to play again. Even though 14 days earlier he had stated, on record, that it wasn’t viable. Fourteen days later he null and voids the season because, again, most of the clubs said it wasn’t viable. It is this bizarre 14-day period where the league didn’t carry on its suspension to allow the vote to play out.

“I’m gobsmacked. Boy, they can shoot themselves in the foot, but this takes the biscuit. Remember that a league is there to represent its member clubs. They are there to work with us. I cannot think of a precedent of a league organisation saying we are going to work to the detriment of our clubs and actually put us in financial peril.”

And Clasper believes there is another major flashpoint potentially lying in wait.

“The big, big gotcha here, which I’ve written to him [Ives] about, is we’ve [Dulwich are not the only club to be penalised] all got suspended points deductions as well. We’ve got eight points which will be enforced if we breach that rule again.

“Last week they announced the league is starting in August. But they’ve given no guarantee that we’re only going to be starting [only] when we have fans back. So they have got no long-term strategy. I hope it happens, but we have to err on the side of caution. Do you think the government and councils are going to be authorising 3,000 people in August? I really, really hope.

“So let’s play this forward – what happens in July, when restrictions are still in place? Are they going to compel us to start in August? With no income and no fans? If we say ‘we can’t play’, are we going to be hit with another points deduction and fine, as well as losing the eight points which are suspended? They have got no strategy for these things – they don’t think them through.

“It will be interesting to see if he responds to any of this is writing because we’ve had absolutely nothing.”

The National League were contacted for comment but did not respond at time of publication.




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