Rio Ferdinand has made a multi-million pound offer to save troubled non-league club Dulwich Hamlet, The Independent can reveal.
Ferdinand made the offer, close to £10m, through his affordable housing company Legacy Foundation on 12 December last year, to buy the Champion Hill ground from owners Meadow Residential. Meadow rejected it and now want more than £13m for the site, or else one of the country’s most popular non-league clubs is facing death.
Former England and Manchester United captain Ferdinand has a long-standing interest in the Bostik Premier Division side. He grew up in nearby Peckham, is life-long friends with Dulwich manager Gavin Rose, and has trained with the team before. Ferdinand has watched closely as the club was caught in the middle of a development dispute between property investors Meadow and Southwark Council, over Meadow’s now-abandoned plans for an £80m residential development on the Champion Hill site.
Southwark opposed Meadow’s plans, which did not come close to meeting their target for 35 per cent affordable housing in new developments. So Southwark blocked the development, taking back the lease of crucial adjoining land, and Meadow withdrew their planning application on 20 October, accusing Southwark of “defamatory statements”.
Peace talks between Meadow and Southwark in early November went nowhere, with Meadow threatening Southwark leader Peter John with a libel action for criticising them on Twitter.
With no prospect of Meadow being able to agree a deal with Southwark to develop the ground, Ferdinand met Meadow on 14 November to express an interest in Legacy – which he owns with Bobby Zamora and Mark Noble – buying Champion Hill from them and to ask for their price. Ferdinand wanted to save and support the football club, giving them a sustainable future, and develop the site in accordance with Southwark’s affordable housing criteria.
Southwark, who had given up on working with Meadow, saw far more potential for redevelopment in working with Legacy, while the football club saw Legacy’s football backgrounds and community ethos as making them the ideal owners and custodians.
So on 12 December Ferdinand submitted his bid, of just under £10m, to buy the freehold to the Champion Hill ground. The shares in the football club itself, currently owned by south London construction magnate Nick McCormack, would be transferred over as part of a deal. But on 18 December Meadow responded to Ferdinand that the site was not for sale. Legacy have not made a second bid.
Meadow would have almost doubled their money had they accepted Legacy’s offer, having bought Champion Hill for £5.7m in February 2014. But they insisted to Legacy at the time that they would not sell the site for any price. The theory in the property industry is that they would not want to sell the ground for that price to another developer who they believed would make more money as soon as they got planning permission.
Meadow still say now that they “are not looking to sell the site”, though they are now understood to have an informal asking price – at least £13m – though industry sources believe that is far more than the land is worth, deterring other potential developers.
The outcome is a bitter stalemate: Meadow cannot to find anyone to meet their valuation, and Southwark will not work with Meadow on development. Meadow have been talking to third parties about working with them, the club and the council to find a solution, but no agreement has yet been reached. Meadow say that until Southwark give the club back the lease to Greendale, “the club’s ambitions cannot be fulfilled”.