On Tuesday evening, as Sheffield United prepared for their Championship fixture against Fulham at Craven Cottage, something quite disturbing was happening on the other side of the capital.
Six miles to the east, in the London Borough of Southwark, Dulwich Hamlet FC were being served with papers revealing their name, initials and sobriquet had been registered as trademarks by Greendales IP LLC; a subsidiary company of their landlords Meadow, the property investment fund.
The notification, served by solicitors Blake Morgan, marked an escalation in the row which has seen the Bostik Premier Division leaders receive a £121,000 bill for unanticipated back rent, threatened with a winding-up order and informed its licence to play at Champion Hill stadium had been withdrawn. Meadow, who purchased the ground four years ago, recently lost a legal battle with the local council, which had blocked their plans for an £80m residential development on the site.
Although the travails of Gavin Rose’s side have, on the face of it, nothing to do with United, they will outrage those of us who consider ourselves members of the football family. Not to mention serve as a reminder why it is advisable for clubs to own the stadia in which they play.
United’s property interests, their assortment of freeholds and leaseholds, have featured prominently on these pages in recent weeks as talks regarding HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s proposed takeover continue to rumble on. The terms of the agreement he entered into with fellow co-owner Kevin McCabe in 2013 demand the purchase of these interests.
But because neither he nor Prince Abdullah will be around forever, because no one individual or company will remain in control of United for perpetuity, I propose a further step is taken: United’s home should become either the subject of a pitch owners scheme, similar to the one created by Chelsea following their issues with Marler Estates in the Eighties, or become an Asset of Community Value (ACV).
This step, made possible by the Localism Act (2011), provides additional protection from developers by demanding the relevant local authority is informed if they want to sell the site. Parties interested in acquiring it can then trigger a six month moratorium to try and raise the necessary funds. Or a compulsory purchase order could even be imposed in extreme circumstances.
Old Trafford, Ewood Park, St Andrews and Bloomfield Road are already listed as ACV’s. Bramall Lane, which played host to international matches, a cricket Test, the first floodlit fixture and the final of the world’s first football tournament, surely qualifies on a number of counts.