Dulwich Hamlet

13 Mar

12 March 2011

Isthmian League Division 1 South

Dulwich Hamlet 3 v Chipstead 2 (att 241)

Champion Hill Stadium, Dulwich, SE22

Team talk. I suppose I should warn you in advance, this is not going to be a particularly objective post. As those who have read our very first blog post will have noted, we are Dulwich Hamlet supporters and therefore this is going to be more than a tad one-sided, however, I’ll try to keep the unnecessary praise to a minimum.

Before today Dulwich Hamlet sat 11th in the league but entered this game with a spring in their step. On Tuesday, they successfully made their way into their first cup final in 7 years with a 5-1 win away to high-flying Leatherhead in the Championship Manager Cup (including this magnificent free kick). At this stage of the season a game between two mid-table sides would not normally yield a particularly decent crowd but thanks to the semi final victory, a decent attendance was expected and duly turned up.

The Hamlet players celebrate their semi final victory (also pictured: Tales from the Pigeon Stands) (c) Andy Nunn

Mid-table is sadly the best way to describe the Pink n’ Blues’ recent seasons, since relegation from the Isthmian Premier 10 years ago, Dulwich have never quite succeeded in bouncing back, in fact they’ve only mustered one playoff appearance in that time. If history has taught us one thing about Dulwich, it’s that promotion and relegation are not often encountered. In their 117 years history Dulwich have remained in the Isthmian League in either the Premier or First Division (due in part to the historic segregation between amateur and professional game which was finally abolished in the 70s).

During the amateur age, Dulwich Hamlet were a feared side. They won the FA Amateur Cup (equivalent to today’s FA Trophy) on four occasions during the inter-war years helped in part by Hamlet legend Edgar Kail who during his time at Dulwich received 3 full caps for England and represents the last amateur to wear the 3 Lions. Kail is an icon at Dulwich and after a vocal campaign, the street leading to the Stadium was named in his honour.

Back in the present day, the Hamlet are led by talismanic player manager and player assistant manager Gavin Rose and Junior Kadi, both close personal friends of Rio and Anton Ferdinand. Rose and Kadi split their time between managing Dulwich and running ASPIRE, an academy for kids who are released by professional clubs after their youth contracts expire.  It’s a noble cause but Rose’s first step as Dulwich manager was to, remarkably, release the entire squad and fill the roster with ASPIRE kids. Needless to say, this didn’t work. Luckily Rose has learnt his lesson and the team look set to have one of their best seasons in recent years.

The ASPIRE crew

Park the bus. Access to Champion Hill via public transport is very simple. Train services run every 15 minutes or so from London Bridge to East Dulwich Station (taking 12 minutes) or from West Croydon to East Dulwich every half hour (taking 28 minutes). East Dulwich Station is a short walk to the ground, through St Francis Park. It’s like the approach to Anfield through Stanley Park, only a thousand times better. There are also numerous buses from all over inner South London which will drop you off by the park.

There’s currently plenty of parking available at the ground, all of which is free, although get in early to avoid the Polish car wash which occupies a good 30% of the car park from about 2pm onwards. Sainsbury’s is next door, if you go and by a pack of mints, you’ll be fine to park there for a few hours.

Home advantage. The original Champion Hill was one of the most historic grounds in South London. Used in the 1948 London Olympics it used to happily accommodate 20,000 spectators. However the development pressures of the 20th Century were too much to bear and when Sainsbury’s opened up their giant wallet, the club (already struggling financially) graciously accepted the donation. Fortunately, thanks to some outstanding Planning Gain, Sainsbury’s planning obligations meant that a new home was to be built for the Hamlet’s continued existence.

The old Champion Hill in 1947 (thanks to thehamlethistorian.blogspot.com for the picture)

The new Champion Hill, opened in 1993, boasts a main stand – recently renamed the Tommy Jover Stand – which seats 500 spectators, a partially covered stand on the opposite flank, home to numerous pigeons – many of whom seem to have the pigeon equivalent of explosive diarrhoea – and two uncovered ends.

Tommy Jover Main Stand. The clock hasn't worked since it was struck by lightning mysteriously in 1956...

Champion Hill's Pigeon Stand

Upon paying your extremely reasonable £6 admittance, you’re greeted by the club shop (more of a table than a shop) where a busy collection of replica shirts, mugs, scarves and badges can be purchased along with the match day programme. You’ll then be cheerfully and politely fleeced for another £1 for the Golden Goal competition with a nice wee £20 prize for lucky entrant who pulls out the ticket with the correct time of the first goal.

The Club Shop/Table

Unquestionably, the club’s premier assets are its facilities. Hamlet’s Heath Club, a private gym run out of the main stand and the 5-a-side pitches at the back of the Stadium both keep the bank manager at bay. Of all the ancillary attractions, the best is the clubhouse/bar which is located at the top of Tommy Jover Stand. It’s jam-packed with brown faux-leather chairs, fruit machines and tired carpets. Just like a wonderful step back into a 90s soap opera.

Players, officials and spin classes

One of the reasons for the bar’s popularity is  that supporters can take a pew at the window which runs the full length of the stand/bar and watch both the Hamlet on the pitch below and Sky’s Soccer Saturday on the telly without ever having to brace the cold outside. Whilst I’ve never done this, it’s been awfully tempting on more than a few occasions. Especially on Champions League Tuesdays in the Autumn.

Outside of the Bar/clubhouse which offers unrivalled views of the action

The bar can also be hired for private functions and gigs. The likes of Martin Carthy, Dick Gaughan and Alistair Roberts have all graced the clubhouse’s rickety stage, although sadly the club has been rocketed into the press for all the wrong reasons following the recent murder of a local teenager who had been attending a birthday party in the clubhouse. Whilst this had nothing directly to do with the club or the team, it still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Prawn sandwiches. If booze isn’t your thing, the club also has an excellent snack bar where you can get a cup of tea for 80p. They also serve the usual range of burgers and bacon rolls but boasts a potentially deal-clinching partnership with local organic butcher William Rose…or so the advertising claims. Having eaten there, I can confirm the food is tasty, but I have my suspicions as to the organic properties of the club’s sausage in baguette.

Organic? Patrons queue at the snack bar to test the quality of William's meat

…and the game. Dulwich Hamlet and Chipstead put on an entertaining game of football largely played in the right spirit.  The first half saw three stunning goals. Chipstead took the lead with a lovely free kick after 14 minutes only to see an equally stupendous free kick from Hamlet assistant manager Junior Kadi. For the second game in a row, I picked the right time to press Record on my camera.

The Pre-match Hamlet Huddle

The goal was actually bettered a few minutes later when ‘Razor’ Ray Powell turned on a quick pass to hit a sumptuous shot with pace, curl and dip which rattled the back of the net. It might have been the best goal I’ve seen Dulwich score; it was certainly one of the most technically proficient.

The second half was a little less extravagant but with both teams continuing to play a tidy passing game. Chipstead equalised with about 10 minutes to go when they were awarded a penalty for a point-blank handball. It certainly didn’t look deliberate to me, what made it all the more galling was that a similar incident had occurred in our box about 5 minutes beforehand. Even the Chipstead subs warming up on our touchline thought it was a little harsh. Sadly, this is the sort of consistency one has grown to expect Isthmian League officials; they’re not biased, they’re just no good.  James Dunn in the Hamlet goal did well to save the first effort only to see some panicky defending result in Chipstead following up about the 3rd or 4th rebound. Luckily the Hamlet didn’t let this deter them and a few minutes later they were back ahead as recent acquisition Vernon Francis slotted home after a goalmouth stramash stemming from the Chipstead keeper’s awful punching.Man of the match. For me the man of the match and possibly the man of season (at least the 2nd half of it) has been Gavin Rose. I’m using this as an opportunity to eat some humble pie. I rounded on Gavin Rose early in the season (and most of last season), I was concerned his connection with ASPIRE had turned Dulwich into a vanity project where he could further the reputation of his own business at the expense of our old club. I was concerned that he played himself too much despite looking seemingly out of shape. I was concerned that this mentor of youth seemed incapable of communicating with his youngest players during a game. I was concerned that after one game last year he had to be restrained by his bench after one of my fellow supporters made an innocuous comment about his choice of substitutions (a point I think most of the support agreed with). I think you get the picture. Gavin Rose concerned me.

But this year, we’re seeing a new Gavin. He’s more approachable, he seems to be enjoying himself  and enjoying his role, he’s communicating more, he’s not playing as regularly (and when he has, he’s actually looked pretty decent) but most importantly, he’s found a balance of youth and experience, the Hamlet squad is still full of youngsters but there’s now a healthy slice of astute non-league veterans. It’s a combination that’s working and whilst it’s taken 18 months of management and mis-management to get there, I think Gavin Rose is now firmly on the right track. It’s not always been easy and Dulwich won’t win every game they play, but they’ve found a style of neat, confident and intelligent football for which Gavin Rose should be commended.

Post game rub down. On first impressions, Dulwich Hamlet and their stylish pink and blue kit (historically chosen due to original Hamlet player, WT Lloyd’s connections to Westminster School – ‘The Pinks’) paint a rather dandy picture. However, under the surface they are a pretty passionate bunch on the field and in the terraces. On a good day, The Rabble behind the goal will get the crowd going, however, non-league at the Hamlet is about more than just football and there is no one set of supporters that dominate the other, spectators range from small babies in pushchairs to 90 year old men…in pushchairs. If you want to stand round have a chat, a beer and watch some football, so be it (mine’s an IPA). If you want to your kids to get some fresh air while you discuss what happens if little Monty doesn’t get into Dulwich Village Infant School, fine. If you want to learn about the history of club from people who have been following them their entire life, great. It’s safe to say that you get of Champion Hill whatever you want to put in. To this end a trip to watch Dulwich Hamlet at Champion Hill represents the quintessential non-league experience. AND they play in pink!

Dulwich are 9 points off the play-offs with 10 games to go. It’s safe to assume that they probably won’t be going up, but with a strong finish (which looks ever more likely) and cup final in a few weeks Gavin Rose will have done what 4 previous managers have failed to do; have a widely acknowledged good season.  If Dulwich can retain some of their better players in the off-season I genuinely think they might be promotion contenders. In the relatively small number of years I’ve supported Dulwich, I’ve never been able to say that. In the words of Oscar Wilde (presumably when questioned about the Hamlet’s chances of promotion): “The future belongs to the dandy. It is the exquisites who are going to rule”. Up the Pink and Blues!

I told you it wouldn’t be very objective.

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4 Responses to “Dulwich Hamlet”

  1. vornstyle 28 March 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    I wrote a blog post about this very same match. It was my Hamlet virginity, or rather the sloppy loss of it, given I’ve recently moved into the area. I enjoyed, I very much did.

    I like the idea of your blog: a facilitator for people to find a transpontine club, little or large. I guess your aim is to get people to attend football matches, simple. The one issue I’ve noticed, albeit anecdotally, is that whilst there is undoubtedly masses of potential support amongst huge swathes of disenchanted football fans, they tend to (rightly or wrongly) feel disheartened when they turn up at a local non-league club to find a skeletal skin-o’ya-teeth existence. They want big crowds AND “real” smell-the-lino’s-aftershave. Yes, they want their cake and to eat it, the buggers…

    What I’m championing is the idea of getting as many people as possible within given localities to get behind one team. A team with potential, easily accessible and that certain “cool” vibe. It is, of course, an accident of history that this one club in London should be… Dulwich Hamlet.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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