Dulwich Hamlet vs Wealdstone

It seems like a long time ago, but until the 1990s if you wanted to see a top football match you could simply turn up a few minutes before kickoff and pay at the turnstiles. This was the case even for top games such as Arsenal vs Liverpool. The game would kick off at three o’clock on Saturday afternoon, not at some far less convenient time chosen by the TV companies. If the game wasn’t featured on Match of the Day or ITV’s Big Match, the only way to see it was to be there in person. Furthermore, it was no more expensive than going to see a movie.

But those days aren’t entirely gone.  On 8 September, more than 1,100 fans saw Dulwich Hamlet play out an entertaining 1-all draw against high-flying Wealdstone at Dulwich’s home from home, Tooting & Mitcham United’s Imperial Fields stadium.

Newly-promoted to the National League South, Dulwich had been finding life tough at the higher level, and had lost their last three home games. The most recent defeat, a poor performance against Hampton & Richmond Borough, had prompted manager Gavin Rose to make wholesale changes to the team.

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The most vociferous Dulwich fans, known as the Rabble, take up position behind the goal the home side will be attacking in the first half.

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At this point, the Wealdstone end is only modestly populated, but with a only a few minutes before kickoff many ‘Stones fans are still queuing outside the ground.

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The teams shake hands before kickoff.

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The visitors have the best of the first half, and lead by a penalty. Half time sees not only the teams but also the fans change ends. Wealdstone have brought around 200 fans, and they are in good voice.

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But the Rabble are also in good voice, urging the Hamlet to stage a second half comeback.

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The second half gets underway.

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A much better second half performance ensues from Dulwich, but Wealdstone hold on as the clock runs down. It is beginning to look like another afternoon of frustration at Imperial Fields.

Then, on 80 minutes, Anthony Cook levels for the home side with this superb strike – his first goal for the club.

There are further chances at both ends, but no more goals and the match ends all square.

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The two teams leave the field. Both sets of fans are happy with the result, which has seen the Hamlet end a run of three successive home defeats.

All this for twelve quid, or if you are over sixty like me – a fiver. What not to like!

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Victoria Park, Hartlepool

It’s not the Nou Camp or the Bernabeu – this is Victoria Park, the home of Hartlepool United FC since 1886.

Founded in 1908 as Hartlepools United, the club originally represented the towns of West Hartlepool and Old Hartlepool. The name was changed to simply Hartlepool FC in 1967 when the two Hartlepools were merged into a single county borough; the ‘United’ was re-instated in 1977.

By whatever name, it is fair to say that Hartlepool United have never set the footballing world alight. The club were founder members of League Division Three North in 1921 and to this day have never competed above the third tier of the English league system. During the era when the Football League was virtually a closed shop, the ‘Monkey Hangers’ set an unwanted record of having to apply for re-election fourteen times. Prior to 1986-87, there was no automatic promotion or relegation to or from the Football League, but the bottom four clubs had to seek re-election. Only occasionally would a member club be voted out in favour of a non-league hopeful.

Hartlepool’s major claim to fame is to have been the first club managed by the legendary Brian Clough. Another manager who enjoyed success at Victoria Park was the former Spurs and England defender Cyril Knowles, whose life was cut tragically short by cancer at the age of 47, and who now has a stand named for him.

As recently as 2013, Hartlepool United were playing League One football, but relegation that season ended their longest-ever period (six years) out of the bottom tier. Unfortunately, the decline continued and a second-from-bottom League Two finish in 2016-17 finally ended the club’s so often charmed life in the Football League.

The fight to save Dulwich Hamlet FC

Dulwich Hamlet FC have recently attracted considerable media attention having become caught in the crossfire between residential property developers Meadow Residential LLP and the London Borough of Southwark Council. Meadow, who bought Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill stadium in 2014, want to build housing on the site, and relocate the football club to an adjacent plot of public land known as Greendale. The proposal was rejected by Southwark as it does not meet their criteria for affordable housing. There are also concerns about building a new football stadium on Greendale, which enjoys strong protection as Metropolitan Open Land. Since the planning application was knocked back, relations between Dulwich Hamlet and their landlords have deteriorated sharply.

Dulwich Hamlet are one of the great names of the amateur era. The club was founded 125 years ago by Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson and joined the Isthmian League in 1907. The Isthmian League was then the country’s top amateur league.

During the interwar and early postwar periods, Dulwich Hamlet won the FA Amateur Cup on four occasions and were Isthmian League Champions on four occasions. The club’s Champion Hill stadium, opened in 1931, could hold 30,000 and was by some way the largest non-league ground in the country. Crowds in excess of 20,000 were quite normal.

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The old Champion Hill stadium, seen during a friendly against Fulham in August 1988 (photo credit: ‘Nick from Bristol’, Creative Commons ‘Attribution 2.0 Generic’ ).

Standards within the amateur game were very high at that time, not very far below those of the professional game. Two Dulwich players were capped for the full England side: Bert Coleman in 1921 and Edgar Kail in 1929. The latter, who scored 427 goals for the Hamlet in a seventeen-year career, was the last non-league player to play for England. In the 1990s, the approach road to Champion Hill was renamed Edgar Kail Way in his honour.

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Blue Plaque in honour of Edgar Kail. He was the last amateur playing for a non-league club to play for England, but Arsenal’s Bernard Joy played for England as an amateur in 1936.

Later years brought leaner times. The Hamlet were twice relegated from the top flight of the Isthmian League, although they were soon promoted back on both occasions. Following the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster, the by now dilapidated Champion Hill stadium was demolished, and a new but more modest stadium built on the same site. At the same time, the club’s training pitch was sold to make way for a large Sainsbury’s. In 2001, the club suffered a third relegation, and this time there was no quick return to the top flight.

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Main stand of the new Champion Hill stadium (photo credit: Katie Chan, Creative Commons ‘Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0’)

In recent years, the club has enjoyed an astonishing revival under the management of former player Gavin Rose. The Hamlet returned to the top flight in 2013 and have since been pushing for promotion to the National League South. At the time of writing, despite their off the pitch worries, they lead the Isthmian League Premier Division by five points. Attendances frequently exceed 2,000 –  better than those of all but a handful of non-league clubs, and indeed some League Two sides. The club is popular not only with locals but with disenchanted fans of Premier League sides, unhappy with astronomical ticket prices and kick-off times that are dictated by the needs of the TV companies and not the fans. The club’s fan base have styled themselves ‘The Rabble’ and the ‘Dultras’. They are known for embracing LBGT rights and other progressive causes.

All of this is now under threat. On 6 March, Dulwich Hamlet were evicted from Champion Hill for alleged ‘repeated breaches’ of their licence. Later that day, a partner of the law firm Blake Morgan LLP wrote to the football club informing them that a subsidiary of Meadow had registered ‘Dulwich Hamlet Football Club’, ‘The Hamlet’, and ‘DHFC’ as trademarks, and that these could no longer be used by the club.

If the attempted trademarking was an egregious attempt to force Dulwich Hamlet FC out of business, it backfired disastrously. For several days, the Twitter account of Blake Morgan was bombarded with hostile tweets from outraged football fans of many clubs. By the next day, the profile of the partner signing the letter to the football club had been removed from Blake Morgan’s website. Shortly afterwards, Meadow backtracked, claiming that the trademarks registrations would be handed over to the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust.

Questions must in any case be asked about the absurdity of trying to trademark the name of a 125-year-old football club; ‘The Hamlet’ was the name of a ward within the former Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell and as such cannot be trademarked; and Dulwich Hamlet FC shares its initials with the Manchester club Daisy Hill FC. Why did the government intellectual property office not reject the claim? Why did Blake Morgan LLP not warn their client that the move was ill advised?

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Go on, sue!

Dulwich Hamlet has since agreed a groundshare with local rivals Tooting and Mitcham FC, and Southwark Council is taking steps to acquire the Champion Hill site for the football club and a smaller development of affordable housing. A #SaveDHFC rally on 17 March was well attended, and the club have received the backing of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party.

Meadow, for their part, previously rejected an approach from former Manchester United and England footballer Rio Ferdinand, a friend of Gavin Rose, to purchase the site for his affordable housing company, Legacy Foundation. In an ominous development fencing has been erected around the Champion Hill stadium.

 

Don’t fence me in – the fencing erected around the Champion Hill stadium also blocks access to the Greendale and to an electricity substation.

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A warning that security cameras in operation has been placed on public signage; it has been defaced and a sticker proclaiming Dulwich Hamlet and the Rabble placed alongside it.

Meadow should heed the lessons of history.

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Walls do not endure forever (Photo credit: ‘Lear 21 at English Wikipedia’ Creative Commons ‘By-SA 3.0’)

UPDATE: Despite the adversity off the pitch, Dulwich Hamlet finished runners up in the Isthmian League Premier Division, their highest placing since the 1950s. On 7 May, The Hamlet defeated Hendon 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the Isthmian League Play-off final to gain promotion to the National League Division One South. This ended 111 years continuous membership of the Isthmian League.