By Damon Threadgold, therealfacup.co.uk
Football, not a topic often covered in these pages but, with good reason, this week sees its’ return. Locally, there’s a few big-ish, well known football clubs like Crystal Palace, Millwall and Charlton. Lower down the football pyramid and just the other side of Denmark Hill is a grand old dame of non league football, Dulwich Hamlet. Dreamy.
For the last few years, against the odds, Hamlet have been in or around the top of Ryman Division 1 South, the 8th tier of English football. In 2011 they got to the play offs with a late surge and lost in the final to Leatherhead. Last season, having been top for a good chunk of it, they slipped away in the last few weeks, missed out on automatic promotion and then lost narrowly to Bognor Regis Town in the play off final. This season, with ex-league club Maidstone back at full strength and with a new ground facilitating their regular 1500+ crowds, it was assumed Hamlet would again be the bridesmaids.
That assumption seemed well-founded as the last few windows of advent were opened. With games in hand and a 5-0 thumping of Hamlet back in October, the Kent gentlemen headed towards the Christmas fixtures as league leading favourites. In the last three weeks, however, Dulwich’s unbeaten league run stretched out to 11 games and Maidstone started inexplicably dropping points, to the extent that their games in hand are a dim recollection and the two go into this weekend’s big clash neck and neck on points at the top of the table.
In Ellis Green and Nyren Clunis Hamlet have two quick and tricky wingers, in Erhun Oztumer they have the guile and dead ball skills that can open up stubborn opposition and in Danny Carr they have the clinical left foot to keep the goals racking up. It is, of course, unfair to single these four out because the whole team has performed superbly and consistently in the last two months but word limits, time and the obvious inclination of fans to revere attacking talent means we must draw a line somewhere. At times, the whole team are genuinely exciting to watch, certainly justifying the meagre £9 you pay to get in. In short, they’re actually quite good but don’t say it too loudly else bigger clubs will steal them all.
As a community hub, Hamlet have a plethora of youth teams that promote manager Gavin Rose’s brand of ‘proper’ football. The club bar has long been revered in non league for its vista that overlooks and runs half the length of the pitch. It has rarely been much to shout about beyond that but has recently been revamped with added flock wall paper, dartboard, Shepherd Neame tap and a bespoke ‘Hamlets Lager’, which now makes it an increasingly welcoming venue.
Although this one game will not decide the division, a second Hamlet defeat to Maidstone could put a big dent in their promotion aspirations. Similarly, the ‘Stones resources will mean a loss at the weekend could still easily be overcome. Either way, the Kentish Men (and women) will converge in large numbers on East Dulwich this Saturday looking to reclaim their Spitfire. Us locals will need to come out in force to make ourselves heard. If you can’t be there, follow the #dhfc Twitter hashtag for updates. If you can, wear pink and sing “Gavin Rose’s pink and blue army” – and hope the weather plays ball.
- Dulwich Hamlet .v. Maidstone United at Champion Hill, 3pm Saturday 19th January
- See @dulwichhamletfc to make sure the pitch isn’t frozen
- Damon Threadgold - therealfacup.co.uk