Dulwich Hamlet FC is a non-league football club are based in the South London borough of Southwark, having been formed in 1893 by Lorraine 'Pa' Wilson, of whom there is a blue plaque next to the stadium entrance.
Hamlet became members of the Isthmian League for 1907-08 season, where they settled in before enjoying a monumental 1919-20 campaign. The league title was lifted along with the FA Amateur Cup. Bromley were defeated in the semi final at Wimbledon, before Tufnell Park were beaten 1-0 at The Den in the final.
Hamlet were one of the greatest names in amateur football during this period, playing at their huge Champion Hill stadium after moving from their original home in Woodwarde Road. Hamlet had two full England internationals in the 1920’s.
Goalkeeper Bert Coleman won one cap, while the clubs greatest ever player, Edgar Kail played three times for his country, turning down offers from big clubs to remain with his beloved Hamlet. The approach road to the stadium is called Edgar Kail Way. He scored an amazing 427 goals for the club.
A second Isthmian League title was secured in 1925-26 before a second Amateur Cup was lifted in 1932 by virtue of a 7-1 hammering in the final against Marine at The Boleyn Ground. The 1932-33 season brought another league title to Champion Hill, before they returned to the home of West Ham United to defeat Leyton 2-1 in the final in 1934.
In 1937 Leyton were beaten for a second time, this time 2-0, at the Boleyn Ground as the Amateur Cup was lifted for a fourth time. The Isthmian League was also collected on a fourth occasion after the War in 1948-49, but apart from finishing as runners up in 1958-59 Hamlet were about to enter a period of a drought of the big honours.
Crowds began to drop as people found other entertainment in the 60's. Gradually the cavernous Champion Hill began to fall apart, with the huge terracing suffering from a lack of use and maintenance. It had been used for the 1948 Olympics when a record crowd of 23,485 had packed in.
The team were relegated in 1976-77, although they returned at the first attempt, with future Crystal Palace boss Alan Smith at the helm and winger Ossie Bayram starring. The full length Main Stand suffered a fire at one end which was replaced by a squash club to try and bring in income.
In the early 80's future England midfielder Andy Gray patrolled the middle of the park for Dulwich, followed by a spell from Alan Pardew and a few appearances from Ian Wright before he was discovered by Crystal Palace.
The team were relegated once again in 1989-90, while Champion Hill was deemed unsafe after the Hillsborough disaster, despite only the Main Stand open on match days. It was demolished in 1991, as Hamlet decamped to Sandy Lane, home of rivals Tooting & Mitcham United.
Much of the land belonging to leaseholders Kings' College was sold to Sainsburys, with new housing being built where the old pitch was positioned, while a new smaller stadium was built on the old training pitch, next to a new superstore.
Former Crystal palace defender Jim Cannon led the team back to the Premier League in 1991-92, by courtesy of a third place finish. A young Marlon King cut his teeth playing up front before he was signed by Barnet. In 2000 Peter Crouch made six appearances during a loan spell from Tottenham Hotspur.
A year later Hamlet were relegated to what would become Division One South. Non-league football was restructured in 2004, but Martin Eede's side missed out in a play-off game with Wealdstone after a penalty shoot out, to gain a place in a higher division.
Around this time the club had put forward a plan to sell their ground to Homebase and build a new stadium on the Greendale open space next door. The plans were rejected by the local authorities.
Wayne Burnett and then Craig Edwards had spells in charge of the team before Gavin Rose took over in 2009. Rose, from nearby Peckham, had set up his own ASPIRE football academy in 2002 after his own career had been ended by injury, and he began to give young players an opportunity at Hamlet.
In 2008 the leasehold of the ground was sold by Kings' College to property developers DHPD Ltd. Hamlet's owner of the time Nick McCormack was believed to have loose connections with the company. In 2009 the company put in an unsuccessful bid to sell the ground and build 400 apartments on it. Once again the local authority stood firm.
Promotion was narrowly missed at the end of the 2011-12 season as Hamlet fell in the play offs to Bognor Regis Town. However, Gavin Rose's team put the disappointment behind them as they lifted the Division One South title the following campaign to win promotion to the Premier Division.
The Hamlet Supporters Trust did a sterling job in objecting to two more attempts from DHPD Ltd to redevelop the stadium. Both were rejected by Southwark Council. On 31st May 2012 the property developers went into Administration, which set about some concerns as to the clubs future status at Champion Hill.
A revolution of sorts began to occur at Champion Hill as the club, Supporters Trust and fans began to make Hamlet a hub of the local community. Cheap concessions were offered to servicemen, NHS staff, under 18s and the unemployed. A union was made with Hamburg club Altona 1893 and special fans days were arranged including one for members of the gay and lesbian community.
Crowds began to grow as all the local community got on board and behind the club. A 'pay what you want' day saw an incredible gate of 2,856 fans attend a game, while four figure crowds became a regular occurrence, which was an amazing transformation.
In February 2014 it was announced that Hadley Property Group had become the new leaseholders of Champion Hill as well as taking over the club and paying off substantial debts that had threatened their future.
Hadley were open that they had plans to develop the ground, but they wanted to make sure Hamlet had a suitable new home. An attempt to list Champion Hill as an Asset of Community Value (AVC) from the Trust initially failed, before a new application went in.
Hadley sold Champion Hill to Meadow Residential for £7.5M in February 2014, with the new owners looking to build Hamlet a new stadium while converting the stadium into housing.
Hamlet missed out on promotion in 2014-15 as they succumbed to Margate in the play-off semi-final. Rose's side continued to play fast flowing football to the delight of their crowd. It had led to the transfer of star midfielder Erhun Otzumer to Peterborough United for an undisclosed fee.
The 2015-16 season also ended in play-off disappointment as East Thurrock United ended Hamlet's dream of National League South football. Gavin Rose's side continued to thrill as they played football in the right way throughout the 2016-17 campaign.
They reached the play-offs, where they defeated Enfield Town at Champion Hill before being denied promotion yet again; this time losing the final 2-1 away to Bognor Regis Town. The 2017-18 season was to be dramatic on and off the pitch.
Meadow Residential, owners of Champion Hill had their application to move the club into a purpose built new stadium next door at Greendale turned down by Southwark Council as the plans for Champion Hill didn't include enough social housing.
On the pitch Hamlet were going well, but Meadow were making things difficult for the club by bringing in some draconian measures. One included trying to buy the club name and to stop them using it.
That idea was reneged upon after pressure from the main stream media, but Meadow decided to lock the club out of the ground towards the end of the season, forcing Hamlet to enter into a groundshare at Tooting & Mitcham United.
Fans rallied and sought and received support from senior politicians. Meadow turned down a huge offer for the sight from Rio Ferdinand who wanted to assist the club.
Rose's side finished as league runners-up and defeated Leiston in the semi-finals of the play-offs before beating Hendon in a dramatic final at Tooting in from of an amazing attendance of 3,321 to reach the second tier of the non-league pyramid for the first time.
The campaign finally paid off as Hamlet returned to Champion Hill in December 2018 as the club finished their National League season in fourteenth position. The club came to national attention the following season when their FA Cup first round home tie was shown on live TV by the BBC.
Sadly, Mishi Morath a stalwart supporter who did much to enhance the clubs community projects and increase its attendances passed away shortly before Christmas 2019. Mishi was an extrovert and an inspiration. I was glad I met his acquaintance and I dedicate this page to his memory.
Dulwich Hamlet FC will compete in the National League South in the 2021-22 season.
Dulwich Hamlet 1 Hendon 2 Saturday 11th February 1984 (Isthmian League Premier Division)
This proved to be my only visit to the old Champion Hill, and I’m so glad I made the effort. I was a student at the time in Boreham Wood and I would get to occasional matches when money and enthusiasm allowed. This was one ground I was determined not to miss out on.
I caught the train to East Dulwich station which was virtually next door. I walked past the entrance to King’s College and then up the driveway to the corner of the Main Stand and the turnstile block .
I’m not sure why I didn’t go into the clubhouse which was built into the back of the stand, but I wish I had after speaking to pals in later years who’d used the snooker rooms in there. I went inside and got chatting to a Hamlet fan who had previously lived fairly locally but had moved to Andover in Hampshire. We chatted a lot through the afternoon.
The stadium was ageing, but I loved it. It had four massive traditional corner floodlight pylons, which were quite unusual for non league grounds. To my right there was an open terrace behind the goal. The far end was similar although slightly bigger.
The outstanding feature though was the Main Stand. It had a big tier of seating with a wall at the front and then a few rows of paddocked terracing. The players came out on the half way line up a few steps onto the playing surface.
It really was the best non league ground I think I ever went to in terms of character. A memory of the afternoon was graffiti on the back of an advertising hording which faced the crowd down the side, proclaiming "Enfield are Wankers"!
Dulwich Hamlet 1 Barnet 2 (Sunday 18th July 1999) Friendly
This match was a pre season friendly played for some reason on a Sunday lunchtime. If my memory serves me right it was in recognition of Marlon King moving from Hamlet to Barnet in the Football League.
I’d popped down earlier in the Spring when I was lodging temporarily with my brother Paul in nearby Loughborough Junction, but couldn’t see properly inside. It was very smart and functional but lacking the real character of before. The ground had obviously changed since the last game I’d seen there.
Three sides consisted of flat standing with an occasional few steps to aid viewing. A basic cover offered protection to the elements on the far side. However, the Main Stand had been thoughtfully designed and was in keeping with a club of Hamlet’s historical standing.
Dulwich Hamlet 1 Grays Athletic 2 (Saturday 20th January 2001) Isthmian Premier League (att: 412)
This was a bit of an unexpected match, but there was very little choice in the capital owing to snow and frost which drew attracted a larger than usual attendance. Carl Ellis and Steve Spence had pre booked their train tickets to go to Scarborough’s game at Kingstonian several weeks earlier, and as no refund was available they came down regardless.
Before long we were in the Greyhound pub opposite the stadium. It wasn’t much to write home about to say the least so we went across the road, paid our admission money and used the clubhouse at the back of the stand.
There were plans for everyone to observe regarding yet another new ground on more land behind the current site which had been untouched after the previous redevelopment. I’m not sure what happened there?
I called in once again to take some photos of the stadium one autumn afternoon in 2007. The Polish receptionist to the sports and leisure centre seemed a little bemused, but let me in through the automatic door so I could snap away at leisure.
The only problem seemed to be the rumours doing the rounds about the landlords of the stadium and their financial status. The management had called an open meeting with fans a couple of weeks later to try and re-assure them.
Thamesmead should have levelled things but Mullings free header glanced wide of the post. Any heavy contact would have resulted in a goal.
Dulwich Hamlet 5 Kingstonian 1 (Saturday 26th December 2015) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 1,713)
The Oval was well on its way to having a new structure built to replace the old Peter May and Lock Stands. Progress looked to be going well. The driver of the 185 bus didn’t seem in much of a rush as we crawled past Camberwell and Denmark Hill. Any hopes of a pre match snorter rapidly disappeared.
Champion Hill hadn't changed since my previous call, although it was nice to see that the Main Stand had been renamed The Tommy Jover in recognition of a former player and President who gave Hamlet seventy years service until his death in 2008 at the age of 91.
Pinnock’s long clearance got caught in the wind from his own half and nearly beat the keeper. Then the custodian tipped a rasping Albert Jarrett shot onto the top of the bar and over.
Dulwich Hamlet 0 Hendon 2 (Saturday 17th September 2016) FA Cup Second Qualifying Round (att: 822)
Dulwich Hamlet 4 Enfield Town 2 (Thursday 27th April 2017) Isthmian League Premier Division Play-Off Semi-Final (att: 2,517)
What followed for the next twenty minutes was desperate. I felt for the couple running it, with their kid in a baby seat behind the counter. I wanted to jump over the counter and help them out. Disorganised would be a compliment. The food was excellent when we got it, but what a wait. Many left without being served.
A second disappointment was to follow. We bought advanced print at home tickets to ensure attendance and beat any potential congestion and to assist the club, so it was a tad disappointing to be sent round the houses to a turnstile right round the far end, and then once inside to find nobody selling programmes; meaning walking back to where weI would have entered if we’d have been a cash customers.
Dulwich Hamlet 0 Hendon 1 (Tuesday 12th September 2017) Isthmian Premier League (att: 659)
At Imperial Fields, Tooting & Mitcham United
Dulwich Hamlet 1 Hendon 1 after extra time; Dulwich won 4-3 on penalties (Monday 7th May 2018) Isthmian League Premier Division Play Off Final (att: 3,321)
The return to Imperial Fields later I the season was in complete contrast to the March visit in terms of weather and attendance for the Tooting v Hendon game. Hamlet had been evicted from their Champion Hill home by owners, Meadow Residential, and were residing at Tooting during the dispute.
Nathan Green was causing plenty of problems for the Hendon defence out wide; who’s skipper Casey Maclaren was having a tremendous game. The Hamlet defence were well organised and doubled up quickly on any attacking Dons player.