Welcome to my blog covering clubs and stadiums in the English League System along with the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and their maintenance.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible.

I was fortunate that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately heightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done, I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a try today. They'll be delighted to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad, Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby as he grows into a young man!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on YouTube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click here to see Volume Two of HAOTW, which covers everything non English.

Rob Bernard


May 2020

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dulwich Hamlet

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.

My visits 

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 insidand 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. 

Opposite was a huge terracing with a large roof over it. There were crush barriers scattered around the terracing which was made of sleepers with trodden down steps. 

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"!

Little did I know that over thirty years later I'd be a London resident and regular Hendon home and away fan. The Dons goals of this occasion were scored by Steve Wilkins and substitute Gary Allen. 

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. 

The single tier of seats were raised above pitch level. There was access into the clubhouse and office facilities at the rear. The high wall of the sports facilities in the building had an ornamental fascia. It all looked very impressive. 

Out on the pitch the Barnet goals were scored by Mark Arber and John Doolan. King was in the forefront of a mass shoving match, before hiding behind teammates after getting a proper slap from Hamlet's Mark Garland who was sent off.

Many thanks to Richard Watts, a loyal Hamlet fan contributor on the invaluable and never dull Non League Matters Forum, which can be accessed here for his help with this and the Grays game below. Also to the brilliant Football Archives website, who helped me with my appeal on the above forum. They can be accessed here, after a free registration is completed.

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.

Boro’s match predictably fell foul of the conditions so I was left to suss out the afternoons activities. Dulwich seemed a good choice, so after getting the thumbs up over a beer in King’s Cross we set out to catch a train from London Bridge. 

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? 

The game wasn’t brilliant, but the players did their best in treacherous conditions. Mervin Abraham scored for Hamlet with an Andy Douglas double taking the points back to Essex. If I recall correctly we kept warm with a combination of drinking Bovril and doing those silly little exercises with our feet and legs which don’t really serve a great deal of purpose! 

August 2007

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.

Dulwich Hamlet 2 Thamesmead Town 0 (Tuesday 11th February 2014) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 488)

The rain continued to fall in the south of England with PM Cameron suddenly taking an interest as the Home Counties began to suffer from flooding. The weather was seriously meddling with the football fixture list. All of my intended new ground ticks were going under by the hour, but I was determined to get out and see some live action.

My mood was good after the tube strike had been averted at work and I’d sorted my payments for the forthcoming Chiang Mai International Cricket Sixes. Following a siesta I checked to see what was left. I plumped for a first visit to Champion Hill in over a dozen years.

It was fitting that I should find myself there after seeing Ray Mort and his greyhound on the vast terraces and enclosure of the original Champion Hill in the first ever episode of The Sweeney on the box earlier in the week. I knew that the Premier Division generally offered a good standard of football and I was looking forward to getting out. 

My journey was good, as I could take a direct train from West Hampstead Thameslink to Denmark Hill. I managed to get a table in the busy Fox on the Hill Wetherspoon outlet close to the station to enjoy the excellent value Chicken & Rib Combo Meal on Steak Night along with a fine pint of Sambrook’s Pale Ale before I took the ten minute walk to the ground.

It was nice to see a small queue at the gate. Dartford manager Tony Burnham was in front of me as his side’s game had been postponed. Admission was £10, with the excellent programme costing another £1.50. I popped upstairs to the bar at the back of the stand, where a hand pulled pint of Spitfire set me back £3.50.

I took up a position towards the end the ‘Pink and Blue Army’ were attacking. Hamlet were backed by their vocal following behind the goal, known as 'The Rabble' with their banners and original football songs. The songs adapted for the Hamlet’s needs were California (Dulwich Hamlet) Uber Alles, Gangsters, Lip Up Fatty, Duchess, Holy Holiday and Seven Nations Army.

The match looked likely to be a home win on paper. Hamlet were second in the league and having their best spell for decades with increasing crowds and Gavin Rose’s team playing scintillating football. Town were in their first season at that level and were hovering above the relegation zone. Good recent form had pulled them away from the bottom places, where relegation had looked a formality earlier in the campaign.

The diminutive Erhun Öztümer was the divisions second top scorer and I soon saw how, as he weaved his magic just behind the forwards, spreading play, twisting and turning and making clever runs. He looked a class act.

However, Thamesmead were not there just to make up the numbers. The home crowd were given serious worries as they carved out some decent chances of their own. Giant forward Shamir Mullings was causing problems and could have given Mead the lead before home custodian, the well travelled Chico Ramos, made up for an error with a fine stop. Ramos made another couple of decent stops while the Town defence kept out Hamlet one way or another as the home side patiently tried to breach their rearguard.

It was a cold but dry night so I treated myself to a huge cup of Bovril for just a quid. The catering prices looked very fair for a ground so close to the centre of London. Lots of fans were wearing Hamlet colours, which suggested a flourishing set up. 

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.

It was really encouraging to seeing lots of fans less than thirty years of age, of all colours, creeds and salaries. There were several young couples and families. They used it as a good night out, enjoying beers and watching their local club.

After a blank first half, Hamlet took the lead three minutes into the second period. Öztümer brilliantly rode a challenge before letting go with a rasping shot that Mead keeper Sam Mott did well to keep out, but Nyren Clunis followed up to finish well. The sticky pitch was causing plenty of slips and spills, as the game ebbed and flowed as I went down the covered side where 'The Dultras' were located.

Town weren’t done and carried on trying to attack directly, while the home side played the more intricate stuff. I was impressed with midfield anchorman Xavier Vidal who was controlling play as well as firing in some scorching shots, some of which the excellent Mott did well to keep out. 

Thamesmead should have levelled things but Mullings free header glanced wide of the post. Any heavy contact would have resulted in a goal.

Hamlet seemed to wake after the scare, with the introduction of left winger Jordan Clarke offering a new outlet. Play was stretched and the home side looked to double their tally. They eventually did just that in the final minute as a Mathieu Boyer shot was pushed onto the bar by Mott, but Öztümer followed up to smash home the rebound.

The fans filed away a minute or so later in a happy mood. I had also thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was like going to a proper game. Everything was right, from the PA man, music and general experience to the match. Only a late West Brom equaliser against Chelsea slightly spoiled it, as it ruined my seven team accumulator; but you can’t have it all!

I went back into the city on the bus to Aldgate from outside the ground, bringing back memories of when I first moved to London staying with my brother Paul, as our route went through Camberwell Green and up the Walworth Road.

I made a vow that it wouldn't be a dozen years before I returned. Dulwich Hamlet Uber Alles!

Dulwich Hamlet 5 Kingstonian 1 (Saturday 26th December 2015) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 1,713)

I’d promised myself a return to Champion Hill and my night shift and very limited Boxing Day travel options offered me a perfect opportunity. After watching the opening salvos of the South Africa v England Test, I took the tube to Vauxhall. The 185 bus wasn’t due for a further ten minutes so I went for a quick walk to the next stop.

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.

It was somewhat unique to have to queue to get into a game at Step 3 level, but Hamlet really were appealing to the local community. It was tremendous to see groups of fans heading to a non league game.

Admission was £10, although Hamlet offered a wide range of concessions for £4, which no doubt explained their increased support. Inside the gate I purchased a decent programme for £2 and a fanzine with some interesting stuff inside for a further quid.

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.

The club were getting most things right. The club shop was knocking out souvenirs to the few fans not already wearing Hamlet colours. Two concessions sold good quality burgers and sausages. They were not cheap, but they looked top class. Fans were coming outside with pints from the busy bar, while I was most impressed to be only charged 80p for a tea.

Despite the packed crowd I managed to get a place against the pitch side fence right on the half way line where ‘The Rabble’ were congregated. Dulwich came into the game at the top of the table, with the K’s occupying the final play off spot.

The size of some of the visiting players took me aback. I thought Northwich Victoria had some big lads, but Kingstonian matched them; particularly centre forward Ricky Sappleton, who was nearly bursting out of his kit.

It was the visitors who opened the scoring on eleven minutes when a driving Harold Odamatey run was allowed to go on too long without a challenge. He set up Sappleton who slotted home in from of the 50 or so visiting fans.

It seemed to me that Dulwich had a weakness through the middle in defence, although they quickly began to play some lovely football going forward. Half way through the first period they were level as an Ashley Carew free kick on goal was headed home by Danny Waldren.

The K’s looked a decent team, but they were really being put to the test. Their keeper Rob Tolfrey pulled off a couple of excellent stops, but he was left helpless on the half hour mark as Ryan Moss tapped home a driven cross from Dean McDonald after half an hour.

Carew made it 3-1 six minutes before the break with a stunning free kick from twenty five yards. At the interval I had a walk round he busy standing areas. It was impressive to see so many families in attendance.

Champion Hill had many stickers and slogans plastered on the walls, and there were plenty of hipsters around. Fortunately, unlike my experience at Clapton, I found them in the minority. There were still plenty of old boys going to Hamlet.

Three minutes after the restart another Carew free kick caused havoc in the K’s goalmouth. A defender headed against his own post. Ethan Pinnock didn’t hang around, and hooked the ball in to make it 4-1.

The football from the home side really was good to watch. The poor visiting defenders were been led a merry dance once Hamlet got control of the centre of the park. Several chances were created without a finishing touch.

With twenty minutes remaining Hamlet made it five, as Damian Scannell robbed a defender before squaring to Moss to crouch and ‘knee’ the ball into the net. Tolfrey made a couple of top class stops to keep the score down. 

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.

Just before full time I made a dash to beat the crowds. Within a couple of minutes I was on a bus which was not the fastest, but it got me to Elephant & Castle where I caught a tube. The train from Baker Street contained plenty of Watford fans on their way home from their side’s game at Chelsea.

I was home just gone 6pm after another really good time down at Champion Hill. Again I couldn’t really fault my experience and best of all, the football was really pleasing on the eye. It later transpired that Rio Ferdinand had also been an impressed spectator at the ground.

Dulwich Hamlet 0 Hendon 2 (Saturday 17th September 2016) FA Cup Second Qualifying Round (att: 822)

The magic of the FA Cup was luring me to Champion Hill to watch my new local side Hendon in action. The day was panning out well as I’d already been to the National League clash between Sutton United and Tranmere Rovers.

Following that match I’d taken the train from West Sutton to Tulse Hill, where I changed to arrive at East Dulwich just as the crowds were gathering. Admission into the ground was £10, with a programme full of content for £2.

The bar at the rear of the stand was a busy place. With the match being an FA controlled game, no drinks were permitted outside of the bar; a feature that attracts many down to Hamlet for a sociable afternoon out.

I stood behind the goal that Hendon were attacking, and the early signs were giving those cheering on the visitors plenty to shout about. The pace of Karl Oliyide was causing havoc, as it did in the league clash between the sides at Silver Jubilee Park a couple of weeks earlier.

Dulwich were being shut down by a masterful display from midfield brothers Kevin and Casey Maclaren. The home side were doing plenty of whinging, but the referee stood firm. Hendon missed a couple of good opportunities before they made their fine display count.

Oliyide again caused havoc down the left before delivering his cross to the feet of Niko Muir, who was given time to turn and shoot and to find the bottom corner of the net with his effort. I celebrated with a half time pint!

Straight after the restart Hendon were awarded a free kick just outside the box. Spencer McCall shaped to shoot but he laid the ball wide to Luke Tingay who’ effort was deflected past a stranded Preston Edwards in the Hamlet goal.

Dulwich tried their utmost to try and get back into the match, but Hendon’s collective effort wasn’t going to give way. The home side were unfortunate when substitute Alex Teniola saw his shot come back off the inside of the post.

In the end it was a much deserved victory for the Dons. I hung around for a pint and had a very pleasant chat with Kevin Maclaren who had been near to my hometown of Scarborough a week or so earlier for a family occasion.

The chip shop between the ground and station provided me with my tea before I headed off into the city to meet my mates Steve Barnes and Steve Speller who’d watched another dismal home performance from Leyton Orient in the Wenlock Arms and then The Fountain for plenty of libation.

Dulwich Hamlet 2 Hendon 1 (Monday 2nd January 2017) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 1,146)

This turned out to be a very enjoyable afternoon out, even if I'd have preferred a different result. Because I was fairly restricted booze wise because I had one night shift to complete, I met my pal Steve Barnes a little later than usual.

We took the tube to Canada Water and then a train down to Denmark Hill. My knowledgeable drinking partner had lined up a couple of pubs in Camberwell, but strangely not one pub was open down there. They either party late or Santa had failed to deliver alarm clocks for Christmas?

Not to be dismayed we headed to the excellent East Dulwich Tavern, which served near perfect Hophead, showed the live game on TV and had very listenable music in the background at just the right volume.

We headed up to Champion Hill where the welcome was first class. Admission was £10 for me, but only £3 for a happy Steve as he’s over 60. The programme was a double issue with the match against Wingate & Finchley a couple of days previously. Unfortunately the thirsty hordes had supped all the guest ales on Saturday, but the Courage was perfectly palatable.

There was also a decent selection of craft cans at a fair enough price, both in the bar and in a tent in the top corner. I have to give credit with everyone connected with Hamlet. In hindsight there have been times where I feel they have gone too "ultra" but really enjoyed this latest visit.

Perhaps the bag searches for taking your own booze into the ground had ensured that those turning up were there for the football, rather to be seen there. Our company was also boosted by the appearance of Silver Jubilee Park manager Tom Stockman, along with his brother and eldest son.

I had put a fiver on Hendon at 5/1 as I’d seen signs of improvement at Staines on New Years Eve and I noted that Hamlet had only drawn. Well I can only surmise that either Wingate & Finchley were brilliant or lucky, or that Dulwich had an off day; because they were excellent on this occasion with some really lovely fast flowing football which was as easy on the eye as the EDT clientele.

Fortunately Tom Lovelock looked the part in the Dons net and there were signs of defensive cohesion, which was just as well as they came under more pressure than a Boxing Day dunny. Dulwich eventually found the breakthrough on twenty five minutes. Marc Weatherstone crossed for Ibra Sekajja, but his header was superbly saved by Lovelock, only for Ashley Carew to force the ball home.

Hamlet continued to pile on the pressure, but fine goalkeeping and resolute defending kept them at bay. At the other end, Hendon had an occasional foray, but the home defence looked in good order.

It was more of the same after the break as a series of chances and crosses seemed to flashing across the visitor’s box. It was 2-0 just after the hour mark as a Kenny Beaney shot took a wicked deflection out of the reach of a stranded Lovelock and went into the top corner of the net. Soon after Sekajja had a goal chalked off for offside, before Hendon through caution to the wind and rallied.

Reis Stanislaus pulled a goal back as Hendon's players never stopped trying and putting in a proper shift. His cross come shot took a deflection and looped over Preston Edwards in the Hamlet net and went in off the far post.

The final ten minutes was quality end to end stuff as the Dons strived for a vital equaliser. A fine block from Marc Weatherstone denied Karl Oliyide an unlikely equaliser, but Hamlet also looked like adding to their tally as they continued to play some smashing football.

In the end the correct side deservedly took the spoils.

I fully expected Hamlet to finish in the play offs as a minimum, while Hendon showed real hope going forward; especially with a sixteen year old and two seventeen year olds featuring over the holiday period.

Fortunately, a Southern Trains service arrived on time at East Dulwich at 5.07 and I was back indoors for the second half of West Ham United v Manchester United, scratching my head as to why fans put up with paying daft prices and sitting in a different postcode to the pitch week in week out. But it does take all sorts!

Dulwich Hamlet 4 Enfield Town 2 (Thursday 27th April 2017) Isthmian League Premier Division Play-Off Semi-Final (att: 2,517)

Having visited Champion Hill on many occasions in the past, this was probably the best yet. I’d been for tea in Regents Park with Ross Sullivan before taking the Northern line and then a National Rail train from London Bridge to East Dulwich where I met regular football pal Tony Foster.

We decided to grab something to eat at the Dulwich Hamlet Fish & Chip Bar. While the business was nothing to do with the club, they were smart enough to jump on their name. Therefore, I expected them to be geared up on a matchday; especially a big one like a play-off.
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.

I realise just how difficult logistics and getting volunteers can be from my time with Scarborough Athletic and watching Hendon, but with no sign of Hamlet's popularity abating it may have been a situation for club officials to think about?

Tony grabbed us two excellent seats for no extra charge while I got the beers in. Hamlet continued to impress with their matchday experience. The hand pulled Hamlet Pale Ale was top class and Tony said that the Hamlet Lager was decent. I finished off my tea with my pint while chatting to the amiable bloke next to me who knew his non-league but was a season ticket holder at Crystal Palace and a member at Surrey CCC.

Champion Hill was packed by kick off, with Enfield having a sizeable support. The atmosphere was crackling and the crowd only had forty seven seconds to wait before Ibra Sekajja was slotted through to score with a low drive.

The same player made it 2-0 on thirty one minutes when his header at the far post went in the corner. Enfield had not played badly at all, but Hamlet were buzzing and playing at full speed. Just a minute later Sekajja struck a massive blow when he seized on some terrible defending to score with a sublime lob over Nathan McDonald in the Towners net.

Emotions slightly spilled over in the shed on the far side before stewards restored order. Tackles were flying in on the pitch, but referee Jason Richardson was doing a fine job in letting the game flow as much as possible and using common sense when handing out cards despite plenty of verbal advice from the players.

Enfield gave themselves hope seven minutes before the break when a corner led to the ball staying in the Dulwich area. Billy Crook fired a low shot across goal which took a deflection and went in at the near post with Hamlet custodian Preston Edwards stranded.

There was no chance of getting refreshments at the break, so we stayed put and had a chat with our neighbour. We all agreed that the next goal would be vital. Town came flying out of the blocks flying after the break and missed a guilt edged chance soon after.

Hamlet regrouped after a spell of being put under the pump and gradually got a grip of the game. On sixty five minutes they extended their lead when the excellent Sekajja set up Gavin Tomlin to fire home to the joy of the massed ranks behind the goal.

Enfield made substitutions but it wasn’t going to be their night, despite playing OK. The ref could easily have sent off both Town’s Scott Shulton and Hamlet’s Ibrahim Kargbo when they got involved in a serious fracas n the deck after another crunching challenge. We were in agreement that it was nice to see the official calm things down and consider the occasion rather than rushing to show cards.

Edwards made a fine save from Shulton and another brilliant stop from the subdued Harry Ottaway who pulled a goal back with a fine hooked shot with five minutes remaining. Hamlet continued to press rather than just seeing the game out, which was another pleasing feature of the game.

We moved to the gate and departed just twenty seconds before the full time whistle, so we could definitely catch the 9.50 train back to London Bridge. The platform was soon very busy with fans, while the celebrations a couple of hundred yards away were loud and proud.

Bognor Regis Town won the other semi-final to set up a home final against Hamlet the following Bank Holiday Monday. 

Dulwich Hamlet 0 Hendon 1 (Tuesday 12th September 2017) Isthmian Premier League (att: 659)

Whether it was just tiredness with the incessant change in shifts, or a genuine dislike for the job, I left Ickenham station to watch the final session of the first day of the County Championship match between Surrey and Yorkshire at The Oval downbeat.

My mood had darkened as the White Rose were being flayed to all parts of the ground with relegation beginning to look a distinct possibility. I didn’t really need niggling texts throughout the day reminding me of the score either.

The final session went to form. My eight hours at work had become the highlight of the day. At least I got a decent pint in the Laker Stand. At the close of play I scurried off to search for more libation.

On my previous visit to Hamlet to watch Hendon, we’d been denied beers in Camberwell; but this time I enjoyed a Hophead in The Hermit’s Cave; a decent enough, if tad pretentious boozer and then another pint in the Phoenix at Denmark Hill in a similar setting.

Food was taken at the chippy near the ground; which thankfully gave immediate service on this occasion. Admission was £11 and the programme was full of reading as ever for £2. I purchased a golden gamble ticket from Hamlet stalwart Mishi Morath; whose fanzine I first read in the 80’s.

Sadly there was only dark ale on the clubhouse, along with a wide range of craft beers in cans. I’m afraid that I’d fallen out with that particular concept of drinking, and was finding the whole hipster culture that tended to surround it, a little unpalatable.

It was good to note that Dulwich’s lovely little team bar still sold a cuppa for 80p. I took up a position behind the goal, before trying for a short while down the side throughout the first half. The difference in two small groups at that end was startling.

The hardy Hendon fans weren’t going to win any fashion awards or drink in any trendy establishments, but they kicked every kick; shouting encouragement and caring deeply about the outcome.

Further along a small gaggle who could easily have been the cast of This Life chatted and giggled away in suits drinking craft canned beer, with the match a mere distraction here and there. I couldn’t fault Dulwich on capitalising on the gentrification of the area. They’d made their club trendy to be seen at and boosted their attendances.

It wasn’t possible for every club to follow suit, purely because of geography and population. I was so happy about that. Top flight football was no longer enjoyable because similar folk filled big games and sucked the atmosphere out of the stadiums. Modern football, and indeed modern society were not my thing. My comments certainly got a reaction on Facebook.

Meanwhile on the pitch the home side played some beautiful slick passing football, stretching the Greens left right and centre. Keeper Tom Lovelock made a three top saves; two of which were with his feet; while a searing volley flew just over the bar.

Hendon slowly got into the game and had a couple of efforts of their own, without really looking like scoring. The pressure returned to the other end, and it was a bit of a relief when the excellent referee blew his whistle for half time.

The general feeling among the away fans in the bar was that we’d take a point at that stage, but there was always a chance of sneaking a goal as the game progressed.

I went behind the Greendale End goal with a few other Dons fans to watch proceedings. Gary McCann introduced debutant full back James Rogers-Oben at the break to replace Kezie Ibe for the visitors with Dave Diedhiou moving forward to strengthen the midfield.

Hendon’s defence were putting in a tremendous shift, with Rian Bray and Arthur Lee dominant. Lovelock made three more outstanding stops when Hamlet managed to get efforts in. Nathan Ferguson was booked for diving in the area as Dulwich frustration grew.

Home boss Gavin Rose made all three substitutions in an effort to force the door open. Hendon began to get forward a little more and had a few set pieces which offered hope. Josh Walker came on to make his debut for the Greens eleven minutes from time.

Hamlet began to get desperate as a couple of long range shots went out of the ground. There was still time for a sting in the tale. Diedhiou was sent off for a second yellow card offence as the board went up to indicate that four additional minutes would be added.

There's a certain inevitability about a winner at the death from a visiting side who have been under the pump most of the match. The away fans can sniff it, home fans know it's coming. It seems the only ones who haven't read the script are the home defenders.

In the very final few seconds of added time, Matt Ball sent a pass out wide to Walker. He progressed a few yards before being held up. Walker curled a wonderful shot over keeper Preston Edwards and in off the far post.

Time stood still and there seemed to be silence in the air, even though Hendon fans in the seats along with us behind the goal screamed like banshees. Hamlet kicked off and the final whistle blew. The Dons players and coaching staff received a well deserved ovation.

Hamlet fans trudged down the hill to the main road, with the few who really cared, moaning of robbery and injustice. I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. The veteran Dons fans were most happy on the platform at East Dulwich station.

It had been a testing day, with a stunning ending. It’s why I watched football; Passion, drama, heroic players and a special camaraderie among supporters who desperately care about the game. There’s not nearly enough of that in the modern game; at least in my eyes.

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.

The Dulwich story had received much media attention with many prominent sports people and politicians lending their support. The team had done their bit by finishing as league runners-up before defeating Leiston in their home play-off semi-final.

Hendon arrived on the back of five victories, the final one of which was a brilliant 4-0 semi-final victory against Folkestone Invicta. The scene was set for the big occasion in temperatures soaring just over the 30° mark.

First of all I had an early shift at work to get through; before my good pal Mick relieved me well ahead of schedule. I took the Piccadilly and then District line down to Wimbledon, where some mates were already relaxing in The Wibbas Down Inn.

Before long I was with Steve Barnes, Gilbert and Mick enjoying a couple of fine ales from the extensive range in the Wetherspoon house before we took an Uber cab the fifteen minutes or so to the stadium.

I’d bought and printed out my ticket in advance for £10 and went straight in without queues. It was a bit of a surprise that the stewards waved all ticket holders straight through without a scan. Programmes had been sold out well in advance of our arrival.

The KNK Stadium was already very busy with queues for food and beer extremely long. We headed down to the far end where around 500 Hendon fans were assembled on the terrace. Shortly afterwards the two teams came out to a tremendous ovation.

Hamlet’s support was well known for their ultra culture, and their fans were packed in behind the goal with pink and blue banners while singing throughout. I was not always the biggest fan of this phenomenon but fair play to them. It was a tremendous sight and sound.

The Green Army supporting Hendon were also making plenty of noise. It was a nervy start from both sides on a pitch showing plenty of grass, but also lots of bobbles as well as a welcome breeze blowing diagonally across the pitch.

We’d caught up with Steve Speller and Richard at the ground. Steve Barnes and I headed under the shade where we stood with club secretary Daz Bloor. Gradually Dulwich began to take the ascendancy with Reise Allasani and Nyren Clunis looking dangerous up front.

Tom Lovelock made a fine stop from Allasani and then tipped over a header from Nathan Ferguson, while the central defensive partnership of Rian Bray and Arthur Lee were needed to be at their very best.

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.

Chances were at an absolute premium before Hendon took the lead out of nothing on thirty six minutes. Josh Walker laid the ball forward to Ashley Nathaniel-George who shot just as being challenged on the edge of the box.

The shot wasn’t very powerful but it deceived keeper Amadou Tangara who helped the ball into the net from his dive. There was absolute bedlam behind the goal, with the initial thoughts that the goalie had dropped a clanger. Chants of “Dodgy Keeper” rang out.

For a few minutes Dulwich looked all at sea. Defender Rickie Hayles was blowing while Anthony Acheampong seemed to extremely nervous. Zak Joseph failed to get a decent connection on a low cross before Tangara made a fine low stop from Nathaniel-George to atone his earlier error.

At half time the two sets of fans decided to swap ends. This could have led to some awkwardness, but everyone acted maturely and used common sense including the stewards. Fans went over the fences and walked up the side of the pitch to avoid overcrowding.

I could only guess this is how it was in days of yore. Everyone seemed in good humour and supported their team in a proper manner. I was in good form as I couldn’t see how Hendon could lose. I thought that they’d sussed out Hamlet, who had all the pressure on them.

Whatever the hosts boss Gavin Rose said at half time seemed to work, as his team came out looking to grab back control up front, with the defenders being even meaner in offering space to Hendon players.

Ten minutes after the break Allasani saw his effort well saved by Lovelock, with Bray miraculously clearing the follow up off the line. We thought that the danger was averted, but the ball went back into the area. Lovelock spilled it in the melee with Gavin Tomlin forcing home.

The noise was deafening. The Dons really needed to e on their game as Dulwich looked to finish it there and then. Brave defending and hard work were required, especially after Clunis broke into the box and smashed a shot against the underside of the bar a few minutes later.

Gradually the Greens worked their way back into the encounter. A couple of half chances fell to Niko Muir, but he wasn’t having his best game for the club despite putting in maximum effort. A Maclaren shot went inches wide having being helped around by Tangara.

The final ten minutes or so were stalemate, with neither side looking to take risks. The match went to extra time. The Hendon players and management urged the fans to make more noise. The heat must have been draining on the players, with the referee allowing drinks breaks in each half.

Green saw a deflected cross shot leave Lovelock stranded as the ball curved over the stopper before hitting the angle of post and bar. It fell to substitute Sanchez Ming who fired his shot over our terracing. Nerves were being jangled at our end, and I’m sure it was the same among the Hamlet faithful.

The game drifted on without any clear chances until Luke Tingay pushed Allasani on the edge of the box. Ashley Carew had scored the semi-final winner with a free kick from around the same spot a few days earlier. On this occasion his kick was comfortably saved by Lovelock.

Both teams received a huge round of applause shortly after in recognition of their exhaustive as the game was to be decided on penalties. Lee lost the toss meaning they would be taken at the far end in front of the Dulwich fans.

Sam Murphy scored for Hendon before Ollie Sprague and Michael Corcoran were both denied as the “Dodgy Keeper” chants came back to haunt the visiting fans. Dulwich were 3-1 up before Lovelock saved from Michael Chambers and then Daniel Uchechi made it 2-2. 

Acheampong restored the lead and then Muir scored Hendon’s final penalty. Dipo Akinyemi became the hero of Dulwich as he slotted home to take the shoot out 4-3. A mass pitch invasion followed, while Hendon’s players headed to thank their magnificent support.

There seemed to an acceptance among many of the away fans. I went over the fence to say thanks to the Dons players who I’d got to know from my duties at Silver Jubilee Park. Many were in tears and absolutely distraught.

Meanwhile the Dulwich players and fans celebrated wildly with flares being let off and banners flown. They’d deserved their moment of glory after all their trails and tribulations which would carry on while they were still homeless.

It later transpired that Hamlet’s fans and players partied long into the night outside the East London Tavern and on Goose Green near to their traditional home. While we were envious, there was no bitterness towards them.

Meanwhile we headed back to the tram to head to Morden Road and then go on quite a walk to The Trafalgar. Poor old Joe with his bad knee and Neil also joined us. Mick had gone missing long ago in a drunken stupor and was apparently in Sutton chatting up some elder women!

We had a good drink and reflected on a grand afternoon out. Anthony, a Hamlet fan came into the pub and insisted on buying us all a drink. That summed up what proper non-league football, sportsmanship and the day was all about.

After several drinks the two Steve’s, Richard, Anthony and myself walked round to The Sultan; which proved to be another cracking establishment to carry on our libation and post mortem. Mr Barnes and I got back to Kingsbury for last orders to round off a long day.

It had been a pleasure to attend such an occasion, despite the disappointment of the result. Potentially worse news arrived a few days later as Hendon were placed in the Southern League for the following campaign after 55 years of continuous service in the top flight of the Isthmian League. They certainly weren’t a dull club to adopt!

The old images of the original Champion Hill have been scanned from books as I unfortunately didn't take my camera, much to my regret since.

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